Style Guide

How to Tie Your Shoes

And how to lace them, while you're at it. Because you've been doing it wrong.

Illustration: Christian Capestany/Bloomberg; Composite: Jeremy Allen/Bloomberg

You think you know how to tie your shoes. You do it every day, right?

Sure, that simple bow you use to fasten your criss-crossed laces works well enough. But you're missing out on a much more attractive—and effective—system. Below, I have a simple guide for how to do it better.

 

You're Tying Your Shoes Wrong

You probably learned to tie your shoes in kindergarten. As with so many things, this is where the trouble started. (Why did we stop taking midday naps, again?)  Whether you do the "loop swoop and pull" or the "bunny ears," you probably end up having to bend over on the sidewalk to retie your shoes more than you'd like. I haven't had shoelaces come undone in years, and it's because of one knot.

Sometimes called a Windsor knot or a surgeon's knot, it starts like a typical shoe knot, but you bring one lace over the other twice. Then, as you're finishing, you take the loop and bring it over the top before cinching the laces tight. The above video will show you what to do. The end result is a small knot that sits flat and won't come undone until you want it to. 

Shoes: Salvatore Ferragamo Captoe Derby, $795, www.ferragamo.com; Alden for J. Crew Waxed Longwing Blucher, $555, www.jcrew.com; Common Projects Original Achilles Low, $412, www.unisnewyork.com.

"A properly laced shoe holds and supports the feet comfortably and evenly," says Steven Taffel, founder and owner of Leffot, one of New York's best men's shoe stores. "I prefer the look and feel of bar or straight across lacing."

You may need to rethread your laces after you take the shoes out of the box—often they're not done right. But you're making it easier on yourself in the long run, so it's worth it.

Formal Shoes

Formal oxfords have what's called "closed lacing." This means the front of the shoe turns into the quarters, where the lace holes are, not into the tongue.

To do that, you use a method called straight bar lacing. This feeds the laces up the sides and then straight over the top. This gives you a series of horizontal lines straight across the shoe and nothing messy gumming up the space between the quarters. If you have an odd number of eyelets you have to cheat a bit at the end and send one lace diagonally, but the bow will hide this and no one needs to be the wiser. If you leave the laces as they usually come from the store, tightening your oxfords is a pain and throws the quarters out of alignment.

Casual Shoes

Open laced shoes, where the quarters are separate pieces of leather from the front of the shoe, are one step more casual. Think wingtips, and the shoes you wear when it rains. Often they'll come out of the shoe store with laces going horizontally over the top like the shoes above, but this is really too formal for shoes like this. You don't wear a black satin bowtie with a cardigan, do you? Don't answer that.

A simple criss-cross lacing pattern is best here. Bring the laces across the center and thread them from the inside of the quarters to the outside. Just alternate laces as you work your way up the shoe so the same side is always on top and everything is symmetrical. The shoes will end up looking tidy but not too austere, and they're easy to adjust on the fly. This method will also work for boots, since all but the most formal dress boots essentially have open lacing too. 

Sneakers

For sneakers you want a lacing style that's casual, easy to tighten and loosen quickly, and complements the sportier look of the shoe. Lace them up similar to how you would open laced shoes, but bring the laces over the top of the quarters and down through the eyelets (instead of inside-out). This means the V they form points down to the tip of the shoe, giving a more aggressive look. Easy, just like it should be.

 

You need the right supplies for taking care of your shoes.
You need the right supplies for taking care of your shoes.
Source: Leffot, Woodlore, Fort Belvedere

Alright, you know how to tie your shoes and how to lace your shoes. But you need the right laces and tools to take good care of your shoes, too. These are the three things you don't want to do without.

Shoelaces: Laces from the drugstore will do in a pinch, but you want richly dyed laces with just enough wax to keep them looking sharp without making them too slippery. Fort Belvedere stocks them in both round and flat profiles and in any color you can imagine. From $9

Trees: Store your shoes on trees. Seriously. The cedar wood absorbs moisture and kills odors, and the form keeps deep wrinkles from ruining the profile of your kicks. You can get some pretty extravagant versions, but these basic cedar trees from Woodlore are some of the best you'll find anywhere. $35

Shoe Crème: Even if you're not the kind of guy who needs perfectly polished shoes at all times, leather crème ensures your investments don't literally crumble on your feet. New York shoe shop Leffot stocks Safir Renovateur, a French crème with mink oil that cleans and hydrates any kind of leather. $23