January 1, 2017 by Ville Raivio
The side elastic or side gusset or elastic sided shoe is an eccentric footwear type that has its origins in 1837. I’ve read several dates for the exact year, but have decided to put my trust in a museal source, courtesy of The Victoria&Albert Museum in London. One J. Sparkes Hall, bootmaker to Queen Victoria, launched his new invention back then; a “a slip-on boot with the gusset made from tightly coiled wire and cotton”, though it took three more years before this shoemaker of legend came up with an elastic similar to those in use today. His slip-on boot inspired the Chelsea boot, which was later followed by the Beatle boot and other elasticised models.
Side elastic shoes were made by the likes of Nikolaus Tuczek, a mostly-forgotten London cordwainer of note, and John Lobb Ltd., who still remember the late master with a model named in his honour. As patterns and styling go, the shoelaces are just replaced with a strong elastic that keeps the shoe in place. This seems easy enough on paper, but the fit cannot be adjusted without lacing. Side elastic pairs are thus a hybrid with the ease of the loafer and, depending on the details, often with the looks of a nice oxford. Most loafers lack the elastic bit, though, so they won’t stretch as well to fit the individual contours of the foot. Chelseas notwithstanding, well-made elastic shoes are not widely available in most high-street stores for reasons that escape me.
The example pair is the model Kibworth from the miracle makers Edward Green. I cannot remember when I first saw photos of elastic oxfords, but I knew I had to try them one day, the design intrigued too much. The pair is an older make with the former EG stamp, and doesn’t have a specialised loafer last. Instead it’s made on the 606-last, which they call square-toed but looks far from one, with hidden elastics and from Edwardian Antique calfskin. A combination of the looks of an oxford and the comfort of a loafer, I’m surprised more factories won’t offer elastic shoes. As things go, the shoe type seems to be most popular in Asia and Japan in particular, perhaps because shoes are usually taken off indoors in the land of the rising sun. As for other elastic shoemakers besides EG, at least Carmina and Crockett&Jones spring to mind if the reader would like a try.
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