The main two parts of a shoe are the upper and lower, or the sole. These parts have lots of details and smaller sections, including the throat, the collar or the shank.
When you’re shopping for new shoes, you often find all kinds of terms in the descriptions and reviews. They’ll speak of the upper, midsole and outsole, or maybe even mention the vamp or the quarter.
But what are the parts of a shoe, and what do you really need to know about a shoe before buying? We’ll go through everything you need to know in this beginner’s guide.
What Are the Different Parts of a Shoe?
These are the parts of shoe anatomy that make it easier for you when shopping for a new pair.
The upper of a shoe refers to the material that covers the foot. It includes the vamp at the front and the quarters at the sides and back. It also consists of the lining.
When picking a shoe, the upper material is key for durability and comfort. Canvas and satin, for example, aren’t as durable as leather, real or synthetic. But they can often be more breathable. For sports shoes, fabric mesh is a common pick because it lets your feet breathe when you’re working out.
The vamp is the part of the shoe’s upper that’s at the front, covering the toes and going all the way back to the quarter.
At the back and middle of the shoe on the upper, you’ll find the quarter. It starts at the heel and extends all the way to the laces. There may also be a heel cap behind the heel, attached to the quarter.
Counter or Backstay
The counter is the reinforced part at the back of a shoe. It keeps your heel aligned when it hits the ground when you’re running or walking. This is why it’s especially crucial that the shoe is the right size and the counter is supporting your foot properly when picking shoes for exercise.
The toe box isn’t an actual box, but the part at the front of the shoe where the toes are. It can take many shapes, depending on the shoe model.
If you have wide feet, the size and shape of the toe box are crucial. A poorly fitting toe box can cause different deformities on the feet, such as bunions or hammertoes.
The lining is the inner fabric of the shoe that’s against your foot. Not all shoes have a lining, but it makes the shoes more cushioned inside. It can also make your feet less sweaty in leather shoes.
The collar is the soft, often cushioned part of the shoe that fits around your ankle. It’s supposed to fit right under your ankle bones and is crucial for your comfort in the shoe. If the collar is too tight or high, you might get blisters on your ankles.
The tongue is the moving part on top of the shoe that’s underneath the laces. It’s meant to give the inside of your shoe a more even pressure to keep your foot in place. Sometimes, the tongue is padded to maintain comfort on the bony part on the top of your foot.
Shoelaces aren’t present in all shoes, but they’re common in both dress shoes, boots and sneakers. They help you tighten the shoe to keep it more firmly on your foot.
The eyelets are the small holes in the upper where the shoelaces go through. They’re formed in what’s called an eyeset, which can sometimes be reinforced with another layer of upper material, such as leather.
In the middle of the shoe, you’ll find the opening that’s covered with the tongue. This part is called the throat of the shoe.
The waist is the part in the middle of the shoe between the heel and toe box that includes the support for your arches.
The toe puff or toe puff stiffener is a layer of material that’s inside the shoe, between the lining and the upper. Its purpose is to help the toe box keep its form in use, and it’s usually a thermoplastic, easily moldable material. The stiffener can either be soft or firm.
The sole is one of the most key parts of a shoe for your comfort and where you’ll often notice its quality. It consists of three main parts—the insole, midsole and outsole—and some smaller ones.
The insole is the cushioned part inside the shoe that’s usually made of soft EVA foam and covered in fabric. It’s often removable, so you can either use it together with an additional insole or take it out.
When you have issues such as flat feet, plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis, it’s critical to pay attention to your insoles. You can often fix these problems or make them easier to manage with the right kind of support under your heels and arches. For example, the right insoles can reduce stress on your heels by 39 percent!
The midsole is right beneath the insole and over the outsole. You can’t really see it, but the midsole has many of the cushioning elements of the shoe, such as air in the Nike Air Max. It can also include a layer of gel to absorb shock, or have a more rigid piece of material, like in dress or work shoes.
In dress shoes and boots, there might also be another layer, called the cork, between the midsole and the insole. It can be made of actual cork, but it can also be another material.
The outsole is the part of the sole you see on the outside. It’s often made of rubber, but in dress shoes, the sole can even be covered with leather.
The shape and pattern of the outsole depend on the type of shoe you’re buying, as well as your specific needs.
The shank is a rigid layer of material that’s vital in shoes for heavy-duty use, such as work boots. It’s usually hidden inside the midsole structure and can be made of metal, as well as fiberglass or other stiff materials. The purpose of the shank is to give your heels and legs more support.
The welt is a strip of leather or other material that goes between the upper and the sole, attaching them together.
There are different types of welts, but Goodyear welts are one of the most well-known for their quality. This welt design makes your shoes last longer because it makes them more waterproof.
A Goodyear welt also makes the sole easier to replace when you’ve worn it out. If you take care of the upper, you can technically have a shoe that lasts a lifetime.
The heel is a part of all types of shoes, not only high-heeled ones. It’s what elevates the back of your foot, creating the heel drop. The measurement of the drop can be important for your comfort, especially if you have a condition like Achilles tendonitis that requires an elevated heel.
What To Think About Before Buying Shoes
Now that you know all you need about the parts of a shoe, it’s time to focus on why it all matters. When you’re aware of what to pay attention to, you’ll be a much wiser customer, and you’ll always be able to find a better fit.
Measure Your Feet
Measure your feet regularly before buying new shoes. Your foot size changes over time due to age and hormonal or weight changes. You might not fit in the same size of shoe your entire life, especially if the muscles and joints relax and your feet widen.
You can measure your feet at home, using a simple pencil and paper. Standing up, draw the outline of your feet on the paper and measure them. You can compare this measurement to those of a specific brand if you’re buying shoes online, or take them shopping with you.
Pick the Right Time
It’s crucial to go shoe shopping at the right time, in the afternoon. It’s when your feet are at their most swollen after a long day. This way, you won’t buy a pair that’s too tight on the upper.
And if you’re buying summer shoes, remember that heat also makes your feet swell a bit. This is why the sandals you bought in the winter might feel too tight when temperatures soar in July.
Pay Attention to Specific Needs
If you know you tend to have issues with one specific part of your foot, make sure you take them into account. A person with bunions will need a wider toe box, so make sure you buy shoes that aren’t too tight in this area.
If you’re buying shoes online, read some reviews to find out what other customers are saying about the model. For example, if you tend to have issues with blisters in the heels, it may be a case of a tight backstay. But you might also be wearing a shoe that’s too small.
Keep an open mind, stay patient and don’t buy the first pair of shoes you find if they’re not comfortable. You won’t use shoes that aren’t right for your feet, so you’ll have wasted the money. You might even give yourself nasty problems like plantar fasciitis or bunions that are difficult to get rid of later.
Shoes should fit right when you’re buying them, so don’t expect them to mold to your feet later.
Try On the Pair
Are you one of those people that only tries on one shoe before they head to the cash register? It’s a bad strategy. Most people don’t have identical feet, and one can easily be longer or wider than the other. You might also just have a bunion on one side, so you might buy a shoe with a narrow toe box by accident.
Always try on both shoes and take some steps in them. If you’re buying running or training shoes, don’t be afraid to run or jump in the store. It’s the only way to know if they’re really right for the job.
Stick to Flats
Sorry to break this to you, but high heels can lead to problems with your feet. Some shoe manufacturers, like Vionic, make women’s shoes with a moderate heel that are podiatrist-approved. Also, check out our Vionic shoes review for more comfortable models.
But many, especially budget brands with bad fit or super high stilettos, can give you problems on your feet, legs and back. This is why high-heeled shoes should be worn in moderation and always accompanied by stretches.
And when you’re picking out work boots or sneakers, a low heel-to-toe drop is usually the best idea. However, with tendonitis or plantar fasciitis, a more pronounced drop is ideal.
Pick Flexible Soles
Another important feature of your shoes is their flexibility. And with this, we refer to the outsole, especially at the forefoot area where the sole bends a little when walking.
A flexible outsole will help you walk more naturally, with the foot rolling from the back to the front. When the sole is too rigid, it will eventually affect your gait, especially if you’re walking or standing for long periods. That means wooden clogs are not an ideal pick for anything other than short distances and use at home.
How To Make Your Shoes More Comfortable
If you’re struggling to make your shoes a little more comfortable, start by trying to understand which parts of a shoe are the problem for you.
First, you’ll need to identify where the issue is. Sometimes, it’s a matter of size; other times, it’s about adding more padding to your shoes.
The insoles that come with your shoes aren’t always ideal for your feet and their specific size. They also tend to wear out faster than the rest of your shoe. You can replace your insoles with podiatrist-mandated, customized ones, but they tend to be very expensive.
We recommend checking out some more affordable options for replacement insoles. Finding the perfect model can take a little while, but it’s a cheap way to make any pair of shoes fit like a glove. Even dress shoes can keep you comfortable through a long day in the office with the right insoles.
Sometimes, dressier shoes can be rough on your skin, especially women’s heels. On top, you tend to wear them without socks, which makes the friction even worse.
Heel cushions help keep your feet in the right place and cushion the back of your foot. They’re great for shoes that have an excessively rigid counter, as well as shoes that are slightly too big that allow for too much movement of the foot.
If you’re feeling some pain on the sides of the foot, especially at the forefoot area, it might be because your feet are wider than normal. In this case, we recommend going for brands that sell extra-wide shoes.
If you’re not sure about the right shoe width for you, measure your feet and check out our guide on what shoe widths mean.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are the Sides of Shoes Called?
The side part of the upper part of the shoe is called the quarter. It starts at the heel and goes all the way to the vamp at the front. The quarter also includes the part surrounding the opening at the front, called the throat of the shoe.
What Do You Call a Shoe Without Back?
A shoe that’s covered at the toes but doesn’t have a back is called a mule. These slip-on shoes work as slippers in home wear, as well as for the streets.
What Is the Footbed of a Shoe?
The footbed of a shoe is the same thing as its insole. It’s the part of the shoe that’s against the bottom of your foot and is key to keeping you comfortable. If the footbed isn’t suitable for you, the good thing is that you can also replace it with a removable insole.
What Is the Loop on the Back of Shoes Called?
The loop in the back of a shoe is usually simply called a loop, but it can also be called a tab or a bootstrap.
Shoes usually have two main parts, the upper and the lower, or sole. Both of these parts have lots of smaller details with their own names and specifications, from the vamp to the quarter or the welt.
There are many parts of a shoe, but you don’t need to remember everything to buy a good pair. Unless you want to become a shoemaker, the most important thing is that you know where to find a possible issue.
You might want your boots to last longer with a high-quality Goodyear welt, or you want to feel more comfortable through a long day at work. Whatever it is, this guide on the parts of a shoe is sure to help.