Mind your shoe: What to consider when choosing the right fit


Rubber shoe finishing in a shoe-making company. PHOTO | POOL

Shoes are designed for various occasions and activities of daily living. I heard of an interesting case where guests were asked to remove their shoes before entering a black-tie event at a residence in the US. Many turned back because they were not forewarned.

I however think the real reason could be different, ranging from unsightly pedicure and odour issues, or simply wearing the wrong socks. Perhaps the real reason was they wore special shoe that were an extension of their personal brand and that is currency in social settings.

When choosing shoes most people are impressed first by how the shoes looks, what they say about them and finally, how they feel when they put them on. While it is understandable to be impressed by the aesthetics of a shoe’s design features, that should only be just the start of the decision-making process.

It is important to consider how long you can wear them without wincing and grimacing in pain. Examine the lining and the insoles and ensure they will mould to the shape of your foot. Shoes should never be too tight and don’t believe the myth that leather will expand and become more comfortable over time. If it does not feel right when you wear it, chances are it will be a pain to live with.

Shoe's character

A shoe is like a person’s character. One’s character is defined by their mental and moral quality, which is formed very early in life, and is difficult to change. Similarly, a shoe’s character (comfort) is determined by its last (shape) and construction method. This can only be changed if the sole is removed, and the shoe is re-lasted.

When buying shoes, we are easily deceived with flashy uppers and fancy patterns. In most cases big brand names do the trick. Many times, people will unconsciously compromise practicality for aesthetics and brand association. This results in settling for disposable shoes that only last months instead of years, reducing the cost-per-wear and burdening our environment with waste.

While a lot of work goes into ensuring shoes are visually appealing, a lot more work should be put into the construction to create a functional shoe. The sole is the heart and soul of a shoe. It is designed to deliver comfort as well as offer safety from the elements.

If you are not interested in temporary gratification and want comfort, start by assessing your activities of daily living (ADL) when choosing your shoes. Figure out what dominates your days, months, and years before making the investment.

Rule of thumb, if your shoes are not an investment you are probably buying the wrong type. I say this because well-made shoes are almost never cheap, but neither should they be too expensive due to mark-ups and branding, they need be affordable and accessible. Affordable means you get comfort and decent mileage from them, which means the cost-per-wear can be justified. If you can wear a shoe once a week and do so for about 10 years, that is over 500 wears. Do the math.

Let’s start from the ground up and discuss the sole.

As a rule of thumb, if you cannot dance in a pair of shoes, they are probably not good to walk in for long periods. That said, the best dance shoes are not designed for the outdoors either. Choosing the right sole must be based on how you intend to utilise the shoe. A sole’s comfort is determined less by the material used and more by the construction method.

There are three main construction methods, Goodyear welted, Blake stitched, and cemented. Today, thanks to advances in materials and advance construction technics, we see the introduction of flexible Goodyear welted. This means they are better to walk in than was previously the case.

Most formal (dress) shoes are either Goodyear welted or Blake stitched. Sneakers and trainers will, in most cases, be cemented. In the case Thermo Plastic Rubber (TPR), Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) shoes, you have a different set of things to consider, and comfort is not high on the list. They will be more functional, like Crocs or Wellies (gum boots). The future will however present a new type of shoe that will be 3D printed in your home.

Appropriateness of soles can be broken down into three broad categories. Indoor, outdoor, and extreme utility. Indoor soles are ideal for home use only, while outdoor soles can be formal (office dressing) or less formal (casual wear). Informal soles will focus on utility, like walking, hiking and running.

Your material choices will be leather, rubber, a combination of leather and rubber, TPR, polyurethane (PU), or PVC. The best way to start the complicated decision is to determine how and where you will use your shoes to decide which material to go for.

Durability and comfort

The best soles for short walks would be leather and rubber, in some cases a combination of both materials. Leather is a natural, hardwearing material, that offers comfort, durability and more importantly, is biodegradable. Rubber and TPR offer durability and in some cases comfort, depending on the shoe design.

If you go for a typical goodyear welted leather sole, expect it be firmer and thicker than a Blake stitched one. We will examine the difference between these construction methods in more detail in a separate article. Sneakers and trainers are better walking shoes because they are lighter and more flexible. They will use the cemented construction method which as limited or no stitching and more glue (or cement) to connect the upper and the sole.

Hiking sole will most likely be sturdy rubber or a combination of rubber and leather, depending on the design. The uppers could be a combination leather, fabric and synthetic material. Because extreme hiking shoes are designed to withstand extreme climate and terrain.

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