I often throw around shoe making terms when speaking about shoes and I find that people often don't know the " shoe lingo." Their eyes glaze over, or they look in other directions, or in the case of my Dad, fall asleep. I’m passionate about shoemaking and often times I will begin to rattle off the many ways in which my shoes are made with higher quality than those made in a modern shoe factory. Once I’m half way into my spiel though, I realize that even though my passion is coming through, my language is not.
I believe it’s important for my clients and colleagues to know these things in order to better understand what makes an inferior or superior shoe. It also allows someone to better explain what they like, don’t like, or desire in their shoes. It can help when giving repair instructions, etcetra.
When you have the language, you can tell the cobbler exactly what you need work on and where. If you’re buying my shoes, I’d be that cobbler.
Here are common terms I use when describing my work:
Last: A Last is the mold in which the shoe is built around. They are typically made of wood or plastic and are made to take the shape of your feet. They come in several different shapes and sizes, such as pointed toe, round toe, square toe, 5/8in heel, 1-1/2in heel, some bulky with lots of toe space, some very sleek with little toe space, and any combination that is necessary for the construction of the shoe.
Toe box: The toe box is the reinforcement of leather that is placed in the toe area of the shoe under the outer layer of leather on the shoe. It gives that area much more strength. Some people will call it the toe puff, and others the toe cap.
Counter: The counter is the reinforcement of leather that is placed in the heel area of the shoe under the outer layer of leather on the shoe. Like the toe box it gives that area more strength, only the piece of leather is even thicker than the toe box since it will receive more wear and supports more weight.
Vamp: The vamp is the front half of the shoe. It is the area from the tip of the toe, back to the start of the tongue.
Quarter: The quarter is the back half of the shoe, which usually consists of two symmetrical pieces (half divided by 2 is a quarter) which will be connected to the vamp when closing the upper.
(The Premiere Oxford, if you’ll notice, does not have quarters. The distance from the tip of the toe to the heel is one long stretch of leather. This is typically considered to be a higher valued shoe, because it requires a larger piece of leather in order to construct it. Shoes with many sewn parts, while more labor is involved with sewing, can be made with scraps because the pieces are so small. It’s like the difference between a cigar and a cigarette.)
Insole: The insole is the layer inside the shoe, in which the rest of the shoe is built around. The insole is the first piece of leather I cut and attach to the last.
Midsole: The midsole is the layer in between the outsole and insole. This is the layer that is clinched or sewn to the upper and insole (Of course some choose to use glue only. I prefer the clinching method with tacks.).
Outsole: this is the last layer of leather applied to the bottom of the shoe unless a heel stack is used. This is the finished layer and can be finished any number of ways (I typically use a thin piece of rubber to slow wear and tear at the ball of the foot, and a thick piece the slow wear and tear at the heel).
Heel stack: the heel stack is a stack of leather used to reach the desired heel height and is part of the outsole.
Shank: The shank is a strip of reinforcement material placed from the heel the waist of the shoe, This is the area that takes the most weight. It helps add life to the shoe and keeps its shape. Any time a heel stack great than ½ an inch is used a shank should be used (I use steel shanks that are almost as wide as the insole. I find that steel, rather than wood or leather, holds up better over time. I like the wide ones because they give the shoe more balance and comfort.).
Welt: The welt is a thin strip of leather that works as an intermediary between the midsole and the outsole. It is often sewn in, or glued on. On the shoe it appears as a layer of the sole, but in fact it is just a thin strip around the perimeter of the shoe.
These are just a few to get you started in the language of shoes. Let's have a conversation!
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