Do you know your shaft from your shank or your welt from your inner puff? If that makes no sense to you, then read on. These are actually parts of a shoe, albeit some of the more uncommonly known ones.
There are many parts to shoes, each serving their own purpose and contributing to the functionality of footwear.
You might be wondering, “What is the bottom of a shoe called?” or “What is the vamp of a shoe?”
In this article, we’re going to look at shoe components and more.
The Evolution of Shoes
People have been using materials to protect their feet for over 50,000 years. However, one of the earliest types of footwear with a sole was found in California dating back about 9,000 years.
Early shoes were made from leather, wrapped around the foot and secured with lacings. Sandals were also worn by Greeks and Romans. Shoes in the Middle Ages tended to be a simple style of moccasin, later developing with buckles or ties around the ankle.
The addition of shoe sizing and parts of a shoe, such as heels, is thought to have started in England in the 1300s. Styles progressed, with pointed shoes being the norm in the 14th century and then rounded toes in the 15th century. The 16th century saw men’s shoes become very wide at the toes.
The materials used were also changing, with leather or cork being used for the soles, and silk, velvet or leather for the uppers. Europe in the 17th century saw the addition of adornments like lace, ribbons, and rosettes. That being said, shoes in the US had a moderate heel and were made of sturdy leather.
The 18th century saw shoes become fancier, using brocades, real gemstones, and silver or gold buckles. Massachusetts was the site of the first shoe factory in 1760, which produced shoes in larger quantities.
With the invention of the sewing machine in the 19th century, shoes could be made quicker and at less expense. Throughout the 20th century, shoes became a part of fashion, with varying styles, colors, and materials.
The Parts of a Shoe
When it comes to shoe anatomy, this can vary, depending on the type of shoe. A dress shoe has a lot more components than a sneaker. Let’s take a look at the parts of a dress shoe first and then we will dissect sneakers.
You can check out some shoes diagrams here on Pinterest.
Components of a Dress Shoe
There are some shoe components that are present in all dress shoes and then others that are pertinent to specific types. Some of the terms will be familiar to you, but there will be a few you may never have heard of.
The part of a shoe that encases your foot and essentially holds it in place is called the upper. It covers the entire top part of the shoe.
The type of material used is generally leather or synthetic leather, which will allow your feet to breathe. These materials will also protect your feet.
The upper can be broken down into many parts and these are:
- Vamp: This part covers the shoe from the top of the toe area to where the laces are. This part of the shoe is highly visible and needs to withstand some wear and tear as its where the shoe flexes. In slip-on shoes, the shoe vamps replace what you would call the tongue in a lace up style.
- Toe cap or toe box: The protective area which encloses your toes at the front of the uppers. Sometimes they are stitched over, adding an extra layer to the upper or as a decoration on the shoe. They add strength to the front of the uppers, which can endure stress, wear, and tear.
- Quarters: This term refers to the sides of the shoe which cover the area from the vamp to the heel. Their name comes from the four pieces of leather usually required to form the uppers of the shoe—although some styles use one piece for the vamp and the quarter. The quarter is usually reinforced with a stiffener at the heel area, to support the back of your foot.
- Heel: This is the part at the back of the shoe which is usually stiffened. It may have a seam up the center of it, where the upper is stitched.
- Heel counter: The name given to the material used to reinforce and stiffen the heel. It can’t be seen by the eye as it’s enclosed between the outer and inner linings of the shoe.
- Seat: This is located immediately beneath the heel of the foot and sits below the heel counter.
- Backstay: This is another part that can’t be seen, and it helps reinforce the counter running down the back of the heel.
- Throat: The part of the shoe which covers your instep. An open throat is what’s seen in a blucher dress shoe, and a closed throat in balmorals. It’s the part of the shoe at the top of the toe cap and front of the vamp.
- Tongue: This is the loose piece of material that sits on your instep in a lace-up design shoe. It’s the top part of the vamp and sits underneath the quarters.
- Eyelets: These are the holes for the laces to be threaded through.
- Laces: We all more than likely know what these are; they’re the strings used to close the eyelets and hold the shoe on your foot.
- Toe puff: This is a reinforcing layer in the toecap. It’s another part of the upper which can’t be seen. Along with the counter in the heel, this helps the shoe keep its shape.
This video shows you some dress shoes’ anatomy.
In addition to the actual parts of the upper, even the decorations on dress shoes and loafers have specific names. These include:
- Kiltie: This is a fringe of leather, often with a tassel attached, that is situated on the top of a loafer. They are used in golf shoes, to protect them from mud and grass.
- Tassel: A decorative fringed piece of leather hanging from the vamp.
- Beef roll: No, it’s not something edible! It’s where the stitching on a loafer around the vamp and sides forms a cylindrical shape.
- Perforations: The holes punched into the leather on brogues.
- Medallion: The perforations which form a decorative pattern on the toe of a shoe.
- Pinking: These are the cuts in a V-shape, seen on brogues.
- Penny keeper: The name given to the thin strap of leather on a penny loafer.
- Mudguard: A line of stitching, which is usually thick, running horizontally across the heel.
The Inside of a Shoe
Moving from the outside of the uppers and what we would find there, let’s take a look inside the shoe. There’s not a whole lot going on in here, as it’s mainly a combination of the uppers and sole:
- Insole or footbed: This is the part of the shoe that’s in contact with the sole of your foot. It hides the joins between the sole and the upper and affords your feet some comfort. They can sometimes be removed and replaced; you can find some of the best insoles for dress shoes here.
- Shoe lining: Most inners will have a shoe lining of some sort, again to provide comfort for your feet.
The Lower Outer Part of a Shoe
The parts of the shoe which are in contact with the ground and comprise the outer sole and heel. The components we find here include:
- Heel: This is often made from stacked leather or rubber, and sits underneath the heel of your foot.
- Sole: The bottom of a shoe is known as the sole. This is the part which sits beneath the ball of your foot and your toes and, along with the heel, makes contact with the floor. Shoe soles can be made from leather or other materials.
- Waist: The narrow part of the sole of the shoe, which sits beneath the arch of your foot.
- Shank: A rod-like piece of material, such as metal or leather, which sits between the inner and outer sole. It gives support to the foot and holds the whole shoe in shape.
- Feather: Where the upper part of the shoe meets the sole.
- Welt: A thin strip of leather between the upper and the sole, around the whole of the outside of the shoe. It joins the two together.
This video shows you some of the basics of shoe anatomy.
The Parts of a Sneaker or Athletic Shoe
Moving on to sneakers, although many of the parts are the same as dress shoes, there are distinct differences in the materials used, with a few sections added. Let’s dissect a sneaker and see what parts of a shoe it has.
This video from Salomon shows you the parts of running shoe.
The upper of a sneaker is usually made from fabric, leather, or a combination of the two. It’s either stitched or glued to the midsole (we’ll come to that in a moment). Uppers on sneakers often have some elements added by stitching them on, either for aesthetics or reinforcement.
Mesh polymer fabrics which are breathable are a popular choice for sneakers. They often have seamless designs, so that they don’t irritate your feet.
Fashion or casual sneakers might be made from leather or canvas. The bottom line is that, no matter what they are made from, the uppers are there to keep your feet secured to the sole of the sneaker.
Insoles are an integral feature when it comes to the inners of a sneaker. They are often designed to cushion your feet and provide support to your arches and heels. They are usually removable so you can replace them with custom footbeds or orthotics.
As the name indicates, this sits between the footbed and the outer sole of a sneaker. It is there to provide sport, flexibility, and cushioning.
The midsole is generally made from ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA) and/or polyurethane (PU). It might have gel inserts or air pockets to provide extra cushioning and comfort. A number of manufacturers have patented their own technologies for midsoles.
The sole of the sneaker is an important part of the shoe’s bottom. It is stitched or glued to the upper, encasing the midsole between the two. The tougher the sole, the more durable your sneakers are likely to be.
These are usually made from blown rubber, carbon rubber, or both. While carbon rubber is very durable, it’s also stiff, so might be used on the parts of the sole that take more wear. Blown rubber may be used on the rest of the sole to give it more flexibility and comfort.
The Heel Counter
Just like on a dress shoe, this reinforcement on the heel of a sneaker can’t be seen. It’s encased in the middle of the heel part of the upper, giving the heel stability.
The Heel Collar
This is the name given to the cushioned area around the top of the heel opening on a sneaker. Also known as the heel cuff, it is generally padded for added comfort and thicker than the rest of the upper.
It can extend up the ankle at the back and sometimes has a notch to help support the Achilles tendon. There is often a loop attached to it as well, which helps you pull your sneaker onto your foot.
The tongue sits over the instep of the foot, underneath the laces. In a sneaker, it will often be padded to provide extra comfort and protection from laces and eyelets. It’s also, in some sneakers, attached on both sides, so dirt and debris can’t get into the sneaker when you are walking or running.
You might also find flaps or slits in the top of the tongue, particularly at the midpoint. This allows you to thread laces through it, to secure the sneaker comfortably and prevent it from moving.
The Lacing System
Lacing systems in sneakers let you customize how the shoe fits you. The arrangement and location, as well as the number of eyelets, allow you to decide how much adjustment you want. Sometimes you will be able to lace them right up to the heel collar, especially with high-top style sneakers.
This video shows the different parts of a tennis shoe, which will give you some idea about how sneakers are constructed.
The Parts of a Boot
We’ve looked at parts of a shoe and sneakers, but what about boots? In reality, the parts of a boot are pretty much the same, with the exception of one addition.
This is the shaft of the boot which is the part of a boot that covers your ankles, calf, and leg. They can vary in length and be secured with laces, zips, or just pull on.
Another consideration, particularly with work boots, might be the addition of a protective toe cap. These could be made from steel, metal alloys, or a composite material, like Kevlar or fiberglass. They are inserted below the upper of the boots, to prevent your toes from being injured from falling objects.
Why Do I Need to Know the Parts of a Shoe or Sneaker?
Knowing how a shoe or sneaker is put together and what the different parts do can help you make an informed decision when buying. We are often tempted by what a shoe looks like rather than how it will function. This is especially the case with sneakers, where you need to consider comfort rather than style.
Now you know that a vamp, a welt, and a shaft are not part of a raunchy romance novel. Along with many other components, they make up one of the things we can’t be without: shoes. After all, unless you live on a deserted island in the Pacific or the Caribbean, you need these essential commodities.
Understanding the parts of a shoe gives you the knowledge to make a wise choice. Especially when buying something like dress shoes, which can be an expensive investment. You will be able to show off your knowledge and make sure the sales assistant isn’t just after your hard-earned money.
Just remember, while the latest Louboutins or Gucci loafers might be out of your price range, there are still many good shoes out there. At least now you know what to look for in their construction.
We hope you enjoyed our guide to shoe anatomy and the parts of a sneaker, and found it informative and useful. Please leave us a comment, we would love to hear from you—and please don’t forget to share.