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Reader questions: Snow, shoes, soles

3 December 2010

Ed, London: I just bought a pair of boots and was considering putting rubber soles on top of the leather ones, to make them harder wearing and more suited to the rain and the snow. Is this a good idea?

Pearse, London: With the weather being the way it is, is it ever appropriate to buy a rubber soled shoe? Or is there anything which can be done to negate the damage that rain and puddles causes to leather soled shoes?

Anonymous: Is the application of a half sole encouraged or discouraged for an Edward Green or any other quality shoe? I personally have been a blind advocate of them as they allow me to be much more flexible with regard to the weather and protect the original sole/shoe from refurbishment.

Not surprising, this flurry of questions. Last week it snowed in November in the UK for the first time in decades. It caught men’s shoes off guard, it seems, as much as it did Network Rail.

Rubber soles may seem like an obvious choice when the weather is icy, but the grip on a flat rubber sole is not necessarily that superior to leather (rubber soles with a tread are another matter). When damp and worn, leather provides decent friction in most situations.

The bigger advantage of rubber is that it is waterproof where leather is not. I have a pair of Swims galoshes that I wear with light dress shoes (such as the Cleverleys) on damp days like today for just that reason.

But the real problem with leather soles is that men aren’t looking after them properly. In a follow-up email to one of these questions, the reader mentioned that he is wearing his leather-soled shoes everyday, not drying them on their sides and not using shoe trees. It’s no wonder the soles are getting shredded – they’ve probably never fully dried out.

Leather soles can be very hardy if treated right. If it’s too difficult to take care of them, go for rubber and sacrifice something in elegance.

Some leather shoes are also more robust than others. You can have double soles (keeps the sensitive upper further away from the wet), storm welts (stops moisture seeping in at the sides) and waxed or cordovan uppers (I’ve been wearing the Lodger Ibano (pictured) through the snow on more casual days and they have done wonderfully – no dampness, no damage.) Silicon waterproofing sprays also give some protection against light showers. So if style is a concern, stick with leather but treat it right.

If you still want rubber soles, they can be easily and inexpensively added to welted shoes. Get someone to take off the old sole and put a rubber one on though – the leather underneath won’t rot if it’s covered, as one reader feared, but it isn’t designed to be covered either.

Finally, it’s always worth going for a full rather than half-sole if you can afford it. The cost is only a little more and it will both look better and prevent water getting in at the join. Certainly if you have Edward Greens. Get them sent back to the factory and they’ll be resoled, generally refurbished and come back looking better than new.