Buying athletic shoes is one of those rare purchases where strings are attached -- and consumers would be outraged if they weren't. But the knottiest question that has strung out some inquisitive consumers on the shoe aisle lately is this: Why are these shoe laces so-o-o long?
How long? Some name-brand running models sport laces measuring 15 inches or more extra on each side before the first knot is tied. One reader called to complain that she had just about had it with reminding her teenage son to tie his basketball high-tops. In fact, they were tied -- just not tied enough times. The laces extended 14 inches on each side, and required him to tie each shoe five or six times to keep them from under foot or looking sloppy.
An unscientific survey of the laces in name-brand athletic shoes at metropolitan area shoe stores found that laced, pre-tied lengths on many adult- and child-size shoes (running, basketball, cross-training, etc.) need to be tied minimally two or three times.
Why the extra-long laces? Nike spokeswoman Kathryn Reith asked one of the company's shoe designers. She reports there are two answers:
"One is that, depending on the model shoe, there may actually be several different possible lacing patterns," explains Reith. "There are sometimes additional holes farther up toward the ankle which some people may or may not use. The extra little holes may not be totally obvious.
"So you have to have laces long enough for the lacing pattern using the most holes. If you use the least-holes lacing pattern, the shoe strings are way too long."
The in-the-loop rationale for multiple lacing patterns is that they provide a snugger fit in different areas of the shoe depending on the needs of the individual foot and the specific sport. Alternative lacing patterns in basketball shoes, for instance, are designed to give more stability around the upper part of the foot.
Reith's other explanation for the lace length? "Occasionally you might have the factory that just doesn't follow the plan exactly or generally screws up, but you don't want to send back 3 million shoes just because the shoestrings are too long."
Reith adds that it isn't Nike's intention that customers have to tie its shoes four or five times. "Runners tend to double-tie their shoes, so we want to make sure they are able to do that," she says. "Generally on men's shoes, we leave about 10 inches extra on each side. That's the standard."
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