Have you ever found yourself uncomfortable in a buying situation because you weren’t familiar with the industry jargon? It’s one part frustrating, one part embarrassing, and one part nerve-wracking, isn’t it?
Anytime you spend good money on something, you should have a baseline knowledge of how it works. This is why we bring car-savvy friends with us to the dealership, and it’s why we take tailors’ advice on what can and cannot be altered.
You need to arm yourself with the information to make the best decisions for your needs and your budget. What follows is a term-by-term breakdown of the most common words used in shoemaking.
Anatomy Of A Shoe
There are many parts to a shoe. We’ll explain each part in alphabetical order below the graphic.
For the purposes of this article, we focused on a blucher. This is because it’s the style in which it’s easiest to recognize the various sections of a shoe.
Certain parts of shoes are not present on a blucher, and we’ll provide one-off explanations below.
- Backstay: The area of a heel counter that runs vertically down its center
- Eyelet: The holes through which laces are passed. Lace-up shoes can have as little as one eyelet, lace-up boots can have as many as nine or more.
- Footbed: See insole
- Heel: The part of the shoe that your foot’s heel rests on. Often made of stacked leather, heels are easily replaceable on good shoes.
- Heel counter: The part of a shoe that cups the back of your heel.
- Insole: The part inside the shoe that makes contact with the sole of your foot. Also known as a “footbed.”
- Lace: Everyone knows what a shoe lace is. Also known as a “shoe string,” these are what you use to tie your shoes.
- Quarter: The section found on each side of the back of a shoe, they sit just underneath your ankles in a low shoe and cover your ankles in a boot. It’s also the section where the eyelets live. After extensive research, we aren’t sure why the word “quarter” is used as there are only two of them, not four.
- Shank: A steel rod inside the shoe that rests between the insole and the outsole (also known as the “sole”). This provides support for the wearer’s foot. Should the shank ever break, it is the equivalent of totaling a car and cannot be fixed.
- Sole: Also known as the “outsole,” this is the part of the shoe that makes contact with the ground as you walk.
- Throat: The area of the shoe that rests atop your foot’s instep, there are two styles: open-throat and closed-throat. These refer to bluchers and balmorals, respectively.
- Toe box: The area of a shoe in which the toes reside. Is not actually a box.
- Tongue: A strip of leather that makes contact with your instep on a lace-up shoe, it resides underneath the quarters and is the upper end of the vamp.
- Vamp: The part of the shoe’s upper that covers the forefoot. On a slip-on shoe, this includes the area that would otherwise be considered a “tongue” on a lace-up shoe.
- Waist: The narrowest part of a shoe’s sole. Shoe’s with narrow waists tend to offer superior arch support.
- Welt: The area in which the upper is stitched to the sole. It also refers to a strip of leather between the insole and the outsole; the upper is stitched to this piece of leather in a Goodyear welted shoe.
- Beef roll: On a penny loafer, the area where the vamp and sides are stitched together can sometimes form a thick, cylindrical plug that’s called a “beefroll.” Very casual.
- Kiltie: A fringe of leather that sits atop a loafer, often combined with a tassel. Kilties used to be golf shoes, protecting the player’s shoes from mud and grass.
- Medallion: Decorative perforations at the toe of a shoe.
- Mud guard: A thick line of stitching that runs horizontally across a shoe’s heel counter.
- Penny keeper: A strap of leather with a hole in the middle that runs across the vamp of a penny loafer. Ivy League students in the 1950’s would keep pennies in them, hence the name.
- Pinking: The V-shaped cuts in leather you see on a brogue.
- Perforations: Holes in leather seen on a brogue. Medallions are perforations arranged elegantly.
- Tassel: Decorative pieces of leather or suede that hang from the vamp of a loafer.
Good shoes cost good money, and it’s important to know what you’re buying. Having a basic grasp of basic terms will enable you to speak intelligently with salespeople and weed out those who want to help you from those who just want your money.
Go forth and let us know what you buy in the comments!
Back in the fifties there was a leather shoe you could close with one hand and it was quite popular with young boys. I believe it was referred to as a grasshopper shoe. It had a reinforced tongue with two wires on each side that would draw each side of the shoe together when it was closed so that the wearer didn’t need to tie or zip the shoe to wear it. The tongue was flipped forward to loosen the shoe and then pressed to the instep to close it. I had a pair and thought they were quite neat, but they went out of style and you don’t hear of them anymore. Do you have any thoughts on this?
This is honestly the first time that I’ve heard of the grasshopper shoe!
I did a little research and couldn’t find anything, unfortunately. It’s a shame as the concept sounds quite original! It actually seems that there’s a brand called grasshopper that does have an unusual design but is tied with regular laces.
All the best,
Thomas, I remember those shoes. We called them Flagg Flyers.
Those types of shoes also were known as Flap Jacks.
I think the quarter gets its name either because it covers the rear quarter of your foot or because each one makes up one quarter of the upper.
For contrast, animals have hind quarters and fore quarters, and the side of a ship above the water but behind the waist is called the stern quarter, hence the “quarter deck”. The word “Quarter” is frequently used to indicate the location on something.
I always assumed that it was a reference to the rear of the foot too personally. I guess the original author didn’t come across this during their “extensive” research! Thanks for your input, Claude!
All the best,
What is the name of the shoe at the top of your web pages home screen? I love it and want a pair?
I’m not entirely sure but I know that Taft have a similar model!
Those Grasshoppers were also known as Snapjacks. My brother had a pair from a pop shoe store when he was a teenager.
Ah, interesting! Thanks for the infor!
On laced dress shoes there two styles of vamp to hold the holes
for the laces. On one style the two sides are connected just below the lace holes closest to the toe box. The other style the two sides are connected only by the shoe laces. What are the two styles called?
Are you referring to derby and Oxford style shoes? Otherwise, it’s hard to picture what you’re trying to describe, sorry!
I own a pr of Allen Edmund’s “Randolph” penny loafers in cordovan. When I walk the sides below the saddle bow outwards. Is this normal? Thanks
A bit of this is normal as long as it’s not uncomfortable or compromising the structure of the shoe. Perhaps opting for a wider last next time would help prevent this effect, though as I mention, if it’s still comfortable to wear, I wouldn’t worry too much.
I want to order some boots off shien, but I don’t know the shoe size CN meaning. I am a size 7 Canada, what would that be in CN?
Shoe Size CN refers to shoe size in the Chinese scale, which is different from shoe size scales in the US (and the UK, etc…). You can check our conversion chart between countries’ different scales here: https://bespokeunit.com/shoes/size/.