What are Plimsolls?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Plimsolls can be known by many names, and refer to semi-athletic shoes with a rubber base and a canvas upper that laces up. They were first manufactured in England as sand shoes in the 1830s, intended to protect the feet of beachgoers. The name sand shoe has remained, and many in the UK still refer to plimsolls by that name.

Plimsolls are semi-athletic shoes with a rubber base and a canvas upper that laces up.
Plimsolls are semi-athletic shoes with a rubber base and a canvas upper that laces up.

Actually, the name plimsolls didn’t catch on until about 40 years later, and was named after the Plimsoll line. This is a line on the body of a ship or a hull that indicates people standing below the line would get wet. When water touches canvass on plimsolls, feet will get wet as the canvas is saturated. The beginning of the canvass upper is essentially the plimsoll line on a pair of these shoes and they may actually have a stripe that indicates this line.

Plimsolls may be placed in a home washing machine and dryer for cleaning purposes.
Plimsolls may be placed in a home washing machine and dryer for cleaning purposes.

Using plimsoll to describe these shoes is most common in the UK. The US may describe them as tennis shoes, Keds (after the well known brand), all-stars, chucks, or sneakers. India also uses the term Keds.

For a long time, plimsolls became, and in some cases remain, the choice of shoe for athletic activities, particularly in schools and training organizations like military forces. They are now much less common due to the development of more athletic shoes like cross trainers and running shoes. Trainers and the like are thought by many to be better for the feet, especially when participating in sports that require a lot of intensive running.

Also the sole on plimsolls especially the “keds” type and not the Converse All Stars® type isn’t very sturdy in comparison to a trainer. It’s usually thinner and more likely to puncture. One benefit of most canvas types though is that they’re often washable, and can even be placed in the washing machine and dryer, which means dirty sneakers can improve in appearance if given a good washing.

Another advantage to plimsolls is cost. While you will pay about $30 US Dollars (USD) for a pair of brand name shoes like Keds®, a number of companies make knock-offs that are usually about $20 USD. Given the price of both kids and adult shoes, it can make sense to own a pair of these for days of light activity.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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