A welt is far more than just an intermediary to connect the upper and sole of a welted shoe. The right welt can add balance to a shoe’s visual design; the wrong one can throw it completely off. Not to be too hyperbolic, but screw it let’s be hyperbolic: in a way, the right welt on the right shoe can propel a simple utilitarian object to work-of-art status.

The upper leather deployed for a given shoe is hard for any observer to miss. A shoe’s pattern tends to be somewhere between hugely obvious (cap-toe engineers will probably get some comments!) and obvious enough if you know what you’re looking for. Welts, though, are one of those footwear components that takes a whole lot of time spent studying footwear to even truly notice—and once you do, their importance becomes huge.

clinch welt detail

So what’s going on with these little leather strips? Below, we’ll take a look at the subtle-but-important differences between welt designs and how they interact with the overall visual impact of a shoe. 

Breaking Down Welts Options: Flat, Split, and Storm

There are many different ways to attach soles to uppers in welted footwear, but for simplicity’s sake today we’ll keep our focus on the three most common welt types: flat, split, and storm.

rolling dub trio coupen black chromexcel

A flat welt is pretty much what it sounds like: a flat strip of leather. The most basic type of welt you’ll see, it’s found on a wide variety of both formal and casual shoes.

viberg split welt

A split welt is a strip of leather that has been partially split open from end to end. One part of the split connects to the insole, while the other part folds up against the uppers of the shoe.

Tricker's Bourton Brogue Shoe—Snuff Kudu Reverse Leather—Division Road

Finally, a storm welt is a strip of leather with a molded ridge that stands up straight and hugs the uppers.

Are Certain Welts More Formal/Informal Than Others?

A flat welt is not only the most basic kind of welt, it’s also the most formal. When it comes to formal dress shoes, less is more. Embellishments like brogueing or pinking—while requiring a great deal of skill and finesse from the maker—are often perceived as more playful and casual, whereas formal shoes swing more conservative in their details. The accented look from a storm or split welt is generally perceived as too busy for a formal shoe.

crockett jones westfield oxford

Make no mistake, you can find storm and split welts on dressier, highbrow offerings from brands like Alden and Edward Green, just to name a couple examples. But, on classic dress models like oxford shoes and balmoral boots, 99.9% are going to be made with flat welts.

A Difference of Degrees: 270 vs 360

For most welted shoes, there are two distinct configurations for a welt. A 360-degree welt encircles the entire shoe. Meanwhile, a 270-degree welt spans roughly three-quarters of the perimeter of the shoe, ending near the front of the heel.

red wing classic moc 3417 stone bluff

For any kind of welt, a 360 configuration can look quite good! The nice thing about a 360 welt is it provides symmetry to how the front and back of the shoe appears from a profile view. Additionally, it acts as a kind of frame that juxtaposes the uppers of the shoe against the sole. 

truman service boot black teacore

That said, a 360 welt isn’t always the best choice—sometimes the “shelf” of the welt is left a bit wide, and the way it extends behind the heel can look a little odd or clunky. Plus, it’s important for the area where the ends of the welt meet the heel to look immaculate, or at least not sloppy to the point of being distracting. But, provided the shoemaker gets those details right, a good 360 welt can make a makeup sing.

Christian Daniel Boots Chelsea Boots

As far as a 270-degree welt is concerned, we feel that especially for a shoe or boot that’s attempting sleekness or formality, the flat welt is the way to go. Some makers do use a 270 storm or split welt, but there’s just something about the way those welts stop at the heel that makes them look…unfinished, somehow. It’s a less-than-ideal kind of asymmetry. The low-profile look of a flat welt allows it to more easily disappear into the base of the heel, allowing for a much more tightly trimmed appearance. 

grant stone oxford cap toe balmoral oxford british tan

On a related note—to go back to the point about more formal or informal styles of welts—the 270 flat welt is decidedly more formal than the 360 flat welt, or any 360 welt for that matter. The 360 look is just too chunky (or even chonky) for the most formal shoes, even if it’s done with a flat welt.

Welt Color Considerations

There are a number of ways you can go in terms of how you pair the color of your welt with the rest of the shoe or boot. A number of pairings mostly always work, as far as we’re concerned. Lighter welts tend to look better with lighter uppers. Darker welts tend to look better with darker uppers. Black welts tend to look the best with black uppers. Light/medium brown welts tend to look good with almost everything—they’re the most versatile choice.

alden brogue mocc toe blucher

john lofgren welt

viberg flat welt

That all being said, there are definitely exceptions! Especially on well-considered more-casual styles. Take Alden’s classic 401 Indy Boot in black Chromexcel—it comes with a natural welt, and frankly, it looks great. (The 401 Indy also goes against our previous point about how storm welts don’t look the best in a 270 configuration, but, y’know…rules were made to be broken, yeah?)

alden 401 indy

Are Different Welts Functionally Different? I Heard Storm Welts are More Waterproof.

Indeed, the storm welt—and to an extent, the split welt—is often touted as superior to the flat welt for its perceived additional water resistance, thanks to the flap of leather pressed against the upper. While it’s true that the extra bit of leather likely provides some additional water resistance, it’s honestly not clear what degree of difference there is. A storm or split welt certainly doesn’t on its own make a shoe waterproof; there’s still a chance for water to seep in. This can potentially be argued, but in our estimation the difference in water resistance between types of welts isn’t going to be appreciable in most cases.

trickers welt detail

Put simply: There’s no significant functional difference between welts. It mostly boils down to aesthetics. Generally speaking, you get more visual weight and focus from the raised profile of the storm and split welts, while a flat welt can be much more subtle and elegant—almost vaporous—in comparison.

All’s Welt That Ends Welt

That’s a pretty awful pun, but it needed to happen. Even though 360-degree welts NEVER END. Hopefully this story has inspired you to go out and think about welts more than is probably sane. 

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