In this article, I’m going to take a deep dive into the world of shoe anatomy to have a look at the all the parts of a shoe. I’ll look at both heeled pumps and the flatter, lace-up type of shoe, so you’ll have all your bases covered when it comes to your shoe lexicon. I’ve also got lots of illustrations so you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about as we go along.
Different Parts Of A Shoe – Pumps
We’re going to start off with women’s heeled pumps. Although some of the shoe parts for all shoes are the same, heels typically have not only different parts, but fewer components than other types of shoes.
We’ll start you off slowly.
The upper part of a high heel includes all parts above the sole and heel of the shoe.
The vamp is basically the top and sides of the heel. It covers the top area of the foot and spans from the toe of the upper to the quarter.
This is the section located right behind the vamp. It extends from the back of the heeled shoe forward to where it meets the vamp. The quarter includes all components of the heel.
The part of a shoe that is made from stiff material that cups the back of your heel is called the counter. It provides shape and support behind the heel. This is the part of the shoe that is probably most responsible for blisters if the shoe does not fit properly.
The counter on a well-made and properly fitted shoe will fit snugly around the heel so as not to cause friction between the back of the shoe and the skin on back of the heel.
A properly fitted counter is not only important for saving yourself from the agony of painful blisters, it’s essential to prevent a whole other host of problems.
Check out our article: How to Make Shoes Smaller to find out what can happen if your shoes are too big.
The toe box is part of the vamp that covers the toes in closed-toe pumps. The toe box on different shoes can vary in shape from pointed and square to rounded and almond shaped. Open-toed shoes do not have a toe box.
The stitched edge that runs along the vamp and quarter is called the topline. It joins the outer materials to the lining while providing shape to the top of the shoe.
The insole is the part of the inside of the shoe where the bottom of your foot makes contact. Although the insole is often cushioned to provide support to the foot’s arch and for general comfort when walking or standing )unlike the insoles in other types of footwear) the insoles in women’s high heels are not generally removable or as cushioned.
The lining is a material that lines the interior part of the shoes that your foot comes into direct contact with on the sides and the top of the shoe. The lining is there to cover any rough seams inside the shoes.
A shank is built into the shoe, somewhere between the outsole and the lining, and is not visible. The shank is made of a rigid material like plastic, metal, or wood and provides extra strength to the sole of the shoe.
The shank in heels gives support to the heel counter and the foot’s arch.
Heel & Base
The sole is made up of several different parts and includes everything below the upper, including the heel and any non-visible components, like the shank.
The outsole is the external part of the sole, where the shoe touches the ground.
The seat, or heel seat, is where the heel connects with the bottom of the shoe.
Shoe pitch, or sometimes called the shoe drop, refers to the height difference between the heel height and the base of the shoe sole. The heel is measured from the heel seat to the bottom of the heel, excluding the top piece.
If you are measuring the pitch for a pair of platform heels, then you need to take the thickness of the platform under the forefoot into account.
For example, if the shoes have a 3 inch heel and a platform of one inch, the pitch is two inches.
The heel is the defining feature of high heels, referring to the raised back portion attached to the outsole that gives a shoe its height.
Heels come in as many shapes and styles as there are ants at a picnic. They can also range in height from low kitten heels to towering platform stilettos. If you are looking to find out more about different types of heels on women’s shoes, check out the article. [link]
The heel breast is the forward-facing edge of the heel. It is often constructed as a continuous piece of material that runs along the length of the outsole, most often in expensive, luxury-heeled shoes.
Sometimes also called a Heel Tip or Top-Lift, the top piece is the very tip of the shoe heel that comes into contact with the ground. It is usually made of durable, non-slip material, like rubber or plastic, and helps to provide traction when walking.
And there you have it… parts of a heeled pump. Of course, there are lots of different styles of heels out there, and some may have a few parts that others don’t but what we’ve just gone through are the basic components that makeup women’s heeled pumps.
Once you start getting into hybrid heel designs, like heeled loafers, oxfords, or ankle booties, you start entering the more complex type of shoe construction.
Are you ready to move on?
Different Parts Of A Shoe – Other Shoes
Alright now that we’ve covered women’s pumps, let’s get into other types of shoes.
I’ve taken the sneaker as our example illustration, but the parts we are going to go over now apply to other types of shoes that lace up as well.
It’s important to note that not every shoe will have each part, and there may be other shoes out there that have even more components because of the variations in design and construction, but with the help of labeled illustrations, the following should help to give you a pretty good foundation of shoe terminology as it relates to other types of shoes.
Just as with the parts of heeled pumps we went over above, the upper is basically all of the components of a shoe above the sole.
The vamp makes up the top front portion and the sides of a shoe that spans from the toe to the quarter, or heel portion. The vamp is usually one solid piece of material on pumps, but for other types of shoes, it’s often made of different pieces stitched together.
The quarter is the whole heel area that goes from where the vamp ends to the back of the heel.
The shoe collar is the edge along the opening of the shoe where you insert your foot. Especially with sport footwear, like sneakers or hiking shoes, it is often padded to provide extra ankle support.
The topline is the seam at the top edge of the collar where the shoe lining and the outer part of the shoe come together.
The counter is the heel cup that provides support and shape to the heel of the shoe. Like we’d mentioned earlier when talking about the counter in the heeled pumps, the same applies for other kinds of footwear when it comes to the proper fit.
If you don’t want to end up with a lot of foot problems, a properly fitting counter that prevents your heel from sliding around is key to avoiding them.
The shoe waist is located in the middle of the shoe where it is usually most narrow. The shoes that offer better arch support tend to have a more narrow waist.
The shoe tongue is an extra (sometimes padded) strip of material attached to the vamp and runs all the way to the throat of the shoe. It rests on the top of the foot, under the eyestays, protecting the top of the foot from the laces rubbing up against it.
An eyestay is found on top of the shoe’s vamp. This is where the eyelets are for shoe laces.
They’re actually called eyelets, not shoelace holes. You will often find eyelets reinforced with a plastic or metal rivet to prevent them from tearing.
The toe cap is an extra piece of material that goes over the vamp and covers the toe area of a shoe. It is often used to reinforce the toe area, but can also be purely decorative.
The toe box is the part of a shoe that covers and protects the toes on close-toe shoes. Like with the heeled pumps, toe boxes can vary in shape.
A shoe sole includes all of the parts of the shoe below the upper, but has three main components.
- Outsole – The outsole, most often referred to as the sole of the shoe, is the external part of a sole that touches the ground. Outsoles can be made from a multitude of materials, like rubber, leather or synthetic fabric. Its main functions are to protect the foot and to provide traction.
- Insole – The insole is the inside of the bottom of the shoe where the soles of your feet come into contact. They serve to provide comfort as well as foot and arch support.
- Midsole – The midsole is the part of the shoe sole between the insole and outsole. Not all shoes have a midsole, but a lot of sneakers and sports shoes do. A midsole provides cushioning and bounce.
The welt is basically the ‘seam’ between the sole and the upper. The welt can look different on different shoes. For dress shoes, it’s quite often a piece of leather that is stitched around the bottom edge of the upper base, onto which the sole is sewn.
But you can find welts that are also made of rubber, or plastic as well. Some shoes don’t have welts.
The heel is attached to the bottom of the outsole at the back of the shoe and serves to elevate the foot’s heel, making the wearer taller.
The shoe liner is the material that lines the inside of the back, sides, and top of the shoe that comes in direct contact with your feet. The shoe lining is for comfort as it covers the rough edges of the interior shoe construction.
I’ve also added just a couple of other parts that are not on my illustrations but can also be commonly found on a lot of shoes.
That extra strip of material, that you sometimes find on shoes, that runs vertically at the very back of the counter from the topline to the top of the sole, is called a backstay.
Commonly found on Chelsea boots, sneakers, and more casual footwear, a heel tab is a fabric loop secured to the shoe’s backstay. It’s often only there for decoration, but heel tabs were originally designed to make it easier to pull on shoes, and boots.
The Achilles notch is that little divot on the collar at the back of the shoe. It’s there to provide a greater range of motion for the Achilles tendon while walking and running. It’s most often found on running shoes.
Who knew that shoes had so many parts, and they all had names? Well, now you do, and will never again feel intimidated by technical terms, or have trouble explaining what you’re looking for in a shoe when you’re out shopping.