When it comes to shoes, what matters the most to you? Is it the comfort or the style? For most people, it’s both.
But not many of us think about every little detail that goes into producing the shoes we’re wearing. In most cases, the construction of a shoe is quite complex, and it can feature close to 30 components.
In fact, the terminology of shoe parts is extensive. Yet most people know the shoelaces and soles at best.
You, my friend, are not most people. After reading this article, you’re going to be a master of shoe parts.
A Brief History of the Shoe
Before we move on to learning about recognizing every shoe part, let’s talk about shoes throughout history.
It’s difficult to imagine not wearing shoes, but in fact, looking back at the entire course of human history, they’re still a novelty. As you might imagine, the shoe evolved quite a bit from era to era.
While it’s difficult to say precisely when the first shoes were used, there are indications from prehistoric cave paintings that they date as far back as 8000 BC. The oldest recovered shoes were found in Europe on a man who lived around 3000 BC.
They were made from bearskin, had straw-like insulation, and were held together with plant fibers. However, in warmer climates around this time, most people still went barefooted.
Greek and Roman Shoes
The shoe styles of Greeks and Romans echoed those of the modern age. The Greeks especially were known for their sandals. By 400 BC, they had mastered the art of shoemaking.
The Romans were more interested in their shoes’ utility and ensured their soldiers wore durable footwear. They also used the shoe’s color to identify class, with the emperor being the only one allowed to wear red.
Something happened in the Middle Ages that caused the shoe to lose all of its structural sophistication that it acquired during ancient times. There were a lot of experiments style-wise, like over-the-top pointed toes or shoes made entirely of silk.
Another novelty was the introduction of a wooden high-heel platform. But the heels had more to do with function than style, because they elevated the foot from the dirt and mud.
Shoe trends largely remained the same for quite a while. That is, until the 17th and 18th centuries, when shoes started looking more and more plain. This was also when high-heels were no longer considered suitable for men’s footwear.
The era of modern-day shoes started around the late 19th to early 20th century. Around this time, shoes began to look like the ones we see today.
Through the decades, the making of shoes evolved from hand-made to mass production. But even now, a really well-made pair of shoes will require quality craftsmanship.
The high-heeled shoes and the low-heeled shoes switched places for a while when it came to popularity. But it quickly became apparent that there was room for both. A significant change came after WWII, when the combat boot influenced mainstream fashion.
Honorable Mention: Flip-Flops
You either love them or hate them. But whatever the case, there’s no denying flip-flops their rightful place in shoe history. People across the world have been wearing them for thousands of years.
From Ancient Egyptians to the Maasai people in Africa, and all the way to China and Japan, flip-flops took many forms and were made from all kinds of materials. In terms of their anatomy, they contain just four parts – strap, insole, midsole, and sole.
All Parts of the Shoe
One of the best things about modern shoes is their variety. A pair of shoes can be as basic or as sophisticated as you want them to be. And while some will have just a few parts, others will have dozens of details.
You can explore the shoe terminology below and check your knowledge of shoe construction.
This is a small piece of material that forms the back of your shoe. It ensures that the material around your heel is stiff and maintains the shape of your shoe.
Naturally, these are where your shoelaces go. The eyelets are often protected with plastic or even metal. There’s no standard number of eyelets per shoe – it varies on the type of the footwear.
Another word for it is lace stay. It’s the part of your shoe where the eyelets are found, and the laces are threaded through.
The feather edge is the part of the shoe where the sole meets the upper. It’s often just referred to as the feather.
It’s the part where the rear of the shoe that is elevated compared to the front. You might also hear it called the “heel seat.”
The exact part of the shoe where the heel touches the ground is called the top piece. It’s much more common with formal types of footwear, both for men and women. They need to be made from sturdy and durable materials because they have to promote grip.
When someone says, “upper part of the shoe,” they mean the entire part that covers the top of your feet.
This is a part of the upper that covers the front of your foot.
This is the rear and side of the shoe upper. It covers the heel and sits behind the vamp. The heel part of the quarter usually requires a stiffener that helps the heel retain its shape.
The term “sole” covers everything that’s under your foot. It’s the opposite of the upper. If you were to name two main parts of the shoe, it would be the upper and the sole. These are the three components of a shoe sole:
- Outsole – basically, the part that touches the ground. They are made from different materials and vary in durability
- Midsole – a shoe can have a midsole, but it doesn’t need to. It’s a part you’ll often find in athletic footwear
- Insole – it’s the inside part of the shoe that your foot touches
As the name implies, the toe box is the part of the shoe where your toes are. The term “box” might be a bit misleading, since it’s not actually boxy.
Toe caps usually go in front of the shoe upper. In some cases, they’re there to protect your shoe and your toes, like in hiking shoes. But often they’re just decorative.
A puff has a similar purpose to a toe cap but on the inside of the shoe. It adds another layer of support and ensures that your shoe retains its shape longer.
Toe spring represents the upward curve in the forefoot of the sole, but only when your shoes are on your feet.
The tongue is the part of the shoe that sits on top of your foot. If you’re wearing shoes with laces, the tongue is just under the eye stays and the shoelaces.
This is a soft material that’s inside the shoe tongue. The padding is there to provide extra comfort.
The gusseted tongue is a particular type of tongue often found in boots and hiking shoes. It is completely attached to the upper. The purpose of this part is to keep out all kinds of dirt, and also help wick moisture.
This is a very small piece of material that adds an extra layer of security between the upper and sole.
The filler is usually elastic material and made from felt or cork, and it’s meant to fill the space between the midsole and insole.
The lining is necessary for all types of shoes. It’s there to ensure better air-flow, comfort and is meant to increase the shoe’s overall durability. A shoe features counter lining, tongue lining, and vamp lining.
It’s the part of the shoe where your heel sits. It’s one of the most important parts of the shoe in terms of quality of construction and comfort. In most cases, it needs to match the exact shape of the heel.
Between your outsole and insole, there’s room for a small and sturdy piece designed to support your arch when you walk. It’s usually made from wood, plastic, or metal. If you hear your shoe making a clicking sound when you walk, it means that the shank is probably broken.
Heel to Toe Drop
This is not a shoe part, but a term that’s often used when talking about shoes. Other names are HTT drop or offset, and it refers to the height difference between your heel and your forefoot.
Stack height is the length between the floor and your feet when you have your shoes on.
Perforations are important for walking and running shoes. They are the little holes in the upper of your shoe. And while they can be decorative, their primary purpose is to provide breathability.
And there you have it! Yes, you are ready to be the life of any party with all of this shoe knowledge. Go out there and make it happen!