What the heck is a Goodyear welt, and why should I care?
Ok, first let's get something right out of the way; a Goodyear welt has nothing to do with the tire people. It's namesake, Charles Goodyear Jr., invented the first Goodyear welt machine in 1869 and ever since, it's been the gold standard in shoe and boot construction. In fact, it has nothing to do with rubber at all, let alone tires. It's all about the quality of construction and how the upper is stitched to the sole.
Today, there are three main methods for shoe construction; cement or "glue down", Goodyear welt, and Blake stitch. All three have their pros and cons, and it's important to know how a shoe is constructed before you make a purchase. Especially if you want your shoes or boots to last.
Let's start with cementing. To cut down on costs, many shoe manufacturers mass produce shoes using rubber cement to literally glue the sole to the upper (the visible upper part of a shoe made of suede or leather). Sounds cheap, right? It is, and it's usually reflected in the retail price of the shoe as well as the weight. Why the weight? Well, that's where the welt comes in.
A welt is a piece of leather sewn along the perimeter of the outsole (the bottom sole that touches the ground). You can already surmise by it's name that Goodyear welting uses a welt. That welt runs atop the edge of the bottom outsole. Additionally, on the bottom side of the insole, a vertical rib runs perpendicular along the outside of the sole. When the upper is placed between the soles, it's placed against this rib and on top of the welt. Then, a stitch is sewn through the welt, through the upper, the ribbed insole, and back again through the welt.
We're not done yet, though. There's an additional step that gives Goodyear welt shoes their distinctive look. On the outside of the sole, a final stitch passes through the bottom sole and the welt. You've seen this stitch before; it's visible and runs the length of the shoes. Sometimes tonal stitching is used and it is less visible, other times contrast stitching makes the shoes stand out even more. Buyer beware: some shoe makers put a faux stitch on their shoes and make them look welted when they are in fact cemented.
Why are Goodyear welted shoes better? For starters, they last longer. Added bonus? The extra stitch and welt makes these shoes water resistant but also more breathable at the same time. Perfect for New England weather. Furthermore, when the soles do wear out, you can have a cobbler resole your already broken in shoes as opposed to tossing them and having to buy a new pair. Your shoes can last a lifetime with good care and the occasional trip to the cobbler. The cons? Since more material is used and it's more labor intensive, the cost is higher. Yet a discerning shoe enthusiast knows that the pros are worth the extra spend.
The third method, used frequently in Italian dress shoes, is Blake stitch construction. In Blake construction, the upper is wrapped around and attached between it and the outsole. A single stitch attaches everything together. Since this is a "simpler" construction than Goodyear welting, it is also less expensive. It is also more desired when seeking a close-cut sole and an elegant silhouette. Lastly, since it does not use as many layers, it is lighter and more flexible. Like a Goodyear welt, it can also be resoled. However, it does require a Blake machine which can be harder to come by and more expensive to resole.
So there you have it; now you know why shoes advertise that they utilize Goodyear welt construction or Blake stitching (sometimes referred to as "stitched down") construction. They both are far superior to cementing. We carry numerous brands that utilize Goodyear welt construction as well as Blake stitching for all of the reasons outlined above. Want to learn more? Stop by Edit and we'll be happy to show you the differences and allow you to feel for yourself! Your feet will thank you.