Historically, shoelaces were made of leather, cotton, jute, hemp or other materials traditionally used in the manufacture of rope. The natural materials used to make shoes means that there are rarely historical records of them, and so the exact history of shoelaces is quite hard to determine. The Areni-1 shoe, which has been dated to around 3500 BC and discovered in 2010 is the oldest known example of a leather shoe, and clearly has lacing which passes through eyelets that have been cut into the leather.
The Areni-1 shoe
Natural or Synthetic?
Modern shoelaces are made in much the same way as rope, with a core that has an outer 'braided' sheath. They often incorporate various synthetic fibers, which has its advantages. They suffer less wear from friction, and are less susceptible to rotting from moisture, which is great for modern life. However, they are generally more slippery and thus more prone to coming undone than those made from traditional fibers. Cotton laces will wear much faster in comparison, but they will more likely stay tied up that their synthetic equivalent and they can also be treated with wax coatings to help with their water resistance.
Cotton laces wearing thin from Friction
Mathematically speaking there are over 2 Trillion ways to lace a shoe with 6 pairs of eyelets, but practically speaking there are a couple of different lacing techniques that are useful to know for their different properties.
The most common form of lacing is the 'Criss-Cross' technique. It is the strongest and most efficient way of lacing and is often used for trainers and casual shoes. Generally speaking, the more that the laces cross behind the back of the eyelets then the stronger the hold and the tighter the shoe will fit.
Criss-cross lacing is not appropriate for Brogues or dress shoes, as the nature of the shoe means that the eyelet bands need to meet edge to edge, and this does not facilitate that.
Bar lacing or Straight lacing is the best lacing technique for this kind of shoe. It gives a smart finish and, assuming that they are laced with the crossing still going behind the shoe, this is still a strong hold lacing technique. The crossing will be covered by the eyelet band and so it will have no effect on the smart, finished look of the shoe.
Try to avoid lacing runs that go diagonally behind the lacing band as over time this can warp the shoe and make it slant up or down on one side.
Bar Lacing Criss Cross Lacing