When it comes to shoemaking, there is more to it than meets the eye. At first glance, you might see the sole, the leather, the insole and the laces; but to experienced shoemakers like Cheaney, there are many more shoe components that are equally as critical but less commonly known. If you're curious about what goes into making a high-quality, handmade shoe, our Anatomy of a Shoe guide will take you through all of its components.
The upper refers to the part of the shoe that covers the top of the foot and consists of all the shoe’s sections above the sole. This can be made up of several pieces that are stitched together, but the specific areas of the shoe are almost always referred to by the names below.
The vamp sits across the width of the foot between the toe and the arch and is where the shoe flexes when walking.
The quarter refers to the sections of leather above the vamp which wrap around the side of the shoe. On derby styles, these are stitched on top of the vamp to create more room across the instep, whereas oxford styles sit flush with the vamp.
The toe section is the most visible part of the shoe and goes a long way to dictate the style depending on its shape. Most of the time, they are reinforced with stiffeners to provide protection and often include a separate piece of leather on top, referred to as a toe cap.
The tongue is a piece of leather that sits underneath the laces to provide comfort, protection from the laces themselves, and a visual aid to ensure the socks are not visible under the facings. On country-style shoes and boots, it is common to see a ‘bellows tongue’ which folds over on itself to protect the wearer from water and mud.
The topline refers to the top edge of the shoe or boot around the ankle. Often on taller boots, this also includes a padded collar for extra support.
The counter runs around the wearer’s heels. Like the toe, they are often reinforced to help keep the integrity of the shape and, as such, it is advisable to avoid any pressure around the toe and counters when trying on shoes.
The facings are the sections on the shoe quarter where the eyelets are.
You can find the feather edge where the upper meets the sole on all Goodyear welted shoes. This can vary between styles, as dress shoes have more of a ‘feather’ than country styles.
The welt is a strip of leather running around the outside of the shoe which is used to join the upper to the sole via a welt stitch. Depending on the style, the welt can either be ‘breast-to-breast’ which finishes either side of the heel counter, or ‘360’ which encircles the whole shoe.
The heel of a shoe is the raised section underneath the wearer’s heel, providing height and support. These can either be made up of layers of leather waxed together or a single piece of rubber, depending on the application.
A top piece is part of the heel that touches the ground and can be made from leather or rubber - the former often includes a rubber ‘quarter’ at the back to avoid slip.
The waist is the narrowest part of the sole which lies underneath the wearer’s arch. They can be flat or built up into a bevelled or fiddle waist, a signifier of an especially fine pair of shoes for the added support it offers.
The breast is the forward-facing part of the heel.
The midsole sits between the insole and outsole to create thickness and durability on more substantial sole units.
The outsole is usually referred to as the sole and is the section under the shoe which is in contact with the ground. There are a wide variety of outsoles available, both leather and rubber, which offer different treads, appearance, and benefits. On Goodyear Welted shoes, these can be replaced once they wear out.
The gentleman’s corner is a notch that is carved into the inside edge of the heel to avoid trousers snagging.
The filler is a cushioning material, usually cork, that fills the hollow space under the insole during construction.
The lining refers to the leather which covers the inside of the shoe, though other materials are sometimes used. In more summery styles, the shoes are made unlined which adds flexibility and softness, though a shoe with linings will always be more durable.
The insole is the leather footbed underneath your foot. Over time, this adapts to your foot, in tandem with the cork filler, to provide support and comfort.
Sturdy stiffeners are used in the toe and heel counter sections of a shoe for strength and protection, and they sit between the lining and the upper.
Tongue padding is often found on casual boot styles and is a soft filling in the tongue of the footwear for added comfort.
The shank sits underneath the wearer’s arch between the insole and outsole and is made from wood for flexibility. It maintains the structure of the shoe and adds further support.
In the shoemaking world, there are several terms to describe decorative shoe elements. Most of these terms only refer to certain types of shoes.
Speed hooks are also known as ski hooks, and can be found in place of the top eyelets of taller boots. They are hooks which aid quicker lacing.
The tongue loop, otherwise known as the keeper loop, is either a slit in the tongue or a separate piece of leather on top through which to thread the laces and keep the tongue centralised. They are almost exclusively found on boots, which have longer tongues.
The apron is a decorative stitch running around the front perimeter of a shoe, most commonly found on loafers.
A Kiltie is a decorative fringe of leather that sits on top of the shoe. These were traditionally for golf shoes to protect them from mud and dirt.
Perforations are the holes made in leather shoes found on brogues and semi-brogues.
Medallions are decorative perforations on the toecap.
A penny keeper strap is a leather or suede strap with a hole in the middle that runs across the vamp of a loafer.
Gimping is the v-shaped cuts on the edge of leather upper pieces on some styles, usually brogues.
A tassel is a decorative piece of leather or suede attached to the vamp of a loafer, or on the end of laces.
The stack height is the measured distance between the foot and the floor when the shoes are on.
The heel-to-toe drop is the difference in height between the heel and the forefoot.
The toe spring is the rise or upward curve of the sole at the front of the shoe that helps roll off the front foot.