The Shoe Snob Blog

March 17, 2014

Written by , Posted in News

Additions To Your Sole

Saint Crispins Galore. Photo Courtesy of Leatherfoot

Saint Crispins Galore. Photo Courtesy of Leatherfoot

There is much debate on whether or not one should add things to his/her sole to make them last longer/protect from the elements. Some argue in favor of adding rubber/metal, others swear that it actually ruins your shoes in the long run. But who is right? Well, while my word is not fact, I will put my two cents in and break down both the for’s and against’s in order to come to a conclusion that appears logical. First and foremost, allow me to say that there really is no right or wrong, especially as the idea of adding things to make your shoes last longer really depends on many factors such as where you live (i.e. the weather), how many pairs of shoes you have, whether or not you use shoe trees, how hard you walk, whether you commute by foot or car etc…. So you see, while one answer may be right for one person in California who drives to work and lives in a hot climate, it won’t be the same for the guy that lives in London, takes the tube every day and doesn’t wear galoshes on rainy days.

not a great job

not a great job done on both top and bottom

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The biggest debate seems to come from the idea of adding rubber to your sole as a ‘top piece.’ Now let me say that I would never do this personally. But that does not mean that I don’t condone it either. As I said earlier there are many factors that will take place to make an affirmative statement on whether it would be more of a help or hindrance to your shoes so lets start looking at the pro’s and con’s. For those that argue against Topy soles, they claim that it is either going to put your shoes off balance or not allow the sole to breath, thus ensuring that you deteriorate your insole much quicker. For the first claim, I wholeheartedly agree. BUT, that is only if the added rubber bit is not put on properly. You see there are two ways of doing it: 1. slabbing it right on top with a bit of cement (the wrong way) and 2. skimming off the top layer of the sole (same thickness of the rubber) to add the piece and have it lay flat as if it was the sole (the right way). Doing it the right way ensures that you don’t loose the balance of the last. So as long as you have it done properly that claim becomes invalid.

Jobs well done above and below

Jobs well done above and below

Topy

For the second claim of not allowing the sole to breath, well this is where it becomes a bit more case by case and will very much differ depending on several factors. If you live in a warm, sunny climate, it does not make sense to ever put added rubber pieces to your soles. If you do it for comfort, then you need better supporting shoes, not added rubber pieces. Or simply buy shoes with rubber soles. Assuming that the claim that the sole does not breath with an added rubber piece is true, a sunny climate will only make your insole deteriorate that much quicker as your feet will perspire more in the warm weather. Now, in a wet/cold climate it can very much make sense to add a rubber piece as the constant moisture exposed to your soles will have you end up replacing them on a much more frequent basis. Now assuming that it will not allow your soles to breath and thus affect your insole, well then what are shoe trees for if not to absorb moisture from the insoles and leather? But then again, many people don’t perspire all that much and if you don’t, then it won’t affect you as much anyway, not as much as living in a wet climate will affect the overall health of your shoes.

Is this top one going to last longer than the bottom one???? Don't think so...

Is this top one going to last longer than the bottom one???? Don’t think so….. Photos courtesy of Leffot

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But the real question (and think about this carefully) is that if adding a rubber bit to your sole makes it so that your sole can’t breath which will SUPPOSEDLY corrode your insole from all of the moisture then what does having a goodyear welted shoe MADE with a rubber sole do to your insole??? Do rubber sole shoes last less than leather soled shoes?? NO…So you see, this right here is where the whole myth is debunked. Because in reality it is not about whether or not your soles can breath but more about how bad you perspire as a person and then whether or not you use shoe trees, and whether you rotate your shoes, whether you walk in puddles or purposefully avoid them and this and that….don’t listen to the hype. Adding rubber pieces to your soles is fine so long as it is done properly. But I will say that I would never do it. I personally believe that a shoe should be worn how it was made. But that is just me and also because I have about 50 pairs of smart shoes so none of them ever really see any hard use. If I only had one, I would probably think differently…..

what not to get, especially on a pair of G&G's... above... What to get...below

what not to get, especially on a pair of G&G’s… above… What to get…below

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Now the last bit is about adding metal. If you walk a lot, you should have metal toe taps. Not blakey’s which are just banged on by a hammer and nails, but indented toe taps that are flush with the sole and in theory, screwed on. They don’t make noise but are detrimental to your soles toe region and ensuring that you do not prematurely wear that area down before you need a re-sole. Metal heel plates, however, are a no-no. Not only are they loud, but also slippery. And in reality it does not cost that much to replace your heels top piece and you can do it a million times. And if you really want to get technical, you can do what many of the Parisians do: adding both a rubber bit to your sole and indented toe taps. Then your shoes will last forever!

For those of you London- based, then please go to Tony’s Shoe Repair in Crown Passage to get your toe taps affixed. (That is where I go).

SemlingApres

  • Juan Manuel

    Not sure I like those additions either but I agree that it depends on many factors (number of pairs you have/use, how you use them, where you live).

    Somehow, adding all those “extras” make your shoes look like “Frankenshoes”….

    Excellent article!

    • RolleFC

      The nails on Carmina’s and others is more for looks than for prolonging the life of the toe area.
      I often have sunken rubber toe taps added when the toe area sole start to get worn.

    • TheShoeSnob

      Glad that you enjoyed it!

  • RogerP

    Given that walking on icy sidewalks is part of my reality for several months a year, a number of my dress shoes have Topy outsoles both for the superior traction provided on these surfaces and for the increased wear resistance when trampling across those same sidewalks when strewn with heavy chunks of rock salt. You should see what a long walk over a surface like that does to a wet leather sole. Not pretty. As for the claim of inhibited breathing, I can’t say I’ve noticed much of a difference between my GYW or HW shoes that have full leather soles, Topy outsoles over leather, or full synthetic soles. Excellent post, as always, Justin.

    • TheShoeSnob

      Hey Roger, thanks for sharing. Can you do me a favor and email me at justin@theshoesnob.com when you get a chance. Thanks!

  • John B

    Some people may add the rubber “tops” to add some grip to the shoes. Personally, I prefer rubber soles (for now). I don’t have a lot of pairs, so being able to wear them even if it’s wet outside is a plus.

  • IS

    Justin,
    What are your thoughts about a row of nails at the toe (like on many carminas) in lieu of a flush mounted toe plate? Also, would you recommend that one hammer the nails himself or is there a risk of damaging the sole due to piercing the stitching?

    • TheShoeSnob

      no comparison…you can still wear down the tips of your toes with those nails in there…nothing is better than the toe plates… and no I would not recommend one try it himself…it is also hard to find the right length nails that won’t go through the insole…

  • Julian

    I compromise on my EGs. I leave the beautiful leather soles untouched (no Toppy) but to get a bit of extra traction I specify a full rubber bottom on the heel (what EG call a “Thames heel”). For my first EG I specified nails to protect the toe area of the sole but they were next to useless so for my next order I’ve specified flush metal toe taps.

    – Julian

  • Rich

    Hi Justin, great article. I’ve had a dianite sole fitted to my 8 year old Graftons by Church’s for the winter. They are lasting alot longer than the leather sole I’d always had replaced before (particularly with the wet weather this year) and it works for me. I rotate them with other shoes so they dry out anyway but I reckon the dainite sole will work well for me. Good to see the debate though as I had wondered whether it was the right thing to do.

    • TheShoeSnob

      nice one Rich, glad that it is working well for you!

  • Chris

    Hey Justin,

    Can you recommend somewhere in the UK for this kind of work? I’m assuming that a Timpsons, which seems to be the only shoe place you’ll see nationwide, won’t cut it?

  • Gond

    I put rubber soles on my shoes every time for three reasons
    A) in rainy weather it avoids the leather to soak and then crackle.
    B) it’s much cheaper and easier to replace the rubber than the whole leather sole.
    C) I slid going down stairs with my AE leather soles and broke a rib… With the rubber thin soles I feel much more grip.
    Great blog and beautifully designed shoes Justin!

    • RogerP

      Makes good sense to me. I had one bad fall this winter (sprained both wrists) on one of the few days I elected to wear smooth leather soles in icy conditions. Choosing fashion over function can be painful!

    • TheShoeSnob

      Thanks for sharing Gond and as well for the very kind words!

  • Darren

    I have thought about this many times. After much research the best solution is to buy more shoes. You also get to indulge your eccentric vice even more!

    • TheShoeSnob

      that’s also what I do…the more you have the less likely you will ever need a resole on any of them!

  • cass

    I after polishing my upper leather, I also put some on my soles; this way my soles can still “breath”, but also limit the amount of water they absorb. Overall, I do think it makes the soles last longer.

  • André Simha

    Totally agree with you Justin; I don’t walk that much but always try to add flushed toe taps whether a pricey G&G or on my favourite JF footwear (as seen below). We are lucky to have a very talented cobbler in Geneva (Seror)

    • Jay Daniel
      • André Simha

        Absolutely!

        • Jay Daniel

          Great thanks, I have tried to send him an email to ask about what was done and cost, we shall see 😉 Did they take off some leather and stick on the toppy and the metal toe cap?

    • Jay Daniel

      I’m gonna want to have it done exactly the way you have but in Paris where I will be buying a pair of CJ don’t know if I can find someone to do it like that

  • TheShoeSnob

    what you see in this post are Lulu’s which I believe are French and then there are Triumph, which are a bit more heavy looking

  • pnewelljr

    Don’t you mean instrumental and not detrimental?

  • JAGUAR6CY

    No shoe snob here, but 45 years ago I bought a few pair of inexpensive Johnston and Murphy shoes. I also had rubber added to the soles and rubber taps to the heels. I have never needed to have them resoled or re-heeled, and I still wear them today. I have to assume that they have not been able to “breath” for all 45 of those years. Should I start to worry about that?

    • Tony El Tigre

      Maybe you should worry more about your condescending tone than your feet breathing.

      • Alex Cross

        There is procedure where you may have the stick removed from where it is quite clearly lodged. Maybe you should look into that Tony.

        • Tony El Tigre

          I know exactly where I’d be shoving said stick as soon as it was removed. And you’d love the taste, I know you would, dresssed in your polished pair of breathable Johnston and Murphy’s and wearing your ‘weekend only’ pink taffeta ballgown.

      • vonbraun

        Didn’t sound condescending to me at all, it just sounded like someone who wears the same J&M shoes for 45 years….

        “Get off my lawn…”

  • Ryan

    Great post Justin, 2 questions for you:

    -If toe taps are indented and truly flush with the sole, how do they prevent wear to the toe area? Maybe they are nearly flush, but not quite…? Or by toe, maybe you are referring strictly to the portion the tap covers, not the 1/3 of the sole starting from the toe and working back.
    -What brand of rubber piece do you recommend adding to the heel, like in the last pic?

    I live in a tough Midwestern environment with heavily varying climates and a lot of moisture, and walk a lot. I rotate between a number of boots, but you have convinced me to avoid sole protectors and just get heel/toe coverage!

  • Andie Nicolas

    I start by saying that I live in Adelaide Australia where the summers are hot and the winters are mild and not too wet. I break in shoes by wearing them in the office or at home ie on soft surfaces. I tend to buy leather soled shoes but in 2005 bought a pair of Gucci dress derbies with a thin rubber sole on top of the leather. I have worn them almost daily and they are still going strong although the leather sole is now showing! I have faith in these soles and have recently bought Artiolis with the same sole system.I do not rotate shoes daily as I believe pronating/supinating the foot with different shoes regularly can lead to inter alia, ankle problems. Insofar as leather soled shoes are concerned whether English and therefore good-year welted, or Italian and therefore blake(?), I wear the leather sole down a fair bit then put a Topy sole on and I get many years of wear out of them. I have found that in a couple of English shoes I have (New & Lingwood strap and buckle boots, and Church brogues), the stitching on the soles has become undone. The problem in Australia is that these shoes cannot be re-welted and the cost of sending them to their maker in the UK is cost-prohibitive. Hence here, putting a Topy sole is the order of the day amongst most people who have a decent pair of leather soled shoes. I have not found the Italian shoes to be any “weaker” than the British ones and often look far better on the foot than the English ones. A Topy sole properly affixed as you say can extend shoes for a very long time.
    Therefore, there are no hard and fast rules with what sole is better, whether to rotate shoes daily etc, I expect like most people I get sick of my shoes before they properly wear out and I must say buying shoes is a source of pleasure to me!