Why Do We Have to Wear Bowling Shoes?

Bowling shoes might be gross, but they're also necessary.
Bowling shoes might be gross, but they're also necessary. / lisegagne/iStock via Getty Images

Bowling may not be America’s national pastime, but it remains a great way to be social, engage in a competitive activity, and, if you’re in a league, sport some truly remarkable shirts.

But the most puzzling sartorial choice in the game is the shoes. Bowling alleys require customers to swap out their standard footwear for a pair of stiff, uncomfortable, and possibly odorous kicks that increase social awkwardness by wide margins. Why do lanes make us do this? More importantly, why can’t we rock a pair of fresh New Balances instead?

Many folks have probably heard that bowling shoes help you maintain traction on slick lanes, but they actually do the opposite. Good sets have slick soles so bowlers can glide on the surface of the lane, allowing for a wider range of body motion, which is one of the big reasons why it's better to wear them as opposed to regular shoes.

Picture wearing sneakers with treads: When you swing the ball and are fixed in place, you’re putting more stress on your ankles, knees, wrist, and other joints. You want to slide, not stop, which you can do in bowling shoes. But this isn't as slippery of a situation as it sounds. The soles of bowling shoes aren't entirely made out of leather: The heel is rubber, which acts as a kind of brake for your foot. So you’ll slide, but not like you were on ice skates. (Some have the leather sole on one side and rubber on the other.)

While safety is the primary reason lanes require a switch into bowling shoes, they also want to protect their floor surfaces. If everyone wore street shoes, the polished floors would get scuffed and dirtied easily. Imagine rolling a bowling ball and having it careen off course because of dirt, or even getting caught with a piece of chewing gum underfoot. Dedicated bowling shoes that are only worn inside may also protect floors from getting damp or wet if it’s raining or snowing. (You could still encounter a sticky concession floor, but such is life.)

Should you bring your own bowling shoes? They may be worth the investment if you bowl regularly. But for purely sanitary reasons, it’s probably not necessary. While donning a shared pair of shoes can in theory transmit bacteria, warts, and fungus leading to athlete’s foot, it's not likely. The shoes are supposed to be cleaned after each use with disinfectant and/or antifungal spray, but your best protection is making sure you wear socks and don’t have any open sores or blisters.

[h/t Sparetimes]