The world is a strange place, and there’s no accounting for taste, but I do find it somewhat bizarre that the humble Plimsoll shoe is currently considered an item of fashion, in the UK at least. Apparently David Beckham himself is a big fan of them! Not bad for a shoe normally worn by primary school children that was originally designed as an item of footwear for wearing on the beach – one step up from a flip flop, another item of footwear which also seems to enjoy a strange popularity.
The humble Plimsoll, or Pump as it was sometimes called, is a shoe usually made out of black or white coloured canvas, but normally black. Normally they have no laces but instead have a piece of thick elastic that goes over the top of the foot to keep it on securely. This is why they were usually part of the school uniform for primary school, as they were easy to take on and off, useful for children who haven’t quite mastered the art of tying their own shoelaces yet.
The sole of the shoe was made out of rubber which was normally a funny orangey-brown colour, to stop it marking the school gym floor. The sole was attached to the canvas using a process called vulcanisation, which used heat to bond the rubber to the canvas upper.Â Being made in this way means they can also be safely cleaned in a washing machine when they get dirty, so long as you don’t wash them on too high a temperature of course! 😉
The Plimsoll gets its name from the Plimsoll Line on a ship, which is a line painted around the hull that marks the highest water level that the ship can safely be sailed at. The way the sole was bonded to the shoe looks very similar to a Plimsoll Line, plus it also has the similarity with ships in that if water goes above the line, then you’re going to get wet!
The first Plimsolls were made in 1830 (perhaps this post should be on Child of the 1880’s) and they were originally named Sand Shoes (and still are in Australia). These originals were made by the Liverpool Rubber Company, which later went on to become Dunlop, probably most famous for making car tyres, but who still make shoes today.