Shoe Anatomy

The padded area of the insole of a shoe, which is designed to support the arch of the foot.
Back Seam:
The vertical seam used to attach the quarters together at the center of the rear of a shoe.
Back Stay:
A short strip of leather that connects the quarters down the back of the shoe.
A, sometimes padded, strip of material attached to the topline/opening of a shoe.
A stiff piece of material usually made of leather, plastic, cardboard, or other stiff but plyable material that is inserted between the shoe lining and the upper located at the rear of the shoe, just above the heel.
The counter is used to strengthen the rear of the shoe and support the rear heel of the foot. It also helps retain the shape of the shoe. A Heel Counter can also refer to the exterior decoration on the back of a shoe (similar to a toe cap)
Holes in the upper, above the tongue, where shoe laces are laces. Eyelets may be reinforced with a grommet for less wear on the shoe material. As a side note: The plastic tips on shoe strings are called Aglets.
The part of the shoe where the shoelace eyelets are located.
A piece of leather trimming fitted into or on top of the rear quarters.
An elastic panel attached to each side of the vamp to make a shoe more comfortable and easier to put on and take off. A Hidden Gore is covered by the tongue of a shoe and provides added comfort.
The heel of a shoe, which raises the rear of the shoe, is considered part of the sole of a shoe although is is normally an independent piece of material. There are also names for the various areas of a heel:
      Heel Breast:The area of the heel that faces the front of a shoe, typically located below the rear arch area of the foot.
      Heel Seat:The area of the heel that is attached to the sole of a shoe.
      Heel Tip:Used to refer to the Top Piece of a narrow, high heeled shoe (such as a Stiletto). Heel Tips are usually made of plastic or rubber.
    Top Piece:The area of the heel that contacts the ground. When a shoe is manufactured the heel is attached to the shoe while the shoe is upsidedown, therefore the “bottom” of the heel, when a shoe is placed on a foot, is the “top” when it is being manufactured.
A hidden seam on a shoe attaching the welt, upper, lining and insole.
The layer of material that lays on top of the sole inside a shoe, where the bottom of your foot contacts a shoe.
A material, usually leather, sheepskin or cloth, that covers the inside of the upper to make a shoe more comfortable.
A layer of cushioned material between the innersole and outsole, adding additonal comfort and support to a shoe.
The part of the sole that touches the ground, usually made of leather or rubber.
The sewn in vamp on a loafer. Usually defined as a plug if the material or texture is different than the rest of the shoe.
Reinforcement inside the upper at the toe of a shoe to give it shape and support.
The back half of the upper. Attached at the front to the vamp, making up both sides of a shoe, and wrapping around the rear of the shoe. On some shoes the vamp and the quarter are a single piece of leather.
A rigid material (usually metal or plastic) located between the insole and the sole of the shoe to supply support.
The part of the shoe that sits below the wearers foot. The upper and sole make up the entire shoe.
The area of the shoe where the top cap ends, or the area where the base of the tongue is attached to the vamp.
Toe cap:
A piece of material that covers the front upper of the shoe. Toe caps can have decorative patterns and shapes, to include wingtip.
A piece of material, usually leather or cloth, sewn into the vamp of a laced shoe, extending between the throat and the waist of a shoe.
Also refered to as the Rim or the Collar, it is the top edge of the upper or opening of a shoe.
The part of a shoe that covers the entire top, sides and back of the foot.
The part of upper that covers the front of the foot and attaches to the quarter.
The area of a shoe between the in-step and arch.
The piece of material, or process, used to join the upper to the sole. When the upper and the sole are stiched together, resulting in a visible stiched seam it is referred to as a Goodyear Welt or Norwegian Welt [two different processes] (as opposed to a Blake stitch which is not visible from the top of the shoe).

Construction Quality Terminology

When buying higher quality shoes, that are made using methods beyond basic automated construction, you will run into some terms that are used to describe the degree of craftsmanship that went into the construction of the shoe.

The first step up from basic automated construction is Benchgrade. The term Benchgrade comes from the idea that the shoe starts at a bench where a person assists with a mostly automated process, but helps guide the shoe through the process at times.

The next step up is Handgrade. Handgrade implies a more hands on approach in combination with some automated processes. It also includes addition steps and attention to detail like closed channeled stitching on the sole (stitching not exposed on the sole bottom), higher quality materials, and some hand finishing.

The next step would be Hand Made, but this term is used rather broadly. Although some manufacturers use the term Hand Made to refer to Handgrade, it should include more hands-on work and less automation. An example of a Hand Made shoe would be one that is hand lasted, but not necessarily Hand Welted.

A Hand Lasted shoe is one that has had the leather upper stretched over the last by hand and tacked down to the insole.
hand lasting

A Hand Welted shoe is one that has the welt hand sewn, but the sole may be attached to the welt by machine or by hand.
hand welting

A Hand Sewn sole can be sewn to a welt or directly to the insole. A shoe with a hand sewn sole is the highest level of hand made
hand sewn

The next step after Hand Made is Bespoke. Bespoke shoes are typically Hand Lasted and Hand Welted and/or have hand sewn soles. Top grade leather or exotic skins are commonly used in Bespoke construction. One of the main things that set Bespoke apart from other processes is that the shoes are built to fit your feet specifically. Bespoke does not come in a size 10 or 11, in comes in size YOU. Typically, in Bespoke, a last is created or modified to match the size and shape of each of your feet. The shoes are then built by hand using the last, and other measurements taken of your feet.

Another aspect that can be found in Bespoke shoes is a fiddle waist, where the sole, in the area of the shoe waist is built up to offer more support in place of a shank.
fiddle waist

Sitting somewhere between Handgrade and Bespoke is Made to Measure. Made to Measure uses stock patterns and stock lasts that are slightly modified using measurements provided by you to create a pair of shoes that fit your feet better than a pair of RTW (Ready To Wear) shoes, but are not built by hand or measured to the detail of a pair of bespoke shoes.
made to measure

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Shoe Seams

The seams on a shoe are one of the main factors in defining the style of a shoe. So I decided to create a list of the various seams and how they define a given style.

Another aspect of seams is broguing (holes punched into the leather for decoration) which also plays a role in the definition of a style.

First lets start with the Wholecut style which is defined by the lack of seams other than the single seam running vertically up the back of the shoe. This is referred to as the Back seam (the small leather extension that comes across, from one side to the other, at the top of some back seams is called a Dog Tail).

The most common seam on shoes is the Gooseneck seam which is where the quarters overlay the vamp to create the facing of the shoe. On closed laced shoes (oxfords) this seam also goes across the top of the vamp.

A more decorative version of the Gooseneck seam is the Swan Neck seam, which runs up the side of the facing.

A seam not seen as often in shoes as it is in boots is the Balmoral seam, which starts at the vamp and runs horizontally along the length of the quarters then wraps around the back of the shoe.

A seam that is one of my favorites is the Adelaide seam, which makes a “U” shape around the facing, and is exclusive to Oxford type shoes.

A Heel Counter seam exists when a piece of leather is wrapped around the back of the shoe for decoration and visual balance. This piece of leather is called a heel counter. Not to be confused with the internal support built into the inside of the back of the shoe, also referred to as a heel counter.

Any time a piece of leather (or other material) is laid over a part of the upper a seam is created. A good example of this is the Saddle Shoe seam that is created by placing a piece of leather across the facing and down the sides of the quarters.

The open edges of the Facing (that the shoe laces pull together) is also considered a seam, as is the seam around the top of the shoe opening known as the Top Line seam.

Then, of course, there are the toe seams:

Aside from the typical Cap Toe and Wingtip, which I will go into with more detail shortly, there are less typical Split Toe, Apron Toe, Moc Toe, and Bicycle Toe seams.

The Split Toe seam is also known as an Algonquin or Norwegian seam. It runs vertically up the center front of the toe until it meets either an Apron Toe seam, or a Moc Toe seam.

An Apron Toe seam is a seam attaches a piece of material (leather or other) covering the top of the vamp like an apron, around the upper perimeter of the vamp, but typically not extending to the end of the toe. An Apron Toe can be simulated with just a seam, and does not require a separate piece.

A Moc Toe is similar to an Apron Toe, except that a Moc Toe is set into the vamp rather than being on top of it.

A Bicycle Toe seam is created by extending the quarters forward along the sides of the vamp toward the front of the toe.

Now back to Wingtips and Cap Toes:

There are different styles of wingtip and cap toe shoes that are distinguished mostly by broguing (or the lack thereof).

A Stitch Cap is defined by no broguing on the top cap seam, only a single or double stitch line along the seam (more than two stitch lines can be used for additional decoration).

A Quarter Brogue is defined by broguing along the toe cap seam, as well as broguing on any seams across the quarters and the facing. If a heel counter seam exists it should have broguing as well. Broguing on the top line seam are optional. A quarter brogue also has a plain cap toe (no Medallion).

A Semi-Brogue (or Half-Brogue) is the same as a quarter brogue, except that a semi-brogue has a medallion punched into the cap toe.

A Full-Brogue (better known as just a Brogue) is a wingtip with the same broguing requirements as a semi-brogue.

A Longwing is a full brogue with the tips of the wings extending to the back of the shoe.

An Austerity Brogue is similar to a stitch cap as there is no broguing, only a stitch line along the wingtip seam.

A Blind Brogue is defined by the lack of an actual seam, replaced by a line of broguing directly in the upper to imply a wingtip seam.

Understanding shoe seams will make it much easier to distinguish the various shoe styles at a glance.

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Beeswax and carnauba wax are the most commonly used waxes in shoe polish, with paraffin wax being used less often. However, I believe Venetian shoe cream is composed of a liquid paraffin mixed with turpentine. All hydrocarbons from paraffin wax to mineral oil fall into the paraffin class.
Venetian Shoe Cream-1

Kiwi lists carnauba wax as the wax ingredient in their standard paste polish.

Other wax options, not as frequently used in shoe polish, are Japan wax and Candelilla wax.

Each wax has a different degree of hardness, which is somewhat reflected in its melting point.

Waxes in order of hardness:

Carnauba Wax: Melting Point (183F), source (leaves of the palm plant Copernicia prunifera grown in Brazil).

Candelilla Wax: Melting Point (155F), source (candelilla shrub found in Southwest U.S. and Northern Mexico).

Beeswax: Melting Point (145F), source (honey bees).

Paraffin Wax: Melting Point (140F), source (petroleum distillate – paraffin class hydrocarbon).

Japan Wax: Melting Point (124F), source (fruit of the Rhus Succedanea tree grown in Japan).

Some polishes use a combination of waxes.

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Shoe Leather 101

When it comes to leather shoes it is helpful to have an understanding of leather in general, and shoe leather in specific.

Most people think of leather as cow hide, but it really relates to any animal skin that has been through the tanning process to convert the dead animal skin into a lasting useful material (Leather).

Although the tanned skin of a young calf is called calfskin it is still leather. Because calfskin comes from a calf it has a tighter grain and fiber, and is thinner and lighter than cow hide; this makes for better shoe leather.

Other types of animal leather are Kidskin (from goat), Pigskin/Peccary (from pig), Cordovan Shell (from horse), and of course other exotic animal skins like buffalo, elephant, kangaroo and so on. There are also bird skins, like ostrich, and reptile skins like alligator, crocodile, lizard and snake.

Reptile skins tend to last longer and need less care than animal leathers, but they are also more expensive. Bovine leather (cow hide / calfskin) is by far the most commonly used leather in shoes.

A high quality all leather shoe uses leather in the following places:
The outsole of the shoe (the part that touches the ground)
The insole of the shoe (the part your foot rests on)
The lining of the shoe (between your foot and the upper)
The heel of the shoe (as in stacked layers of leather to create the heel)
The shoe upper (the rest of the shoe, excluding the items above)

Shoe that are not all leather may have rubber soles, insoles made of various materials, and heels made of wood, rubber or plastic. I would suggest going with all leather if you can, with the exception of perhaps rubber soles if you need to stand in cold wet environments.

Leather can be available from tanneries in the following thicknesses:

A leather outsole on a man’s shoe is around 12oz thickness on average. A leather insole is typically around 14oz in thickness to accommodate the welt. A shoe upper is around 5oz on a typical dress/business shoe, and the lining is about 1oz.

All of these thicknesses can vary due to leather type, welt method, and shoe style. For example Italian shoes tend to be sleeker and therefore use thinner leather in the soles and uppers to achieve the look. Soles that are Blake stitched or bonded don’t require as thick an insole as Goodyear welted shoes.

As a side note: try to avoid bonded or bondwelted shoes as this means the outsole is simply glued to the shoe without an actual welt.

The quality of the leather used in a given line of shoes is determined by the grade of leather the shoe manufacturer purchased to make the shoes. Leather is graded in two basic ways: 1) The quality of the hide in general (amount of scars, blemishes, etc…), and 2) The area of the hide a specific piece of leather is cut from (back, belly, front shoulders, etc…).

Leather quality is typically graded in four grades, with grade 1 being the best, and grade 4 being the worst. This means that even grade 1 hides (little to no blemishes) have grade 4 leather (belly skin).
Cow Hide Portions

The grade of leather used is the most critical in the shoe upper, as this is where the quality of the leather is most visible. Shoe uppers made from the back area leather of a grade 1 hide would be the best shoe leather you could get (and also makes for a very expensive pair of shoes).

The leather on a shoe upper is typically grain side out leather, but leathers like shell cordovan and waxed leather are used inside out (flesh side out), and suede leather has had the grain removed entirely.

Inside out leathers are typically pressed under very high pressure to compress the fibers to a smooth surface.

Leather that has blemishes in the grain are often buffed (sanded) of the grain side to remove the blemishes, which then requires the grain to be corrected. Corrected grain leather is sometimes referred to as top grain leather or bookbinder leather. If the grain has not been corrected (no existing blemishes in the grain to begin with) it is referred to as full grain. The term top grain has also been used to define the grain side of the leather, making full grain and top grain synonymous, so it can be confusing.
Leather Grain levels

One of the final stages of tanning leather is applying the color and finish (although chromium tanned leather can be bought in a “wet blue” state).

The high quality leather is typically aniline dyed, which saturates the color completely through the leather. The leather is also pressed under high pressure to give it some shine, and a very thin coat of clear or colored acrylic is applied as a final finish, in most cases.

In the case of corrected grain, the pressing and acrylic finish is also where the corrected grain is applied. Because of this corrected grain leather will have a thicker finish than non-corrected grain, and also tend to be a little shinier. Patent leather is corrected grain leather with a thick acrylic finish, pressed to a high shine.
Leather Finish

The shoe manufacturer may also add their own finish to the leather, to add more shine, or to add color highlights.

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What is a Derby?

This blog is intended to address an international audience. Therefore, I believe it is important to identify some English language terminologies that differ between the US and the UK.

Because Europeans were dressing for formal events and business long before there was a United States, a number of terms in shoes and clothing have a European heritage. Since this article is more about English language terminologies I will stick with general terminology differences between the US and the UK, rather than Europe as a whole.

Most terms were coined for various objects through relationships to the designer, manufacturer, or location of introduction.

It should also be noted that a lot of the differences in terminology are basically due to lack of adherence to (or awareness of) historical terminologies, by the US population, and some of the manufacturers. Some of it was born out of simple ignorance of the times, and other aspects are simply cultural. This is not a judgment, just an observation.

A case in point would be the Derby hat, a US term for the UK Bowler hat. In fact in the UK the Bowler may also be referred to as a Billy Coke (pronounced “Billycock”). In the UK a Derby is a Blucher style shoe. It is all a bit confusing.

There are two common theories about why a Bowler is called a Derby in the US:

  1. A US hat manufacturer noticed on his visits to the UK that hat was worn by a large number of the men in the audience at every horse derby he went to, and therefore named his copy of it a Derby. Thus associating it to his location of introduction.
  2. A US hat manufacturer observed the Earl of Derby (pronounced DAR-bi) wearing the hat and therefore named his copy of it after the title of the person he associated with the hat.

I tend to believe the first theory over the second.

In regard to the UK term of Bowler: The name of the hat makers that first built the hat were Thomas and William Bowler (The hat was commissioned by Edward Coke).

The point is: if you are talking/writing to an international audience (as this blog is intended) it makes sense to use terms most everyone understands. I wouldn’t call a Bowler a Derby in the UK (unless I wanted to make the distinction between the hat not the shoe), and I wouldn’t call a Bowler a Billycock in the US. But, I would refer to a Bowler as a Bowler most everywhere.

Finding common ground for some terms is not quite as easy, as they are embedded in the culture. The word “dress” is a good example. Not as in a woman’s dress, but as in a dress shirt, or dress shoes.

The word “dress” in the UK relates more to formal attire, so a dress shoe would be more along the lines of an Opera Pump, not a cap toe oxford. In the UK a cap toe oxford would be considered a “business” shoe. While in the US a cap toe oxford would almost always be called a dress shoe. In cases like this I try to combine the terms into Dress/Business shoe.

Please feel free to add comments about other US/UK terminology distinctions in footwear and clothing.

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