Gentleman's duel: to sole or not to sole

27.8. 2020, Daniel Rufer
Gentleman's duel: to sole or not to sole

Even though we still quite like each other after all these years, there are things we debate for hours on end. They're of course always civil and to the point, as is everything we do. Adding a protective sole to our shoes is one of those topics. And the topic of our next gentleman's duel. To sole or not to sole, that is the question.

Dan - Against

This is something I never had any doubts about. Paul's influence definitely played a role. None of the Goodyear Welted shoes in my collection have a protective rubber sole. Not to mislead - I do have Goodyear Welted shoes with rubber soles in my possession. I own a pair of Goodyear Welted winter ankle boots with a rubber sole. In my opinion, it's a different matter when it's the manufacturer's intention and part of the design of the shoe.

I wouldn't add protective rubber sole for one simple reason - I trust manufacturers when they say it changes the balance of the shoe if it isn't part of its design. I understand their reluctance to accept altered shoes to be resoled and renovated. Being unable to get full reconstruction and re-sole after wearing the sole down would be a terrible problem for me. Possibility to be resoled is one of the most significant benefits of Goodyear Welted shoes for me.

Part of my reasoning is that leather soles don't cause any discomfort to me as it might do to others. Cobblestones get more slippery during winter but I wear leather-soled shoes during that time so little it barely matters. They are very comfortable to wear the rest of the year and I don't want to lose that. I also find leather soles much more pleasing esthetically. Imagine a handsome pair of dark brown oxford shoes that got stuck with a piece of rubber. That just looks wrong.

Thanks to several factors - e.g. my rather light weight, regularly rotating shoes and mostly walking on hard surfaces (even our offices don't have carpets, which sand leather soles down by friction) - my shoes last years on end even without additions to their sole. And sending them to be renovated and resoled once every five years is more than worth the good feeling. 

Petr - For

Whenever I buy shoes with leather soles, I always bring them to a cobbler the next day to have them soled with a rubber sole. Shoe shelves in my flat don't suffer an abundance of shoes (well just mine, my partner has plenty). All my shoes spend a lot of time on my feet so rubber soles are a practical solution that elongates their lifespan.

Personally, I've never felt the balance of any shoe shift after the addition of a rubber sole. The walking comfort stayed the same. I also think that any imperfections are absorbed by the cork midsole which is shaped by feet and the manner of walking. But this is just my opinion. It is possible that I've just been lucky and all of my shoes were soled properly. Whatever the case may be, I believe that any difference is insignificant.

Regarding the comfort/discomfort of leather soles, I must disagree with Dan at least partially. The comfort of the shoe doesn't change with soling but my peace of mind does improve significantly. I simply don't enjoy thinking about leather soles vulnerabilities. Every stone between pavement and soles reminds me of their fragility. With protective rubber soles, I don't have to think about any of that.

The esthetic of leather soles are indeed much better. But that's the case only until you leave the apartment and start walking in them for the first time. After that soles are all scratched and lose their perfection. One more quite obvious argument, that I must say, is that the sole isn't visible about 90% of the time because we stand on it. Nobody waxes their car's undercarriage. Shoes soled with rubber sole keep their profile. The millimetre-thin rubber in the colour of the edge is unnoticeable unless pointed out. 

Roman - Voice of reason

Adding a protective rubber sole has its moments. During winter seasons and rainy days, you won't have to worry about slipping because shoes will have much better traction. People with a strong sense of preservation will appreciate longer lifespan of their new beauties. Perfectionists won't have to come to terms with scratches and other damage to the sole after every stroll. That is all true but...

There are people strongly against adding rubber to leather soles. The list includes Dan, manufacturers of Goodyear Welted shoes with leather soles, bespoke cobblers, old-fashioned gentlemen and people who don't like changes to final products. I completely understand their reasoning. There are few things comparable to shoes with leather soles and the feeling of walking in them. They look great. They are proper hand made shoes. You can send them for reconstruction and resoling, which elongates their lifespan much more than a piece of rubber. Although...

It depends on specific pairs of shoes and occasions where you wear them. Ballroom oxford shoes you take out of the closet twice every year don't need rubber soles. Chunkier Chelsea boots you wear even in rain will benefit from them. Only you know which shoes you wear the most and where. And most importantly how many pairs you regularly rotate.

Next time when you go shopping for a new pair you will then have soled with rubber, take a look around. Maybe they have pair just as nice already fitted with rubber soles.

The abundance of options is really stunning and that is great.

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Daniel Rufer


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