Lost in Translation: the Language of Shoes

There are few things in life we splurge on without doing our research first. From buying a new car to investing in a long term relationship, you can be sure we’ve done a healthy amount of digging (okay, sometimes stalking) to make sure we’re as educated as possible.

So why are so many of us blissfully ignorant about the anatomy of our shoes?

A dependable pair of heels is a god-sent gift, and no one knows heartbreak like when faithful shoes appear to give up the ghost (especially when you’re not sure what to call the ‘thingy’ that just came off).

As we know, good shoes aren’t easily replaced. So, it’s time to empower yourself to know what’s up down there on your feet, so you’re prepared when the time comes*.

Sole –   Working our way up from the bottom to the top, the sole refers to any and all parts of the shoe below the wearer’s foot. This includes the ‘outsole’, which is specifically the part of the sole that makes contact with the ground (AKA, the unsung hero).

Upper –   The opposite of the sole: the entirety of the shoe that covers the upside of your foot. Unwanted in the summer; can’t get enough in the winter.

Vamp –   A section of the upper between your toes and ankle – essentially, how high or low cut a shoe is for your toes (think ‘toe cleavage’). Brogues have just about the highest vamp possible, while a strappy stiletto is flirting on the boundary of no vamp at all.

Toe box –   It does what it says on the tin: the area that encases your toes. This could be square, rounded or pointed, and will be the first area to send up a signal if you’re trying to squeeze your feet into the wrong size courts.

Insole –   Technically this part is called the ‘sock’ by shoe creating professionals. The insole is actually the stiff (frequently cardboard) backbone of the shoe, just underneath the sock. You can imagine the confusion caused when we start talking about actual socks, so in any shoe store or cobbler, you’ll hear the cushiony bit of soft leather that your foot sits on inside the shoe called the insole. A moment of silence, please, for the shoe makers who understand the profound relief a well-made sock or insole can bring. This is also the part that can come unglued and slide around under the pressure of hot, sweaty feet. We can easily fix that, though, so don’t worry!

Shank –   Next up, the shank is the support that runs inside the bottom of the shoe (just below the insole) to help keep its structure. It’s often made of metal – a necessary evil – particularly in high heels or stilettos. The shank isn’t always metal in a flat shoe, but sometimes it is, even in men’s shoes. This will be the culprit that sets off the metal detectors and starts all of the shenanigans in the airport security lines; probably not those tiny nails that we use to fix your new heels on tightly.

Heel –   The part of the shoe that can lift you up to higher heights (need we explain more?)

Heel Breast –   The length of the heel that faces whichever way you’re facing – most recognisable as the side of the heel that Monsieur Louboutin paints red.    

Top piece –   Also known as a ‘heel cap’ or ‘top lift’, this is the very bottom of the heel which comes into contact with the ground. Another hardworking hero that is likely to weather the worst of the wear and tear, and probably the thing we repair most often. (A 100lb woman in stilettos can put more pressure on the floor than a barefoot elephant.)

Seat –   The indispensable area where the top of the heel attaches to the sole of the shoe, and meets the upper. If your heel has snapped off your shoe, this is probably the region that needs some attention. (It looks worse than it is – don’t throw them out – call us!)

Counter and quarter –   An inseparable duo that make up the very back of your high heels. The counter is a stiff piece of material that hugs the back of your heel. Meanwhile the quarter is, more precisely, where the back of the shoe touches your foot. If you’ve ever had a blister where your shoes are digging into the backs of your ankle, you can blame a highly strung quarter.

Now you’ve learned how to speak their language, go forth knowing you can look out for your shoes as well as they look out for you. Your cobbler will thank you for it.

*Need a little shoe love in your life? Our cobblers and cordwainers provide high-end shoe TLC when you need it most. Call us on 0208 935 5333 and see if we can rekindle the spark.