One of the reasons to spend the money to purchase a great pair of handmade shoes is that, if cared for properly, they should last decades. My favorite pair of shoes is a pair of crocodile Italian cap toe oxfords I inherited from my grandfather. Going on three decades, these are an incredible pair of shoes that I enjoy wearing just as much now as, I imagine, my grandfather did when he first purchased them. However, despite how great care you take of the shoe, the soles do require periodic replacing. The purpose of this article is to help you better understand when it is time to replace the soles of your shoes and your options when you do replace them.
Good soles are much like tires for a car. There are always cheaper brands out there and someone willing to replace them for next to nothing. But cheap tires can ruin the drive of a luxury automobile and always end up failing sooner than later. Shoe soles are the same. If you have invested in a fine pair of shoes, do not send them to your local cobbler where they will throw a cheap sole on the shoe using who-knows-what techniques. Instead, here at The Hanger Project, we highly recommend using an established, reputable cobbler.
In the United States, Nick at B. Nelson's Shoes without question has the best reputation. He is highly-regarded by shoe aficionados for his work and is trusted with repair work on John Lobbs, Edward Greens, Allen Edmonds — that is to say, the finest shoes available anywhere. This article was written with his help.
How to Determine if Soles Need to be Replaced
It is important that you replace the soles of your shoes before you wear holes into them. There are three ways to evaluate whether your soles need to be replaced:
Press into the center of the sole with your thumb. If the sole feels spongy or weak, it is time to replace it.
If you see a circular wearing pattern on the bottom of the shoe.
If you look at the edge of the shoe where the sole meets the welt and see uneven wearing due to pronation, then it, again, is time to replace the sole.
And, obviously, if you have worn a hole into the bottom of your sole, then it needs to be replaced immediately.
To read about my experience replacing a pair of soles on my Grenson dress shoes, read my blog post on Replacing Dress Shoe Soles. The blog post details the entire process step-by-step.
Not All Soles are Created Equal
It is important to replace shoe soles with an equal or better quality sole than what originally came with the shoe. Nick from B. Nelson offers several different styles and grades of soles.
Styles of Soles:
Synthetic Crepe Soles
Natural Crepe Soles
Dainite Rubber Soles
For its leather soles, B. Nelson uses two types: (1) a super-prime grade leather sole from Italy and, as an even higher premium option, (2) an oak-bark tanned leather sole from Joh. Rendenbach ("JR") in Germany. Because of the tight grain of an oak-bark tanned leather soles, they wear longer and require more infrequent replacing. If you are looking to resole your shoes with the best leather sole available, then, without a question, go with the J. Rendenbach oak-bark tanned sole.
As Nick explains it, "If you spend the money to purchase an expensive car, when the tires need to be replaced it makes sense to spend a few extra dollars to purchase tires that complement the car and enhance its performance. If you drive an inexpensive automobile, why would you spend extra money for a high performance tire?" I generally agree with him.
Replacing the soles of your shoes is also an opportunity to change the look of the shoe. It has become trendy lately to use different colored soles to augment the look of one's shoes. Pictured below is a pair of boots where Nick replaced original, rather bland sole with a bright red Dainite. As you can see, it completely changes the look of the shoe.
What are the benefits of Metal Toe Plates?
Metal toe plates are not recommended for everyone. However, if you have a gait where you tend to drag or scuff your toes, metal toe taps are the perfect remedy for you. B. Nelson flush-mounts their toe taps with brass-plated metal screws. They are done with the same quality one would with factory-installed toe plates. Very nice. Not only will the metal toe plates prevent the toe of the sole from wearing, but they will also protect the welt from damage. Below is a picture of a metal toe plate installed on a pair of Corthay shoes.
An alternative to toe taps is two parallel rows of nails. This still helps guard the tip of the sole from pealing back but is not quite as visually obtrusive as a toe-plate and does not make any noise while walking.