The shoe on the left has the lace emerging from the final set of eyelets. The shoe on the right has the lace going into the eyelets. Shoe manufacturers seem to opting for the second style these days. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
4 min

Am I going crazy?

I spend a lot of time wondering that. When you grow older, it’s inevitable that you do. It’s because you’re constantly comparing the recollections of yesterday to the realities of today that greet you every time you open your eyes.

For example: Am I going crazy about shoelaces?

For the last few years, every pair of men’s lace-up shoes I’ve purchased has had some messed-up laces. I’ll try to explain: In a lot of today’s men’s shoes, the ends of the laces go into the last pair of holes, closest to the ankle, rather than emerge from the holes.

Who cares, you ask?

Well, I find it harder to pull the laces tight when the shoes are laced this way. Surely, it’s a matter of physics.

But also: Why? Why did Big Shoe suddenly decide footwear should come this way? I consulted a few experts.

Elizabeth Semmelhack, director and senior curator at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, hypothesized that it’s an effort to keep the shoes pristine during shipment. Semmelhack reasons that looping the laces over the facing — that’s the two flaps that come together over the tongue — could push the laces into the soft leather, marring it.

“If you think about the lace, if you have the lace so that it’s lying out on the shoe, the aglet — the plastic tip of the shoelace — can produce points of abrasion,” she said.

Well, that’s a word I didn’t know: aglet. The aglet is the plastic or crimped-metal cap at each end of the lace. The aglet goes through the eyelet.

Bill McCann, executive director of the U.S. Footwear Manufacturers Association, said the counterintuitive lacing I’ve noticed is designed to hide the knot on dress shoes. “So if you were to tie a knot there you can usually tuck the knot on the inside of the tongue,” he said.

But who would want to hide the knot? Knots are beautiful! Remember how proud you were when you first learned how to tie your own shoes?

Then I saw the website for Amberjack, a nice leather dress shoe designed in Brooklyn and made in Portugal. In most of the company’s photos, you don’t see a knot at all. The laces just … disappear — into the shoe, presumably, but perhaps into another dimension.

“We typically try to keep the knot out of the photos as much as possible,” Amberjack founder John Peters told me. “It doesn’t actually make sense. It’s just how we started with the photographer we worked with. We’re seeing a number of other brands do it that way. It looks a little cleaner.”

The shoes in Amberjack’s photos employ what’s called the straight bar lacing style, as opposed to the crisscross lacing style. In straight bar, the lace sits across the tongue like the rungs of a ladder. The style is everywhere these days, including the web, where one YouTuber calls it one of the simplest things you can do to upgrade your style “and can set you apart from other guys.”

The straight bar method has become the default style for brands such as Allen Edmonds and Church’s, both of which illustrate their shoes online with laces in straight bar. It’s become the footwear equivalent of the way luxury analog watches are always photographed with their hands set to 10:10.

Even brands that advertise shoes with laces in the crisscross style — Johnston & Murphy is one — have the laces disappearing into the final eyelets, rather than emerging from them. And they’re mysteriously knotless. Perhaps footwear manufacturers fear that knots are the genitals of a shoe and, as on a smooth and sexless store mannequin, must not be shown.

Amberjack’s Peters said his company recently changed its lacing style to crisscross. And he quite reasonably pointed out that customers can relace their shoes in whatever style they prefer.

As the Bata Shoe Museum’s Semmelhack put it: “The way you want your shoes laced can be very particular.”

True. As for me, am I crazy to think it might be time to explore the wonderful world of loafers?