Sunday, May 16, 2010

Goodyear Welt Constructions

A last (left) and tree (right)

In the world of luxury shoes, Goodyear Welted constructions have followers as ardent and loyal as mechanical watches and canvassed suiting. Speaking of tradition, craftsmanship and integrity, the Goodyear welt construction sits atop the pile along with Norvorgese welted, viewed as the hardier make when compared to the lighter, more Italianate Blake or Sachetto. Decidedly English, the Goodyear welt is simply put a method of attaching sole and upper, independent of one another, through a strip of leather called the welt.
All shoes, bar the moccasin, have a sole in a separate piece to the upper. The basic, cheap means of attaching the two is the cemented (glued) construction. To most shoe aficionados it is not an option, and in terms of quality it amounts to a disposable shoe, as the sole cannot be removed and replaced with any real integrity.

The Italians in general like a lightly formed shoe, and in this they have the Blake, Blake Rapid and Sachetto constructions. These styles have a light sole sewn directly to the upper. While these soles can be replaced, the Blake machines are less common, and the shoes themselves feel less "built" than Goodyear. It is identifiable by looking in the shoe- if the stitching is visible running through the insole, it is one of these methods.

Goodyear is made with a few extra steps in an effort to be more solid and water resistant. The upper of the shoe is stitched in flat piece like patterns, then stretched over and nailed to the last.

The last is the wooden form on which the shoe is shaped- a piece of wood is shaped into a style, like the 348, 341 and 337 in C&J, and the leather is stretched to match that shape. Longer "Lasting" is preferred as it makes a cleaner, longer lasting shoe, and the use of shoe trees- similar to the last but removable - will keep that shape looking handsome for longer.

The lasted upper then receives an insole, and the welt is attached. The welt is the small strip of leather running the circumference of the shoe. A wooden or metal shank is inserted to protect the sole collapsing between the ball and the heel (the arch), and the cavity is filled with cork. The cork will over time mould to the shape of the foot making for a superior fit.

The sole is then attached to the welt, meaning that the inner of the shoe is sealed from the ground, with the stitch on the outside. A heel is attached with cement and nails and the shoe is finished.
The advantages of this means of construction are that they are more resistant to water coming through the stitch in the sole, and the relatively simple means of removing and replacing the sole. Any cobbler worth his salt will keep a Goodyear stitch machine, although many die hard shoe fans think replacing the sole should only be done with the aid of the original last, and hence by the original manufacturer.

Goodyear welted shoes have been known to last 30 years and more, but like all things of quality they require more conscientious care. The oak bark tanned leather of a quality shoe is dense and hard when dry, but when moist- either through external means of rain and water or internally through the moisture we produce in our feet- they become soft and more prone to wear.

For this reason they should never be worn two days in a row, and if thoroughly wetted should be rested with shoe trees for up to two days. For those with heavy feet and long gaits, metal taps on the shoes and heels can stop premature wear, and rarely cost more than $10 to have applied.
Another common mistake that murders good shoes is using too much shoe polish. Leather is natural, and breathes but too much polish clogs the pores and dries out the leather. Coupled with frequent creasing across the shoe, leather can crack and split.

A last final point on shoes- a properly formed shoe will have support built into the toe box and heel- crushing either is usually irreparable and ruins a nice shoe. Using a shoe horn will prevent crushing the latter, while the former would require some pretty heavy kicking, which should be reserved for cleats in any case!

So, a Goodyear welted shoe, like a beautiful watch, can gain character and patina over time. Well-treated it says great things about the wearer- discerning, respectful and appreciative of quality- all traits men would be well served attaining.

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