If you’re researching quality footwear, odds are you’ll come across the term “Goodyear welt”. The definition is simple, but it requires a general understanding of how shoes are made. The benefit of a Goodyear welt, however, is slightly more complex, as it depends on how you determine value.
By the time you’ve finished reading this article you’ll have a good enough understanding of Goodyear welted construction to know if this type of footwear is right for your style and wallet.
The Technical Bit
Okay, bear with me for a moment while I get through the nitty gritty. The Goodyear welt machine was patented by Charles Goodyear Jr in somewhere between 1869-1871. This stitching method attached a separate Welt to both the upper of the shoe and the sole.
A welt is a strip of leather (preferably) or a synthetic material (if you’re a heathen) that is stitched through both the leather of the upper and the insole. Starting in the 1950s, many makers added an additional strip of canvas ribbing called Gemming, which is glued to the insole as well to help secure the stitched welt and upper.
This cut costs and greatly reduced the amount of time (and talent) required to create a channeled insole.
The Gemming and welt stitching leaves a cavity under the insole that is filled most often with cork or leather to make a flat surface for midsole adhesion. The cork or leather underfoot will eventually compress and mold to the shape of your foot, giving it a bespoke feel. The midsole and outsole are then glued onto the upper and stitched to the welt for added security.
Why Are Goodyear Welt Boots Better?
Better than what? Better for what? Great questions to ask.
It’s important first to know what are the different construction methods for outsole construction and adhesion. Today’s going to be all about Welted vs Glued.
For clarity’s sake, I will touch on Blake Stitching at the end, but leave other high-end construction including Stitchdown, Handwelt and Veltschoeen for another day (stay tuned for part 2).
Goodyear welted footwear is an investment.
Sure, you can spend a thousand bucks on sneakers (I’m looking at you, Balenciaga), but once your shoe cost starts rising about the $300 mark, it’s time to start thinking about long-term usage. Yes, modern shoes with rubber outsoles made by Vibram, Danite and Dr. Sole can last many years, but what happens after that?
With Goodyear welted boots and shoes, you can give them a second, third and many more lives beyond. This is most evidently seen in classic dress shoes and boots that have leather soles. A daily-worn leather sole may only last a year or two but a Goodyear welted shoe can be easily replaced by your local cobbler (shoe repair person).
Goodyear welted footwear, properly maintained, can undergo several resoles. It is important to mention that Goodyear welt or not, footwear that is not cared for will not last. Dried out leather that hasn’t seen even occasional conditioning will not last.
Shoes with damage to the welt leather, gemming, or insoles that are deteriorating, can all be salvaged, as long as the uppers are well maintained. Some Venetian shoe cream such as Saphir or Bick 4 applied at regular intervals (depending on wear, moisture and leather tannage), can mean the difference between a lifelong companion and a gigantic waste of money.
Bick 4 is an outstanding addition to your leather conditioner collection. It’s inexpensive and perfect for giving your boots a pick-me-up without changing the color at all. It doesn’t penetrate deep into the leather, so you should use a liberal amount, and you may want to do several layers, but the price is right.
2. Bespoke Feel for Long-Term Comfort
I use the term bespoke somewhat loosely here. You can get true bespoke (custom fitted, very expensive) footwear, of course. But as a result of the materials used in many Goodyear welted footwear, they will break in and retain the shape of your foot. Leather insoles and midsoles, and cork filler will eventually start to compress as you wear the boots or shoes, leaving a custom imprint of your feet.
This will lead to a more comfortable experience in the long run. The leather uppers will also start to take on your foot’s shape. Fit is still very important. It is a bit of a misnomer that leather will stretch a great amount so make sure that you are getting shoes that are the correct size. Boots and shoes, especially those made from thick leather will not magically grow. If they are too narrow and too short, they will likely stay that way regardless of how long you wear them.
The uppers may eventually stretch wider, but you may end up standing on the welt, which is not very comfortable underfoot.
Generally (and I do mean generally!), Goodyear welted shoes have a timeless look. Yes, vibrant colored leather and wild silhouettes (and Gloxi cut outsoles) exist, but the world of Goodyear welted footwear is tends toward classic silhouettes.
If you’re intending to have a pair of boots last decades, it follows that you’ll probably want a look that transcends fashion trends. Sure, for every 15 service boots varieties you have a double monk strap dress shoe, but again, as a general rule it’s prudent to stick with classic silhouettes and colorways.
The Goodyear welted community is small. You may not get stopped on the street or turn as many heads as often as you might in a hype pair of sneakers. But when you enter most rooms, including your office and the next wedding you attend, take solace in the fact that you’ll likely have the best-looking pair of shoes there.
4. Support Cobblers (A Dying Profession)
Part of the Goodyear welted allure is getting your shoes resoled.
Footwear is meant to be worn and taken care of, so when it comes time to give your boots and shoes a new life you get to help support a dying profession. Shoe repair shops used to be everywhere, but as fast fashion has taken over, the local shoe repair shops have been closing at an alarming rate.
By choosing to purchase, maintain and repair Goodyear welted footwear, you can help support small businesses that in some cases have been around for generations. Many cobblers have taken to YouTube and other social media platforms to help increase mail-in business and expand their customer base.
Here’s a quick guide to finding a cobbler near you.
Storm Welt vs Goodyear Welt
A Storm Welt or Split Welt is a Goodyear welt that has a visible rib above the welt stitch line. The intent is to provide more water resistance by raising the seam between welt and upper where water can collect. It also eliminates the cavity that can collect dirt, dust and grime. Ultimately, there is still a seam where water can potentially enter the boot, so the choice between the two comes down to aesthetics. Storm welts are typically chunky looking whereas the Goodyear Welt can be more refined in comparison.
The Downsides of Goodyear Welted Footwear
You can get yourself some Blundstones or Timberland boots for about $200, but your first pair of Goodyear welted footwear, even Thursday Boots and Red Wing Boots are going to start at around $300. As I mentioned earlier, you need to think of welted footwear as an investment.
With that in mind, you might be better served to steer clear of entry level Welted footwear and opt for something that uses premium materials throughout. Foam and plastics are prone to breaking down or cracking, and might not survive multiple resoles. For best results, stick with footwear that uses natural materials such as cork and leather throughout.
While Goodyear welted footwear is water resistant in most circumstances, they are not entirely waterproof. The welt stitch that attaches to the upper can allow water to seep in if prolonged exposure or submersion occurs.
A cemented boot or shoe with no sole stitching has a better chance of being waterproof for longer. That said, any footwear with a seam is still susceptible to water. If true waterproof footwear is what you need, a rubber boot like Hunters or Bogs might be your best shot. You can also try some galoshes for those especially slushy days.
There’s no question that foam shoes and boots feel great out of the box. Put on a pair of Blundstones and it feels like you’re walking on a cloud. Goodyear welted footwear, however, can feel stiff and hard underfoot when you initially put them on.
Breaking in a hearty pair of heritage style Goodyear welted footwear is a rite of passage, but not one that everyone is prepared to endure. By breaking them in gradually—wearing them in short increments can help ease the pain.
Goodyear Welt vs Blake Stitch
Another common construction method is known as the Blake Stitch. Similar to a Goodyear Welt, the Blake Stitch is a construction method that allows for footwear to be resoled, but with a different method. The Blake Stitch does not use a dedicated welt, but rather adds a stitch on the inside of the boots to secure the midsole and outsole to the upper.
The absence of the additional welt allows the footwear silhouette to be much sleeker in appearance. As a result, they are most often found on dressier shoes and boots such as Beckett Simonon, which offers Blake Stitching but with a decorative stitch on the welt as well. In the case of Paraboots however, you can still get that chunky aesthetic but with the Blake stitching.
They can still be resoled, but require a Blake Stitch machine that not all cobblers may have. They are also typically less waterproof by design, as there are stitch holes that go directly from the outsole into the insole and can allow water more easily seep in.
The absence of the external welt stitching will also allow the footwear to be more flexible out of the box. If flexibility is a major selling point for you Blake Stitch might be the way to go.
Choosing to purchase a pair of Goodyear welted footwear is an investment into the future of your fashion. If properly cared for, Goodyear welted shoes and boots can become a lifelong companion rather than simply something to throw on your feet.
What does a Goodyear welt do?
Secures the upper to the midsole and outsole in a way that allows the outsole to be replaced once worn out, without damaging the upper.
Why is Goodyear welt better?
Despite the upfront cost, a well-maintained pair of goodyear welted footwear can be resoled indefinitely, making them a good investment in the long run.
Is Goodyear welt better than Blake stitch?
Not inherently, however a Blake Stitch can be slightly less water resistant, and a resole requires machinery that not every cobbler may have.