“Because it’s the best way of fastening them”, Andrew Elhinn tells me. He manages the Shoe Gallery and has become something of a shoelace expert. Glancing at my feet, he proclaims “Your boots are laced in the half-bar style, which looks smart and also offers support. But they’re a bit narrow.” I feel as though I’ve met the Sherlock Holmes of footwear.
Apparently ‘barred’ or ‘military’ lacing was designed to be opened quickly with a knife if the wearer’s foot was injured in battle. The half-bar keeps the smart military look but offers more support for your feet, which is why most shoes are laced this way. And then there’s criss-cross lacing, favoured for hiking boots and sports shoes, with extra support but without the symmetry.
When it comes to tying laces, Andrew prefers the simple bow knot. “I really struggle with the ‘bunny ears’ style”, he admits. “Very few people do a double-knot, even though I often hear them complaining that their shoes keep coming undone. It’s even possible to tie your laces one-handed”. And, if you’re particularly keen on becoming a shoe-tying expert, you can find YouTube videos dedicated to securing your shoes in a couple of seconds.
Traditional English laces were waxed, giving them a much thinner look than the unwaxed cotton laces used in many shoes today. Yet it’s not just a question of style. “The wax sticks together and helps them stay tied. If your shoelaces keep untying themselves, a little bit of shoe polish helps stop them from coming undone.” Today there are curly ‘cheats’ laces that can simply be twisted together, saving the hassle of a proper knot. And there’s Velcro, which does an acceptable job but isn’t to everyone’s taste.
“Laces are seen as grown-up”, Andrew says. “With children’s shoes, you get to a certain age and the boys want lace-up shoes. They’re too old for Velcro. It’s a major image thing.”
Moving on from laces, Andrew offers me some tips about buying shoes. “Your feet never stop growing. They only slow down.” That’s particularly an issue for younger feet: it’s essential to leave room for growth (about a quarter of an inch at the end of a shoe) but it’s also important to buy a shoe that’s wide enough. “I’d say 80 per cent of people, adults and children, are wearing the wrong width of shoes. The easiest way to tell if your children’s shoes are the right size is to look inside and see the ‘shadow’ left by their foot. People usually only look at the outside.” An elementary mistake, not one that Sherlock Holmes – or Andrew Elhinn – would ever make.
The Shoe Gallery, 45 High Street, Lewes. 01273 488011
First published in Viva Lewes magazine issue 108 September 2015