Why Are Bowling Shoes So Ugly? 5 Common Reasons

When it comes to clothing aesthetics, determining whether something is stylish, unseemly, hip, or outdated is usually subjective, but there is one piece of attire that seems to be indisputably ugly in everyone’s opinion: bowling shoes. You don’t have to be a fashion guru to know that wearing a pair of bowling shoes instantly ruins any outfit you might be wearing on the lanes, but the question is, why?

And why do you actually need to wear bowling shoes at all?

This article will explain why bowling shoes are so egregiously ugly despite the advancement of time, using five common reasons. We’ll cover basic elements of its design that polarize them from modern trends and how their role in recreational bowling facilities affects this design, making them one of the most dreadful examples of footwear still worn today.

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Old, Tired Design

As a sport, bowling dates back to Egypt 5000 BC, but for some reason, the sport’s classic shoe seems to be just as ancient as its origins despite advancements in modern fashion. While the classic bowling shoes we use today weren’t around in Ancient Egypt, if you’re less than 80 years old, they probably look exactly the same today as they did when you were a kid.

The exact origin date of bowling shoes is unknown, but sources seem to imply the earliest evidence of them lies around 1888 with a leather-based design. While there is little evidence of what these shoes looked like, you can see what the average bowling shoe’s design clear as day in photos from the 1950s, and these photos tell you all you need to know about why bowling shoes are so ugly.

Yes, there was a time when bowling shoes were probably seen as fashionable, but that time has long since passed.

If you compare the shoe design from the 1950s to the typical bowling shoe, you will rent in modern-day bowling alleys. You’d see how little they’ve changed. In fact, two decades shy of a century later, these shoes are nearly identical.

The fact that bowling shoes have boasted the same old design for at least 80 years now is a significant reason why people today see them as ugly, as they haven’t changed the slightest with the progression of modern fashion. As a result, people can’t relate to their old design because it was legitimately from another time, and some fashion trends just don’t age well. Unfortunately for the bowling shoe, it’s one of them.

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Lack of Individuality or Personality

The fact that bowling shoe designs have hardly changed in nearly a century is bad enough, but to make matters worse, this design is universal.

A common characteristic in human nature is the desire to stand out and be special, but bowling shoes actually force the wearer to conform to a universal fashion standard because every shoe in every bowling alley has the exact same design.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get to recommend a particular color combination, but more often than not, you tell the renter your shoe size, and you get what you get. Most bowling shoes come in one of five colors:

  • White
  • Red
  • Black
  • Blue
  • Tan

Maybe you’ll get some sort of yellow or green in there, but that’s about it. All rental bowling shoes adopt this color scheme on top of sharing the same classic split shoe design (which we’ll discuss more later).

Because of this, renters have little to no options when it comes to their bowling shoes since they all essentially look the same anyway. The lack of individuality the shoes provide and a resounding absence of personality in their design makes most individuals reluctant to wear them. 

Even pros who purchase and wear their own shoes are hard-pressed to find a pair that isn’t simplistic in color scheme and design. The best they can do is purchase a pair that looks slightly more reminiscent of a modern-day sneaker than a 1950s dress shoe. But if they want something more interesting with patterns and eccentric colors, they’ll have to do a bit of digging.

Can you turn regular shoes into bowling shoes?

Utilized Two-Toned Designs With Basic Colors

We’ve already alluded to this point in the previous two, but we believe it deserves its own section. In addition to bowling shoes having the same design for years and that design being practically universal, people think the shoes are ugly because the design in itself is just…bad.

Most bowling shoes adopt the two-toned design commonly seen in men’s and women’s dress shoes from the 1920s to the 1950s (ex. Oxford or Spectator shoes). This design thrives on the shoes having two starkly contrasting colors that create a bold pattern on the shoe, separating different parts such as the toe and heel from the middle of the shoe. While some modern shoes still adopt this style, most thrive on using solid colors or bright, vibrant colors that fade or blend into one another, rendering two-toned shoes outdated.

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Two-toned shoes in themselves aren’t ugly, but for bowling shoes, sadly, adopting this design is arguably the worst way possible. Most will split the shoe in half, with one color on the left and the other on the right. Some might have a white, tan, or black strip dividing the two, but otherwise, there aren’t too many design variations.

Not only is the stark contrast of colors and poor design working against these shoes, but many modern-day wearers probably find them ugly for their basic color scheme in general. As we said before, most bowling shoes only come in about five, maybe seven, different colors, and they’re all very basic (white, black, red, etc.)

While modern shoes still utilize these colors, you’re more likely to see them in a vibrant neon or a relaxing paste than in their most plain form. Using various shades of one color for design purposes is also popular, which explains why people deem bowling shoes ugly. A more fitting word might just be boring.

What disinfectant do bowling alleys use to sanitize the shoes?

Prioritization of Functionality and Purpose Over Aesthetics

Another reason why bowling shoes are deemed ugly might have to do more with why their design hasn’t changed recently, instead of why the design is inherently disliked.

Bowling shoes are ugly because they don’t have to be pretty. That’s pretty much it. Generally speaking, bowling hasn’t really been a “popular” sport since the 1970s, and even when it was popular, few people went to the alley with their own shoes because they knew they could rent them at the alley. This is a crucial reason for them having the same basic design for so long, and it’s because they never leave the bowling alley.

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Pretty shoes cost money, and bowling alleys know this. One of the easiest ways for them to make money is to rent shoes out to their patrons, and because most patrons don’t bowl enough to need to purchase their own shoes, they’re willing to rent whatever shoes the bowling alley has to offer as long as they fit. So why would the bowling alley waste money buying fancy-looking modern shoes with bright colors and fun designs when they can order simply designed shoes with basic colors in mass?

Considering bowlers are only going to be wearing these shoes for maybe a few hours, it makes more sense to stick to the old, cheap design and profit than to try and make bowling shoes the height of fashion when they really shouldn’t even be worn off the lanes. In the end, it’s more important that these shoes function properly on the lanes and can withstand hundreds of wears than to be aesthetically pleasing.

You’re Renting, Not Buying

We’re going to close our list with a relatively simple reason why people think bowling shoes are the epitome of ugly footwear.

Most people think bowling shoes are ugly because they’re renting their shoes from bowling alleys that haven’t updated their shoes in decades. In reality, bowling shoe designs have advanced and modernized. You can buy your own bowling shoes online that look more like everyday sneakers than 1950s shoes, but people don’t know this because they’re always renting their shoes.

This point ties back to the previous one of why would bowling alleys bother to purchase modern bowling shoes when the older design is cheaper. Considering how few people bowl regularly enough to justify buying their own shoes, it makes sense that many don’t know a modern alternative is an option. If they did, they might not be so averse to bowling shoes and realize that not all of them are ugly, just the rentable ones.

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