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Compared to alternatives like velcro (which have been around for quite some time) or mechanisms that allow you to tighten shoes with a twisting mechanism (as seen on some of the football boots), shoelaces seem to be a rather difficult way to adjust and maintain the fit of shoes.

Previously there has been shoelaces that do not require tying (e.g. the ends are curled in a way that they stay in place) but this works for shoes that do not need to be tightened, or rather are intended to stay loose. There are also shoes that have shoelaces plus additional mechanisms to ensure that the shoelaces do not become undone (e.g. velcro).

Fundamentally it seems like there is both an aesthetic aspect to shoelaces as well as an utility aspect (i.e. keeping the shoe on at a specific tightness). However, from a usability (i.e. ease-of-use) or an accessibility point of view (e.g. ability for people with fine motor skill to be able to use), do shoelaces provide a good user experience?

Are there better alternatives that can replace it, and if so why is it still so common?

  • silly but... can you imagine what doc martens or coverse' shoes would look like without those funky laces?!.. no, neither can I :) – aly.i.ux Oct 18 '18 at 17:46
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    @aly.i.ux we might just see versions of famous brands come up with lace-less designs sooner than you think :D – Michael Lai Oct 18 '18 at 22:17
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    UX of velcro is worse than laces because it doesn't hold on as strong and the prickly side gets contaminated with detritis – paj28 Oct 24 '18 at 8:16
  • @paj28 for the purposes of keeping the shoes on your feet and not having to worry about shoe laces coming loose, isn't velcro adequate? Maybe for footwear used in more hard wearing conditions or usage I think you do have a point there. It's just about trade-off in different use cases. – Michael Lai Oct 24 '18 at 9:27
  • The 'hook' side of the velcro is likely to wreck the surface weave of your finest socks/hosiery (if you wear that). – brennanyoung Nov 19 '18 at 10:41
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Historically, laces have been used for at least 5,500 years.

The oldest leather shoe ever discovered (known as the Areni-1 shoe) dates back to 3500 BC. It features leather laces as the method of tightening.

As you mention, today there are alternatives for people who have trouble with laces. Synthetic materials that make today's alternatives possible (e.g. Velcro, elastic, plastic) were obviously not available, but leather and plant materials were plentiful. Provided with these materials, I don't think I could imagine a better way to keep a shoe on.

Additionally, laces are cheap, reliable, easily produced, and easily replaced.

  • +1 So I guess you are saying that ease of manufacturing (i.e. economic reasons) probably is the dominant factor here? Do you think the emergence of 3D printing and other technologies and potential new materials change this in the future? – Michael Lai Oct 18 '18 at 22:16
  • @MichaelLai <speculation> I think it probably started as a simple invention which serves a simple purpose, and has continued to be the simplest solution to the same problem for thousands of years. Yes, there are many more solutions we can (and have) come up with for this same problem, but I think the majority of these alternatives are either more expensive, don't last as long, more difficult to produce, or not as easily replaceable—and even if an alternative does satisfy all of these criteria, they'd break 5,500 years of tradition which carries a lot of momentum. </speculation> – maxathousand Oct 19 '18 at 13:23
  • I bought my first pair of elastic laces recently. I am very pleasantly surprised with the UX. Those shoes have become 'slip-ons', even though they have laces, and the knot/bow has not loosened by itself yet. I would consider replacing more laces in this way. – brennanyoung Nov 19 '18 at 10:52

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