In recent times I’ve had a couple of pairs of shoes resoled. In the grand scheme of things makes me something of a know-it-all, with regards to what goes on on the underside of Gentleman’s footwear. First I found a pair of custom-grade Church brogues, which I then had resoled with Dainite soles, then a pair of lesser brogues resoled with commando soles. This led me to believe quite firmly that I had a very solid idea what Dainite and commando soles were like.
At least until this photo popped up on Instagram:
To fully appreciate the shift this photo forces on my perception of reality, read on.
So I had to engage my massive resources into an investigation into this matter, to clear the confusion and regain order in the sole universe. To start with I visited the Dainite website, and they kindly offer only 4 different soles, the first being the “Studded” sole, which happens to be exactly what I have in mind when I hear “Dainite sole”:
This style of sole is also described as “lug sole”, to add to the fuller picture.
When it comes to “commando” style soles you often hear them described as “Vibram” as well, so off there for my next piece of sleuthing. Vibram is a company that makes many a product, including the Five-fingers running shoes and a wide selection of soles for all manner of shoes. The list of soles available is longer and very much more varied than the conservative and traditional offerings from Dainite, and to be honest very much less interesting for the gentleman walker. Laboriously working my way down the list I came to the “Montagna block”, which is exactly the sort of serious sole I have on the underside of my Red Wing Ice-cutters. An excellent piece of rubber, and a good example of the commando style.
A proper rugged pattern and good soft rubber to enable both a grand grip and stealthy steps. An excellent choice for Sir.
So far, so good. We have the Dainite-style studded lug soles (let’s just expand the descriptions a little) and the Commando-style availabele from Vibram and others. Now what was the problem with the soles that started me off on this post?
Well, Itshide (which apart from anything is a remarkably stupid name for a company) do a Dainite-style sole which they proudly call the “commando”. Clearly completely incorrect and bonkers. What sort of confusing piddle is this? A commando-sole looks nothing like this…
In order of preference though, these are the types of soles I would recommend:
1) Commando style – for the best grip, rugged look and decent wear. If there is a downside it is that they do have an unfortunate affinity for gravel and small objects, so carry a special tool to aid in their removal. A sneaky advantage for those dwarfish stature is that they add about a quarter of an inch of vertical height.
2) Dainite style – solid rubber and hard wearing. The lugs or studs don’t actually add much in the way of off-road traction, but they add a bit of heft and manly ruggedness to your shoes. And they’ll be much better in the wet with regards to protecting your shoes than plain leather.
3) Ridgeway sole – should be a good bet for more rugged use and even handy in the snow. Similar in heft to the commando sole and unusual enough to be interesting.
4) Victory sole – again similar to the ridgeway and commando soles. Used mainly by Loake, so likely the rarest of the three.
To round off this piece I thought I’d mention a few words about some of the other types of sole available for your shoes, and why I think they may be poor choices.
1) Leather soles. As mentioned, my Church brogues had plain leather soles. These are to be considered equivalent to slippers and are fine for poncing around in a sanitised and climatise-controlled office environment if you are wearing a suit and tie and find joy in spreadsheets. Totally unsuitable for venturing outside in, and especially so if you might risk running into weather. All is not lost though, as you could resole them with more manly and proper soles.
2) Glued on rubber sole covers. This is a true half-way measure to remedy the problem of the leather soles just mentioned. It will add a little traction to aid you in escaping pursuers in said office environment, but frankly it will be of almost no use at all when you’re standing in a puddle or find yourself faced with a muddy path.
3) Christy soles, as very often seen on Red Wing, Grenson and others. These are the thick, heel-less foamy-looking white soles used on both work-boots and brogues alike now. They do provide a new look on old designs, which is nice, but do they really improve matters? Red Wing claim them to provide lots of traction in the workplace (not the same workplace as mentioned above, but an actual physically inclined workplace where there is real dirt, danger and un-curated facial hair).
In my experience though these soles have a couple of grievous issues:
- They have no grip at all. I see mention of people wanting to use their Red Wings for winter use and can only comment that they are useless on snow and ice.
- They have very poor wear characteristics, i.e. the soles wear out very quickly if used regularly (they’ll last forever if you never use them though). When mine wear out enough to justify a resole, they’ll have Vibram commando-soles fitted, which is a nice advantage of Goodyear welted footwear.
Oh, to add a final twist to an otherwise sordid story, it appears Itshide do in fact wish to redeem themselves, as they also do a commando-style sole that is marked as just that, “Commando”. We are not amused!
Red Wing enthusiast and conspiracy theorist, Scratch, brings up a good point in the comments below. Does Red Wing buy their Christy-soles from Vibram, or are they an own-brand knockoff of a design that might have expired rights? They certainly use Vibram-branded soles for the Ice cutters, as show below, but have their own logo on the Looks-Just-Like-Vibram soles on 877 boots and their like. I will endeavour to get to the bottom of this…