Everything old is new again in hip-hop this year, including fat laces. A throwback to the days when everything was big in hip-hop- dookie chains, boomboxes, Magnum markers – fat laces are a small, yet important testament to the need for individual expression released by New York’s ghetto youth in the seventies through music, dancing, painting, and fashion.

Proper lacing can really accentuate a sneaker and add a certain swagger to your step, and fat laces came about simply as a result of young, urban fashionistas wanting to take what was often the most expensive item they had, and enhance their looks in a cheap and easy way. The process was completely homegrown: they took regular shoestrings, stretched them to the desired width, then ironed and starched them to retain the shape. Although there are several opinions floating around about who initially started the fat lace phenomenon, several historians credit Rock Steady Crew members Mr. Wiggles and PopMaster Fabel (who also started the later “elastic laces” fad), with setting off the trend. Sometimes, even ribbons were used to lace shoes, but the fat lace remains the big daddy of sneaker adornment.

Fat laces were on every fresh dressed homeboy and homegirl from the late seventies up through the late eighties, crowning popular kicks like Pony Starters, Adidas Superstars, and Puma Clydes. In the eighties, the rise of groups like Run DMC and the Beastie Boys made fat laces in a rainbow of colors common items in most shoe stores. But in the seventies, when they were homemade from standard shoelaces, color options were basically limited to black, white, or brown. To get around this, earlier youth simply dyed them, wrote their names or crews’ names on them, or otherwise personalized them to further express their individuality – something that is sorely missed in today’s age of any poser being able to buy a “hip-hop outfit” complete with baggy jeans and doo-rag in any mall in the world.

Fortunately, the recent surge in the market for “old school” shoes brought on by eighties nostalgia is bringing back some of hip-hop yesteryear’s fashion flare, and fat laces are again the “must have” sneaker accessory. But unlike our hip-hop forebears, today we have even more colors, styles, and sizes readily available. From fat laces stamped with shoe and clothing company logos, to Day-Glo laces, checkerboard laces, etc., all ranging in sizes from the standard 1 inch, to the jumbo 3 inch, fat lace choices are everywhere.

So for the fat lace beginner, i.e., those born after 1985, here are a few simple rules to follow that will boost the fresh factor of your laces. First, the laces have to match the sneaker. Duh, right? But this is a common mistake. If you’re sporting some Adidas Tobaccos, choose matching brown laces. If you’re wearing some white (with black stripes) Adidas Promodel Hi-Tops, “sidekicks” of the Superstar, try rocking black laces with them (even though white laces are almost always acceptable with mostly white shoes). Just use common sense. Don’t wear red laces with blue and white shoes, etc.

Two, fat laces won’t work for every shoe. In general they don’t look good with most soft, canvas shoes like Converse Chuck Taylors, unless they’re a light color like pink or yellow, and laced with matching laces (a big trend with girls in the eighties). Many models of Pro-Specs and Pro-Keds also fall into this category. Think more like leather and suede, two materials that look great with fat laces. Also, consider the era the shoe came from. Usually, fat laces will not work with newer style shoes. They just look best and more authentic when worn with the classics.

Three, lacing is crucial. If you do the laces the regular criss-cross way, make sure the laces on your left foot are going left over right, and the shoe on you right foot is laced right over left. Another traditional way is to fix the laces is horizontally. Either way, don’t tie them. Let the ends of the laces hang out of the top two loops, or tuck them inside the shoe. Also, try to explore other ways of lacing, like doing a checkerboard pattern in which two usually contrasting sets of laces are used: one set laced vertically, the other laced horizontally. To make the laces stand out even more, place a folded sock underneath the tongue.

And if you want to achieve what is known as “puffing”, lace shoes only up to the desired set of eyelets, and tie the ends of the laces behind the tongue. This makes the tongue stick up, a look that is quite popular on the West Coast, often worn with white, calf length socks.

These are just a few basic, but important guidelines. There are dozens of ways to rock fat laces according to your individual sense of fashion. Just remember, wherever you step with fat laces on your kicks, (whether you’re a head, a skater, a raver, or just like the look), you are representing a part of hip-hop culture. Do it right, do it with style, and represent the inventive spirit of hip-hop to the fullest.

PopMaster Fabel is currently working on a hip-hop fashion documentary. He is gathering as much info about hip-hop fashion history as possible. If you have any photos from the 70’s or 80’s of yourself or others sporting not only fat laces and/or fresh kicks but fly gear in general, and you would like to submit copies of them to Fabel for possible use in the documentary, please email him at FABELRSC@aol.com or mail the pics to: Fabel, PO Box 20603, New York NY 10025.
Correction: Fat Lace Flub-Apologies to the Left Coast
by: Cherryl Aldave

Ok peeps, seems like there was a major oversight in my last installment of Forgotten Elements, “The Return of the Fat Lace”, kindly pointed out to me via email by Cali’s own Terrance Jay Smalls.

In my article, which was done admittedly from a mainstream perspective, I mentioned that usually it is best to wear fat laces with classic shoes like Puma Clydes, Adidas Superstars, etc., and not with softer shoes like Chucks. But according to TJ, Chucks are, and have been worn with fat laces on the Left Coast for “umpteen years”, primarily by gang members who hold down their daily biz with feet properly laced in Chucks. Properly, in the West, means horizontally laced and never crossed, although crossed fat laces are sometimes seen on the East Coast. I was aware that Chucks are most Cali gangbangers’ shoe of choice; I was unaware that they usually rocked fat laces with them.

TJ was also gave some great examples of how Chucks with fat laces are commonly rocked in Cali, like the wearing of “blue or black Chucks with the fat true blue laces” or “black Chucks with fat red laces”, and that recently it’s become stylish to rock Gucci Chuck T’s with matching fat laces, i.e. wearing black Gucci Chucks with coordinating red fat laces, etc. The basic point is for the shoes and laces to coordinate with the gang’s colors  an easy and long-standing way in many parts of Cali to identify a G’s affiliation. I apologize for this huge oversight, and send a special a pound in print to my new Cali connect TJ for schoolin me on this error.