The Great Classic Plimsoll Debate

By: Catherine Harvey

Sports shoes are, these days, a whole multi-million pound industry with laboratories, institutes and technologies all their own. What's wrong with the good old plimsoll is what I say.

That first day at school, where the smell of rubber plimsolls permeated everything including your lunch is an experience that kids these days just don't get. They're more concerned with whether they are wearing the right sports shoe according to the fashion stakes than anything else.

So, let's take a look at the modern day sports shoes and see how the old fashioned plimsoll compares. Shock absorption is an important aspect of the modern day sports shoe, according to scientists. Have these people seen the rubber bumper you get round the toe of a plimsoll? You can kick a chair leg or stub your toe on any pointy surface and this little rubber bumper absorbs all the shock. The plimsoll is the inspiration behind many a fairground ride.

Lightness is another aspect athletes want from a sports shoe to make them go faster. Plimsolls are made of lightweight fabric without all the extra added gizmos. Personally, I think this is mind over matter. Put a go faster stripe on the side and they'll think they can run faster, no matter how heavy the trainer. And let's face it, just how heavy can they get?

Stability. How about stability? I've been completely trolleyed in these plimsolls of mine and stood upright longer than any drunk in a modern sports shoe. It's something to do with that amazing rubber grip on the bottom. Once on, they ain't going anywhere. Not that easy to detach once they have that one way grip on your skin but they're stability on the feet of a self confessed alcoholic are beyond compare.

Durability is something I don't understand being called for in today's sports shoes. According to recent studies, trainers need to last a maximum of 2.4 weeks before they become obsolete and are replaced with a newer model. God forbid anyone should be seen out in the old version. You'll know the embarrassed individuals who are struggling to keep up - they're the ones with their feet tucked under their seats in a bid to keep their hideous footwear hidden.

Styling is something that determines your place in sports shoe society and plimsoll manufacturers are well aware of this. Hence their different designs. You can have lace up or elastic fastening, black or white, large rubber strips covering the toe or a simple bumper. We have choice - what more is needed? That's the trouble with the generation of today - too much choice.

Emerging into my early puberty, this was the time when no-one would be seen dead in trainers that looked like they were new. Heaven only knows the ridicule one would receive being seen out in brilliant white sports shoes! Nowadays, it's all about the whiteness, the brighter the better. Of course, if you keep up with the 2.4 week scenario, dirty trainers are not something you will suffer with but for the rest of us, plimsolls are well ahead of the game with 'shoe whitener' that we can paint on, bringing footwear back to its original condition.

And now we have the 'on road' and 'off road' sports shoes. What the hell! Do the off roaders come with mud guards and a customised shoe horn for extracting your feet from mud pools? Or the 'on roaders' with a licence plate and tax disc holder?

Of course, with all manner of clothing and footwear, there are age distinctions. There comes a time when the classic black plimsoll with elastic strap across the foot just has to give way to the Dunlop Greenflash that your dad wears. But you won't regret this - comfort replaced with comfort, there is no way to go wrong.

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