shoe glossary

Shoe terms to know

An ever-growing list of shoe terminology and components – a shoe glossary

Action Sports Shoes – Footwear for the Action Sports category usually include skater shoes.

Aglet – The covering on the end of a shoelace, cord or drawstring to keep the material from fraying and to make lacing easier. Today aglets are usually made of plastic or metal, but have been made of glass and stone in the past.

Aniline Leather – A type of leather that has been treated with aniline dye, a non-toxic dye that allows the natural signatures of the leather to be seen as well as produces a soft supple texture.

Ankle Strap – A strap that is attached at the back of the shoe and goes around the ankle to provide heel retention; usually fastens with a buckle or by tying.

Arch – A section of the foot between the ball and the heel that is curved to allow for the support of the body with the least amount of weight. This term is also used for the area of insoles that pad this section of the foot, which provides added support.

Arthritis – A medical condition involving the inflammation of the joints, which can cause pain, swelling and stiffness.

Athletic Shoes – This is the generic name for shoes designed for sports or other physical exercise.

Back Seam – A vertically stitched seam running down the center-back of shoes.

Ball – The padded section of foot found between the arch and the toes upon which body weight rests when the heel is elevated.

Board Lasting – A lasting process where the insole board (carboard or texon) is inserted onto the last bottom and the lasting margin (excess) material of the upper is lasted onto the board and cemented to the insole board. Shoes of this type are usually more stiff and heavier.

Bouldering Shoes – A specific type of climbing shoe that is used for low to the ground, difficult routes that are not rope protected. Those who practice the technique of bouldering are called ‘boulderers’.

Brannock Device® – A measurement instrument used to measure the width and size of a person’s foot to ensure that shoes will fit correctly. If you own a retail shoe store, please | get one! |

Break – The natural crease created across the front leather upper of a shoe resulting from everyday wear.

Buff – To remove material by a sanding or roughing process.

Bunions – A swelling of thickening of the first joint of the big toe, resulting in a bony protrusion that can make fitting shoes difficult. These should be examined by a doctor for treatment.

Calluses – A hard area of skin that has been thickened by continual pressure, friction and use.

Cap Toe – Also known as a tip, a cap toe is a decorative piece of leather across the toe of a shoe marked by a straight stitch across the overlay.

Cemented Construction – A method of shoe construction where the shoe’s upper is cemented to the sole of the shoe to attach them. This method makes for a lighter more flexible shoe.

Collar – The piece of material stitched around the opening or rim of the shoe. The collar may sometimes be padded to add extra comfort.

Colorway – A color/material combination.

Contoured Footbed – An insole usually made of memory foam that molds to the shape of the foot for extra comfort and support.

Corn – A hard thickened skin formation usually small and found on the top or the side of the toe. A corn is usually the result of improperly fitting shoes that continuously apply pressure and rub in one place.

Cosmo – A type of non-woven upper lining and reinforcement material used commonly on cross training and hiking boots that provides a stiffer (compared to Tricot) lining and support for the shoe.

Counter – A piece of material forming the back of a shoe to give support and stiffen the material around the heel.

Cushioning – Refers to a shoe’s ability to absorb foot strike forces usually utilizing inner out outer sole padding, also provides comfort and stability.

Dressing – The application of polish or gloss to a shoe to maintain its finish and appearance.

Edging – Refers to a climbing technique in which the inside or outside edge of the climbing shoe is placed on a sharp hold. For climbing shoes to have the best edging performance, they need to be tight but not painful.

Epsom Salt – A magnesium sulfate used to draw toxins from the body through the skin. Commonly used in bath and foot soaks as it is believed to reduce swelling and relax muscles.

EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) – A polymer “rubber” used as cushion and can be made in various densities depending on the amount of softness and flexibly the shoe design requires. EVA is mostly used as insole cushions as well beach flip flop footbeds (Havaianas).

Eyelet – A small (usually round) hole through which aglets are threaded. They are often reinforced with a metal, plastic or rubber grommets.

Eyestay – The area where the eyelets are placed.

Fiberboard – The material used for counters, insoles and heel lifts. It’s primarily made of wood fibers.

Flat Foot – Also known as fallen arches, this is a medical condition where the arch of the foot has collapsed, leaving the entire foot to rest flat on the ground.

Footbed – Another name for the inside of the shoe where the foot rests, also known as the insole.

Forefoot – This is one of the most cushioned parts of the foot, located between the ball of the foot and the toes. This is also the first part of the foot to hit the ground when you’re running so make sure your shoes give it enough cushioning!

Foxing – A strip of rubber usually found on sneakers made from canvas. It joins the upper part of the shoe to the sole. The Converse stripe.

Gait – Refers to a person’s manner of walking.

Grain – The surface pattern on a piece of leather from which the hair has been removed. Differs depending on the animal it came from.

Hammertoe – A medical condition that causes the toe to bend into a permanent claw-like position. This puts pressure on the toes when wearing shoes and can cause discomfort and sometimes significant pain. This occurs mostly in the second through fifth toes.

Heel – Refers to the bottom of a shoe that supports the heel cup, or the back of the shoe that touches the ground and elevates the heel of the foot. Standard heel heights range from low (1” high), medium (2” high) and high (3” high and up).

Heel Breast – The part of a shoe’s heel that is forward facing. The breast is the surface area of the down-curve of the actual heel.

Heel Counter – A piece of leather composing the hind part of the shoe used to strengthen the material encompassing the heel as well as to provide more support to the foot.

Heel Seat – This is where the sole and the heel of the shoe are joined together, this is also where the heel of your foot rests.

Heel Spurs – Can occur at the back of the heel or under the sole of the foot. Both cause tenderness and pain depending on what part of the foot is bearing weight, but not all heel spurs have symptoms.

Hose – More properly known as hosiery and more commonly as pantyhose, this term refers to socks, stockings and tights as a collective. The British include underwear in this category.

Ingrown Nail – When one or both edges of the nail grow into the skin. These are very painful, often correlating with a toe infection and are usually a result of improper nail trimming. Sometimes occur however due to an injury, fungus, heredity or pressure from improperly fitting shoes.

Insole – A lining that adds comfort and arch support while separating the foot from the sole of the shoe. Instep – The arched upper section of the foot found near the center between the toes and ankle.

Jelly – A clear or translucent rubber-like plastic used in soles and as a filler in heels to add cushioning.

Jellies – From the 70′s\80′s – trend fashion footwear created from translucent rubber mold.

Kidd Leather – A leather made from the skin of young goats. It’s very soft and mostly used for lightweight and casual footwear.

Laces – A cord that is strung through eyelets or around hooks of a shoe in order to draw the shoe closed. Usually laces close the vamp but are also used as a non-functional part of design.

Lateral View – The outside view of a shoe.

Lining – The inside surface of a shoe, made from several different types of material.

Merino – A highly prized beed of Spanish sheep prized for it’s very fine and high quality wool. This type of wool is also strong and resilient and dyes well.

Medial View – The inside view of a shoe. Usually, boot zippers are shown from the medial view (or instep side).

Microfiber – Refers to a synthetic, extremely fine fiber that closely replicates the consistency and drape of natural fiber cloth.

Midsole – The layer of material located under the insole but over the outsole providing the shoe’s main support and cushioning components. For athletics its usually an EVA wedge.

“Mossy Foot” – a painful soil transmitted disease also known as Podoconosis – a noninfectious form of elephantiasis. Causes the foot and leg to swell massively, accompanied by rough and bumpy skin that changes to look like moss. In instances of infection, an offensive smell is also present. Affects 5% of populations living in highland tropical areas and that to be a result of working in silicate rich soils barefoot (for more info. visit

Nap or Napped – A soft and/or fuzzy surface texture usually associated with leather or suede.

Neuroma (or Morton’s Neuroma) – A benign, soft tissue growth or tumor of nerve tissue in the forefoot that causes the nerve to be pinched. Symptoms include shooting pains or tingling in the adjacent toe, as well as numbness.

Neuropathy – Refers to any disease or injury affecting the nervous system. Those affecting foot comfort include diabetic neuropathy and peripheral neuropathy, symptoms include but are not limited to numbness and/or tingling in the fingers or toes.

Nubuck – A soft aniline dyed leather buffed to a suede-like condition. Easily susceptible to stains even after stain protection treatments. Think Timberland.

Orthotic – An orthopedic insole designed to straighten, improve, and/or support the foot.

Outsole – The bottom of part of the shoe that is in constant contact with the ground.

Overlay – The layering of material over other material.

Pedicure – Refers to the care of the nails on one’s feet through shaping and cutting to improve their appearance. A similar service is the manicure, which is the care of the nails on the hands.

Plantar Fasciitis – A tearing, either large or small, of the connective tissues in the arch of the foot known as the plantar fascia, causing inflammation. Characterized by pain just under the heel.

Podiatry – A branch of the medical profession devoted to the diagnosis and treatment of foot diseases. Those who practice podiatry are known as podiatrists.

Pronation – The inward rotation of the foot often associated with flat foot. Causes the inside line of the outsole to wear down.

PU (Poly Urethane) – Synthetic woven-backed material used for many components, most common as uppers. PU leather = faux leather.

Pullover – A prototype sample for checking pattern and fit. Usually to show the upper only to see how the design and materials look pulled over the last.

Pump – A low-cut women’s shoe usually found without fastenings and typically moderate in heel rise.

Quarter – The side panel portion of a shoe or boot. Can have many sub-components and parts/overlays.

Quarter Lining – The soft, inner lining of the rear part of a shoe, typically made from leather or fabric to insulate or cool your feet.

Rim – Another term to describe the portion of shoe where the foot enters, also known at the collar.

Safety Shoe – A shoe or boot accentuated by protective designs such as heat-resistant soles, metal insoles and steel-toe reinforcement as well as waterproof and oil-resistant materials made specifically for wear in an industrial setting.

Sandal – A form of footwear worn mostly in the warmer months featuring an open design that reveals most of the foot and toes and uses straps or strips or material to hold the shoe to the foot.

Shank – The supportive part of the shoe connecting the heel and the wide part of the sole. It sits under the arch of the foot and gives the shoe structure. Usually steel or other strong material.

Sheepskin – A type of material used to make shoes and boots made from the leather of sheephide. Comes with or without the wool attached.

Shoe Horn – A device used to allow a user to slip the foot into a shoe more easily. Received its name from the original material used to make the device, animal horn. Most shoe horns today are made from plastic and metal but those made of bulls’ horn are still available in some areas.

Shoe Sizes – An alphanumerical variation indicating the fitting size of a person’s foot. Normally consists of only the number, which indicates length, as most providers carry only the standard width due to economic reasons. Width is indicated by letter.

Shoe Tree – A device resembling the shape of a foot. It is used to preserve the shape of the shoe and to stop it from developing creases by placing it into the shoe.

Shoe Width – The width of a shoe is typically measured in letters such as AAA, AA, A, B, C, D, E, EE, EEE, and EEEE, 4A, 3A, 2A, A, B, C, D, E, 2E, 3E, 4E, 5E, and 6E, or N (narrow), M (medium) or R (regular), W (wide). These letters refer to the width of the shoe as measured at the ball of the foot.

Sipes – A razor-cut pattern in outsoles of shoes, specifically deck shoes. These help to disperse water and prevent slipping, much like the sipe on a car tire.

SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) – A unique model/style/colorway/size. Commonly used to refer to a unique colorway. For example, if there are 2 models each with 5 colorways, there are 10 SKUs total. Slip Lasting – A lasting process where the insole board (usually canvas) is stitched around the last bottom edge to complete the upper. Usually used for more lightweight, flexible shoes such as running shoes.

SMU (Special Make Up) – A special request by a customer (distributor, retailer, etc.). It is normally just a different colorway of an existing shoe, but in some cases can also be a whole new shoe. In some cases it may be part of a special marketing campaign (“exclusively” for Nordstrom), or might just be a product to better serve a particular niche covered by the market demographics, location, etc. (SMU in the color Aqua Blue for a Caribbean resort boutique).

Sole – The underside of the shoe. The term is also used to describe the bottom of the foot.

Steel Toes – A reinforced toe frequently found in industrial-style shoes designed to protect the foot and prevent injury in the workplace. Usually combined with a sole plate to protect against punctures from below, and tested by the American National Standard Institute to ensure a minimum clearance of the toe when compressed by different weights.

Stilettos – A type of high heel featuring a narrow, often rounded heel. Also known as a “spike heel”.

Stitch and Turn (seam) – A seam which is stitched to join two parts then flipped inside out so the stitch is hidden.

Suede – A type of leather with napped surface, but may also indicate fabrics of a similar nap or brushed finish. The word originates from the saying “gloves of Sweden”, translated from “gants de Suède” in French.

Tap – A small partial sole normally made of metal or leather that attaches to the existing toe or heel or a shoe. These are usually used because of the rhythmic clicking sounds they make which are favored by tapdancers.

Thermoplastic Rubber (T.P.R) – A type of plastic material used in injection molding processes. It’s commonly used to sole safety shoes.

Thermostatic – Maintains or has an unchanging temperature.

Throat – The spot where you put your foot in, not to be confused with your mouth! The throat goes from the vamp to the ankle.

Tip – Also known as a cap, a tip is another piece of material, usually leather, enclosing the toe of the shoe. Tips come in a variety of shapes and patterns.

Toe Box – This is the term used to describe the portion of the shoe that holds the toes. It is the forward tip of the upper and provides space and protection for the toes.

Toe Cap – Upper part on the toe, usually and overlay. Think Spectator Shoes – white shoes with black Toe-Cap.

Toe Spring (lift) – Distance or space between floor level to bottom of toe. For the average shoe with a heel, you should be able to place one finger under the toe-spring.

Tongue – A strip of leather or other material found under the laces of a shoe. The tongue is sewn into the vamp and extends to the throat of the shoe.

Tread – The part of the shoe that is in contact with the ground. The tread provides traction to the bottom of the shoe, but the term may also be used to describe the design of the sole. Think lug boots, running shoes.

Upper – The upper part of the shoe made from a piece of leather to form the part that encases the foot, but does not include the sole. Uppers come in a variety of styles, some made from leather, fabric or synthetics.

Vamp – The fore part of a shoe upper that partially envelopes the foot and all of the toes.

Waist – The part of the foot or shoe located between the ball and the instep, also known as the shank of the shoe.

Zero Drop – refers to the thickness of the sole which features a heel that is less than a half inch in height, allowing the forefoot and heel to be the same distance from the ground. This allows for natural running experience in which footfalls are in the mid to forefoot area instead of the unfavorable heel strike.

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