Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacing Your Shoes (and Then Some)

Why did Ian Fieggen, aka “Professor Shoelace,” start Ian’s Shoelace Site in May 2000? “I think shoelaces really needed someone to develop some passion and champion their cause,” he says. “I mean, they're the ultimate underdog, aren't they?” Birchbox Man was lucky enough to speak with the professor and learn about the “criss-cross,” the “over-under, “straight European” lacing, and why a Tom Cruise movie from the ‘80s is responsible for the most common misconception about shoelace terminology.

Birchbox Man: What basic shoelace-tying techniques should every guy know?

Fieggen: The most basic shoe-lacing method of all is called “criss-cross” lacing, in which the laces simply criss-cross from one side to the other. Simplicity, efficiency, and comfort:

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A variation of this, called “over-under,” has the crossovers alternating between running across the outside and inside of the shoe. This reduces friction, making it easier to tighten and loosen and reducing wear and tear. This is one of my personal favorites:

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And for dress shoes, where the sides come completely together in the middle of the shoe, “straight European” lacing is the method of choice. The straight lines on top look neat, while the underlying zigzag makes it tighten evenly and securely:

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And a good method for hiking boots is “Army” lacing. It has crossovers on the inside and vertical sections of the outside. By eliminating external crossovers, the usually tough sides of heavy boots can flex more easily.

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Birchbox Man: How about a fun and slightly unusual (but not too wacky) style that guys might use when subbing in some colorful waxed laces into their normal dress shoes this spring?

Fieggen: A great method for the thin, colorful waxed shoelaces is “zipper” lacing. At each pair of eyelets, the laces loop under the previous crossover, which "locks" the laces at that point. The end result vaguely resembles a giant zipper, which adds an unusual style.

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Birchbox Man: What's your favorite lacing style?

Fieggen: For practicality, my favorite style is over-under, but for appearance, my favorite is “lattice” lacing. It's surprising how many people comment on my lattice-laced sneakers, and it is nice to receive compliments.

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Birchbox Man: Is there a mathematical limit to the number of ways you can lace up your shoes?

Fieggen: The maths of shoe lacing is phenomenal. Australian mathematician Burkard Polster calculated that there were 43,200 possible "practical" lacings of a typical shoe with six pairs of eyelets, based on each lace segment contributing to the closing of the shoe. Laying practicality aside, there's almost two trillion ways of passing a shoelace through those six eyelets, and countless more if you allow the laces to be interwoven or to pass through any eyelet more than once. I guess you'd eventually hit a limit when the shoe lacing becomes a solid mass and all the eyelets are chock full, but I have no idea of the number. If you used infinitely thin shoelaces, you'd have an infinite number of possible lacings.

Birchbox Man: Can you tell me about how this misunderstanding regarding the proper name for aglets? Why do people think they’re called "flugelbinders?"

Fieggen: Many people seem to have learned the wrong word for the tip of a shoelace—properly known as an aglet—from the 1988 movie Cocktail. Interestingly, most of them seem to recall that Tom Cruise's character Flanagan coined the term, but it was actually Elisabeth Shue's character Jordan who said: "It's probably got one of those weird names too, like, aahh, 'flugelbinder.’" Of course, the proper term is aglet. The only other crucial terminology I can think of is “granny knot,” which causes countless people's shoelaces to come undone. But that's a whole other story...

Be sure to watch Fieggen’s "Ian Knot" which spawned his Professor Shoelace alter ego.

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