AskDefine | Define shoestring

Dictionary Definition



1 a lace used for fastening shoes [syn: shoelace, shoe lace, shoe string]
2 a small amount of money; "he managed it on a shoestring" [syn: shoe string]

User Contributed Dictionary



From shoe + string


  1. the string or lace used to secure the shoe to the foot; a shoelace
    Your shoestring is untied.
  2. a tight budget; very little money
    He did all that on a shoestring budget.
  3. a long narrow cut of a food; a julienne
    shoestring French fries

Extensive Definition

Shoelaces (also shoestrings, shoe laces or boot laces) are the system used to secure shoes. The shoelace can be untied and loosened, permitting the shoe to open wide to admit the wearer's foot; it can then be tightened and knotted into a bow shaped knot. Shoelaces did not become widely popular until the 20th century. Previously shoes were slip-on, buckled, or buttoned. Buttoned shoes used a special tool, a button hook, to close the buttons, but this was slow and difficult.'''


It is as difficult to determine the exact history of shoelaces as it is for shoes. Archaeological records of footwear are rare because shoes were generally made of materials that deteriorated readily. The first "shoes" worn by primitive humans would most likely have been a simple hide or covering bound to the foot with either leather thongs, grasses or some form of twine. The recent discovery of the bronze-age Ötzi the Iceman, who lived around 3000 BC, revealed fairly complex insulated leather shoes bound with "shoelaces" made of lime bark string.
As for shoelaces in the sense that we know them today, the Museum of London has documented examples of medieval footwear dating from as far back as the 12th century, which clearly show the lacing passing through a series of hooks or eyelets down the front or side of the shoe.

Shoelace construction

Traditional shoelaces were made of leather, cotton, jute, hemp or other materials used in the manufacture of rope. Modern shoelaces often incorporate various synthetic fibers, which are generally more slippery and thus more prone to coming undone than those made from traditional fibers. However, synthetic shoelaces often look better and wear longer.
The small plastic or metal sheath on the end of shoelaces, which both keeps the twine from unraveling and also makes it easier to hold the lace and feed it through the eyelets, is called an aglet (or aiglet).
Shoelaces with a flat cross-section are generally easier to hold and stay tied more securely than those with a round cross-section. Very wide flat laces are often called "fat laces". Leather shoelaces with a square cross-section, which are very common on boat shoes, are notoriously prone to coming undone. Shoelaces can be coated, either in the factory or with aftermarket products, to increase friction and help them stay tied.
There are also various elasticized shoelaces:
  1. Traditional "Elastic" laces look identical to normal laces, and can simply be tied and untied as normal. They may also come with a permanent clip so that they can be fastened invisibly.
  2. "Knotty" laces have a series of "fat" sections, which restrict movement through eyelets. These can be used to adjust tension throughout the lacing area. These laces can be tied or the ends can be left loose.
  3. "Twirly" laces are like a tight elastic helix, which can simply be pulled tight without requiring a knot.
Elastic laces both make the lacing more comfortable as well as allowing the shoe to be slipped on and off without tying or untying, which makes them a popular choice for children, the elderly and athletes.

Shoelace tying

Common bow

Shoelaces can be tied in an almost infinite number of ways. The most common bow, however, is a variant on two half knots tied one on top of the other. The second half-knot is looped in order to allow for quick untying.
A problem that arises is that two half knots can be tied together in two different ways (ignoring symmetrical configurations). One addition of a half knot to a half knot forms a square or reef knot, a fairly effective knot for the purpose of tying shoelaces. While a fairly insecure knot, it functions best when laid flat against a surface as it is on a shoe. The second combination of half knot to half knot gives a granny knot, a knot not good for tying shoes as it does not lie flat against a surface. It is terribly insecure, and most people who use it will find themselves retying their shoelaces many times a day.
Much discussion has appeared on shoelace tying websites discussing this issue and why it appears that the large majority of people (75% according to one website) are using the granny knot. Some have suggested that it may have to do with children watching their parents and mirroring them, but a total mirroring would produce, if the parent were tying a square knot, a mirror image square knot. A simpler explanation is that if one ties shoelaces first by tying a half knot and then by forming two loops and tying another (as opposed to some speedier technique), and if one consistently puts one hand over the other (left over right or right over left) one gets a granny knot. A square knot is the less intuitive knot and requires switching the top hand. First left over right and then right over left, or first right over left and then left over right. You can generally tell if you have produced the square or granny knot by the direction in which the loops lie. If they lie side to side, you have probably made a square knot. If they lie front to back, you have probably made a granny knot and should teach yourself the other.
Informal experiments seem to show that the need for retying shoelaces will drop dramatically with the square knot. Often, an extra half-knot is made on top of the bow using the free loops; this reduces the need for retying but substantially increases the difficulty of untying.

Other more secure knots

There are several more secure alternatives to the common shoelace bow, with names such as Turquoise Turtle Knot (or Shoemaker's Knot), Better Bow Shoelace Knot, Surgeon's Shoelace Knot, and Ian's Secure Shoelace Knot (or Double Slip Knot). These are all variations of the same concept of looping the top part of the knot twice instead of once, which results in a finished bow of almost identical appearance but with the laces wrapped twice around the middle. This double-wrap holds the shoelaces more securely tied whilst still allowing them to be untied with a (slightly firmer) pull on the loose ends.

Shoe lacing

This refers to the process of running the shoelaces through the holes, eyelets, loops or lugs to form the closure of the sides of the shoe. Mathematically, there are almost 2 trillion ways to lace a shoe with six pairs of eyelets. The most common method, termed "Criss Cross Lacing," is also one of the strongest and most efficient, especially compared to other more decorative methods that are generally more difficult to tighten or loosen.
One of the most popular decorative methods, termed "Checkerboard Lacing", is actually near impossible to tighten or loosen, thus the shoe is effectively considered to be a "slip-on."
left|thumb|upright|Bar-laced black shoelaces on dressy shoes.Various methods of "Straight Lacing" (also known as "Bar Lacing") are also very popular, especially on dress shoes where the sides of the shoe come together in the middle.
Shoe lacing methods are also chosen for their functional benefits. For example, being faster or easier to tighten or loosen, binding more tightly, being more comfortable, using up more lace or less lace, adjusting fit, preventing slippage. It has been demonstrated that the traditional methods of lacing (for example cross-lacing) are the strongest.
Using standard shoes and standard shoelaces, a process patent was granted for lacing in a double-helix pattern "resulting in reduced friction and faster and easier tightening and loosening." Another process patent was issued for an alternative way of tying shoelaces.


A popular myth states that Gurkha soldiers, fighting for Britain, crawled along the ground, feeling the laces of the soldiers they encountered. British soldiers employed straight- or bar-lacing, while Japanese troops employed a criss-cross pattern. Criss-cross laces could therefore mean the difference between life and death. The importance of correct lacing was thus emphasized to British troops.

Shoelace accessories

right|100px|thumb|A playful pair of black shoelaces, featuring pink and white skullsThere are many shoelace accessories. There are hooks to help lace shoelaces tightly. They are especially useful for skates where tight lacing is important. Shoelace covers protect the laces, especially in wrestling. Shoelace charms are decorative, as are colored shoelaces. Some laces are colored using expensive dyes, other, more "personal" colors, are drawn-on with permanent markers. Some dress codes (especially high schools) will specifically exclude color laces and charms. Lacelocks hold laces together, eliminating the need for tying. There are shoelace tags, with two holes through which the shoelace is passed. These are worn on the section of shoelace closest to the toes, in other words the last lace, so that the image or writing on the tag is visible.

Shoelace lengths

  • 2 pairs of holes - 45cm (18in)
  • 3 pairs of holes - 45/60cm (18/24in)
  • 4 pairs of holes - 60cm (24in)
  • 5 pairs of holes - 75cm (30in)
  • 6 pairs of holes - 90/110cm (35/43in)
  • 7 pairs of holes - 150cm (60in)
  • 8 pairs of holes - 180cm (71in)
(This is a very rough guide, as the length depends on the distance between eyelets both across the shoe and vertically. See link below for an on-line Shoelace Length Calculator).


shoestring in Danish: Snørebånd
shoestring in German: Schnürsenkel
shoestring in French: Lacet (chaussure)
shoestring in Italian: Stringa (calzature)
shoestring in Luxembourgish: Stréckel
shoestring in Dutch: Veter
shoestring in Norwegian Nynorsk: Skoreim
shoestring in Polish: Sznurowadło
shoestring in Portuguese: Cadarço
shoestring in Russian: Шнурки
shoestring in Swedish: Skosnöre
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