Facts That Figure: Shoelaces

Facts That Figure: Shoelaces

By: C.G. Hoffman

Oops!  You're rushing to catch that train, plane, or bus when disaster strikes: your shoelace has torn! A little string less than a half-inch wide can be the difference between a great day and a disastrous one.

  • The oldest example of a shoe with shoelaces was found in a cave in Armenia and looks remarkably similar to modern shoes: A leather form that wrapped around the foot and was fastened with shoelaces threaded through holes. Archaeologists estimate that the shoe is approximately 5,000 years old.
  • The Torah contains many references to shoelaces. Avraham Avinu, of course, refused to benefit from even a shoelace after the war between the four and five kings. Jews have been tying their shoes the same way for thousands of years, first the left and then the right, as outlined by halacha.
  • First, the Greeks and then the Romans used leather shoelaces to tie their sandals, which were ideal for warm climates. Interestingly, there was no such thing as a right or left shoe; Both were used interchangeably.
  • Roman soldiers heading to war in Northern Europe brought with them a new style: snug-fitting leather shoes tied with shoelaces. They wore semi-closed leather shoes made to fit snugly by threading the laces through the leather. This was far more suitable for the harsher European climate than open sandals.
  • In the Middle Ages, the church frowned on the sight of toes worn in open sandals, and closed shoes became the preferred fashion. Shoes were made of leather, wood or woven straw.
  • “Crakows” became all the rage in fashionable circles in the 1400’s, a style imported from Poland. They featured ridiculously elongated points and were a symbol of wealth and status. After all, you couldn’t be working on a farm if your shoes extended for two feet beyond your toes!
  • Europeans preferred fastening their shoes with buckles and buttons for hundreds of years until Harvey Kennedy invented the aglet in 1790. This was a small sheath of metal used to finish the ends of the laces. This prevented fraying and also made it easier to thread the laces through the holes in the shoe. Today, most aglets are made of plastic.
  • Lace boots were worn by both men and women in the 1800’s, as they protected the wearer from the mud and dirt that was prevalent on the streets. Servants were expected to polish their masters’ shoes every morning, as well as clean the soles. Some households even expected the servants to iron their bootlaces every single day.
  • Shoelaces have gone in and out of fashion in modern times. The first velcro shoes were sold by Puma in 1968, and the convenience of the new closure threatened to make shoelaces obsolete. Laced shoes have come back into fashion for adults, however, as they give the wearer a polished, high-class professional look.
  • One side effect of the phasing out of shoelaces: Kids today simply do not know how to tie a bow! Many baffled parents find themselves trying to teach their older teenagers how to tie a bow since they have never worn shoes with shoelaces.

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