How to Look at a Shoe

Most people, when looking at shoes, only focus on the outside of a shoe. They look at the style of the shoe (is it a flat? A brogue? A pump?), the design on the shoe (python print? Perforated?), the material that the upper of the shoe is made of (is it leather? Pleather? Rubber?) and the height of the heel. From the earliest times of human life, shoes were made with the purpose of protecting one’s feet from the terrain. In warm climates, a simple sandal sufficed, and in cold climates, shoes were made with a layer of fur to keep the wearer warm (think of a moccasin). From the 14th century to the 19th century, shoes were made with a hammer and were made identically (talk about two left feet). In 1845, better machinery for making shoes began to come into existence (the rolling machine, the sewing machine), and in 1875, a machine that made shoes out of rubber was invented by Charles Goodyear Jr (Maffetone).

Figure 1.1: User KDS4444. Shoe Diagram, May 25th, 2017. Image available under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.


Figure 1.1 provides a diagram of the parts of a shoe. The upper is the main part of the shoe, as it covers the foot. The toecap, found at the toe of the shoe (hence the name) is a part of the upper that is reinforced for protection. Some shoes have even more reinforcement on the toecap for added protection, like the steel-toe shoes worn by construction workers. The vamp (not short for vampire) is found at the side of the shoe, it is the part of the upper that covers the sides of the foot and connects the upper to the heel. People who have wider feet require wider vamps in their shoes, or vamps that are made from materials that have more give and can accommodate the width. The quarter is found behind the vamp and the heel. In most shoes, the quarter is made from a reinforced material to protect the heel of the foot. However, many shoes use one continuous piece of material (like leather) for the upper, the vamp, and the quarter. On the bottom of the shoe is the outsole, which protects the bottom of the foot from the ground we walk on. A solid outsole has grip, durability and is water-resistant. In the winter, when the ground is icy, outsoles are often made from rubbery materials to increase the grip. Inside the shoe, the insole can be found. Insoles, like all the other parts of a shoe, can be made from various materials. Insoles are made to hide the join between the upper, the heel, and the outsole while providing a layer of comfort for the wearer. The lining is found all around the inside of a shoe. The lining is often made from a softer material to increase comfort for the wearer.

Shoes have found their place in fashion and costume. A shoe is now a form of expression and can often say a lot about the wearer. Consider, for example, what you would associate with a man in wing-tip brogues versus a man in slip-on shoes with a cracked leather upper? A person’s shoes pull together their outfit and can provide an added sense of luxury and class.


Works Cited

KDS4444. “Shoe Diagram.” Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia Commons, 25 May 2017,

Maffetone, Phil. “A Brief History of Shoes.” Dr. Phil Maffetone, MAFF Fitness, 1 May 2015,