In-depth – Toe spring, heel height and creases
Many people think that a shoe’s toe spring, the height of the tip of the toe above the ground, and the heel height only affect how the shoe feels when walking and its appearance. But it also has a bearing on how much the shoe needs to be bent when walking, which can ultimately affect how prominent the creases becomes. I’ll explain this more in detail, and delve deeper into these topics.
A shoe’s”toe spring is a debated topic. To put it simply, a shoe needs some sort of toe spring to be comfortable to walk in, but a very high the toe spring can affect stability when standing. In the past, it was much more common for shoes to be designed for the status of the wearer rather than the function, showing who you were with your shoes. Shoes with extremely low toe spring originate from when men of high status bought light, thin-soled flexible bespoke shoes that showed they did not need to walk much. Workers wore sturdier shoes, usually wood-pegged shoes with thicker, more durable soles and high toe spring to be comfortable to walk a lot in.
Today this lives on to some extent, partly because of function as shoes with thicker soles need more toe spring, and thin elegant bespoke shoes can be made with lower toe spring, but also because of appearance and what it signals.
When it comes to heel height, this is something that differs greatly between manufacturers. A lower heel will be more stable but a bit less comfortable to walk in, in general.
One question that is often discussed is whether a shoe should be fully balanced when a shoe stands flat on the ground. An old standard says “pencil under the toe, penny under the heel”. So the toe spring should be a horizontal pencil high, and along the back under the heel a penny should be able to be placed, then the shoe should have a proper “roll” when walking, and be comfortable to walk in. This is of course a simplification, as other things influence, but still. A little lift at the back of the heel, or a fully balanced shoe, is considered by most bespoke shoemakers I have talked to to be the best. You do not want to much unbalance, since it puts a strain on the shoe just from just standing in it, as the foot is constantly pushing the shoe down against the ground and trying to even out the imbalance when standing still, plus it can feel wobbly and be distracting when sitting down and the shoe is rocking back and forth.
Well, back to how toe spring and heel height can affect how the shoe creases. Here, it’s really all about simple math, where the angle that the shoe needs to bend increases or decreases depending on its toe spring and heel height. Below are a number of pictures where I try to explain how it works:
So the point is that the upper leather on the J. FitzPatrick shoe will bend together more than on the Vass shoe in the bottom. This means that the creases may be more pronounced and more numerous on a shoe built like the first, compared to the last. Just think how many times the shoe has to be bent back and forth, in every step you take, and that each such bend inducts a bit more stress to the material. Now of course there are many more parameters that plays a role in the case of how a shoe is creased, it’s about leather quality, fit and more (as I’ve written extensively about in various previous articles, see more below). However, the height of the toe spring and heel height is yet another parameter that can be useful to know about. Personally, I think low toe spring shoes look great, and can certainly trade off some comfort and possibly more pronounced creasing for this. To some extent, of course, as I mention above shoes with too low or no toe spring I find uncomfortable to walk in and is not something I favour at all.
As said, the topic of creasing has been addressed in many articles through the years, with two main ones explaining a lot of it which is this article on how shoes crease, and this one explaining the difference between leather quality and leather properties also in relations to how the shoes crease. Recently also this one on creases due to how shoes fit, and if you search on “creases” in the search field you’ll find plenty more.
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