The role and rhetoric surrounding shoe laces (strings) has come on leaps and bounds since the earliest materialisations of the sneaker game. To this day, cynics hold out that these developments - for the perceived worse - are not unique to laces but applicable to the bigger picture of sneaker culture as a whole. For the sake of this exercise though, our attentions will primarily focus on the developments of shoe strings and their evolutionary pathway as a separate journey, and a subject matter in their own right.
Its a fools game to underestimate the role and consequent importance of the shoe lace in the overall performance and aesthetic of a sneaker. It's roles are multiple and guises even more varied. It would be a fair observation to make that inadequate laces, either in quality, design, colour or use can ruin any sneaker, whether a household name or not. In the earliest days of the sneaker game, stretching out the life of your sneakers for as long as possible was your main objective and only really possible through you changing up of your laces. Within this time span the individuals writing the rule book as we now it today weren't people of serious means. Firstly, kicks didn't come cheap or be released in many models by todays standards. But laces, being more varied and easier to get your hands on, created the mindset of not only cleaning ones sneakers but more importantly led to customizing them to keep them fresh and a part of a tight game. Hypothetically speaking, you could have one pair of sneakers and up to fifteen different types of laces and without doing the maths fully, you could have a minimum of fifteen different ways of customizing that one pair of kicks. Just through the numerical possibilities, arguably you could pass one or two or even three of these new lace set ups as being part of an all together entirely new sneaker.
The reality of the matter is that laces give the overall flavour of the sneaker set up. You have to have the laces to bring out the sneaker. Within the rigors of this exercise of categorization, anomalies do come into existence. No better example of this is the Run DMC approach to wearing the Adidas Superstar: LACELESS!
With the laces as like with the sneakers, you had to maintain that mindset of constantly cleaning them both. Sneakers were easy enough. The only necessary tool in one's armory was the toothbrush. You would keep it on you at all times. One could never anticipate the moment when one would need it the most. Keeping one's laces clean, however, was a whole different ball game. Firstly, when dealing with the most precious of all laces, the crisp white laces, you would have to wash them when they were still white. You may as well have consider it game over if you let them get stained by the skid marks from the eye holes. It was common knowledge that is was near impossible to get rid of these stains.
As a fail safe method for cleaning any type of shoelace you would firstly wash them, then you would knuckle them up and wash them some more and only after knuckling them up for some serious time would you even consider to start getting them ready for the drying process. This would entail holding one end of the shoelace between your thumb and forefinger and with your other hand (still using your thumb and forefinger) you would pull them from the top down to the very bottom to rid them of any excess water. The next step would be to get a towel and repeat this same process. This last stage was crucial as it was through this method you were able to not only straighten your laces but get rid of the wrinkles caused by you having them in your shoe in the first place. The importance of the towel was that the fibers in the towel (with added pressure from the thumb and fingers) would comb the fibers of the shoelace straight in so making them seem as good as new. Individuals would inevitably like to coordinate. The basic principles were part shock factor, part a means by which you were able to be the freshest when laying down your game. It was possible due to the multitude of different shapes, sizes and colours laces were available in.
The importance of clean fresh laces was a rule adhered to by all sneakerheads across the board. The extent that individuals would go that extra distance in customizing their kicks by finding new colours and different ways of tying them was really taken to extremes by those wearing brands such as Adidas, Puma, Pro-Keds and Pony. Nike seemed to be exempt from such customization for reasons of design and the purity seen within the model designs. Nike more than any brand lacked the variety of different colourways in their releases, therefore stifling the possibilities for customization. Though unlike other brands at the time, their variety in releasing differing models was second to none but numbers were significantly capped. The images below give a little taste of the flavors being created as this golden moment in sneaker customization.
This energy for laces and the creative functionality they serve for the customization of a pair of sneakers is all but vanished in the present day. The importance of them being clean and fresh is about the only residue that remains. Due to the increased rate of sneaker releases by sneaker companies, the modern sneaker head is spoilt for choice and yearning for the signature designs and aesthetics of the sneaker companies products in their original, untampered and purest state. With all trends and fashions they move on according to the times and the individuals who are dictating the rules. The importance of the shoelace on the average sneaker head is not lost by any means but it has simply been put on the back burner. The appreciation of the sneaker is now more heavily involved in the design, materials and performance of the shoe but there is no reason why things might not come the full circle or even head in entirely new directions.