Untoward things happening to clothes, such as apron strings suddenly coming untied, often have beliefs to go with them, and the shoelace is no exception. ‘When you discover your shoelace is loose, walk nine paces before tying it, otherwise you will tie illluck to you for that day’ (Blakeborough, 1898: 150). ‘It is very unlucky to give a new bootlace to a friend unless he gives you a broken one in return’ (Igglesden, c.1932: 221). Much older is the idea that breaking a shoelace can bode ill for a journey. Opie and Tatem quote references in 1652, 1159 (John of Salisbury writing about the apostle Mark), and, indeed, Cicero in 45 BC.
Opie and Tatem, 1989: 350.