Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The anatomy of the shoe

According to McPhoil (1988) the structure of a shoe can be divided into two parts: an upper and lower (or bottom part). Sections of the upper are made up of the vamp, quarter, toebox, throat, insole board, and topline. The sections of the lower shoe consist of an outsole, shank and heel.

The Upper of the Shoe
The upper of a shoe consists of all parts or sections of the shoe above the sole. These are attached by stitches or more likely moulded to become a single unit then the insole and outsole are attached. The upper of the shoe consists of the vamp (or front of the shoe), the quarters (i.e. the sides and back of the shoe), and the linings.

Uppers are made in a variety of different materials, both natural and synthetic. Leather became the obvious choice because it allowed air to pass through to and from the skin pores (breath) keep feet at a constant temperature. The plastic properties of animal skins mould shoe leather to the foot beneath. The ability for leather to crease over flexor surfaces further facilitates the function of the foot. Ironically synthetics used as uppers display elastic properties, which mean shoe uppers never quite adjusts to the foot shape in the same way as natural leather. Synthetics are cheaper to mass-produce and are now found in most footwear. Synthetic surfaces provide waterproofing and most leather today has synthetic components. An alternative shoe cover is cotton corduroy woven fabric which provide lightweight breathable surfaces.


The vamp covers the top (dorsum) of the foot (includes the tongue piece) and superior aspects over the toes. The toe puff is reinforced and serves to give the shoe a shape as well as protect the digits. The vamp is often made of more than one piece creating a decorative pattern. There are various types of vamps suited to different styles of shoes.

Quarters are the complete upper part of the shoe behind the vamp line covering the sides and back part of the shoe. The top edge of the sides and back of the quarter describes the topline. In athletic shoes the topline is usually padded and referred to as a collar. The medial and lateral sections join in a seam at the posterior end of the shoe. In Oxford style lacing shoes, the eyelet section is formed by the superior part of the quarter (while the underlying tongue is part of the vamp). In the Gibson style the lacing segment forms part of the vamp. The heel section of the quarter is frequently reinforced with a stiffener to help support the rearfoot. In boots the quarter is referred to as 'top'. In the bal method of construction, the front edges of both quarters are stitched together and covered with the back edge of the vamp (Rossi,2000,p8). In the Blucher bal method the quarter panels are placed on top of the vamp, and the front edges are not sewn together. In comparison with the Bal method, the Blucher bal method permits the fitting of a larger foot girth by broadening the throat of the shoe.

A convalescent shoe (open to toe) is a variation on the Blucher method in which the lacing extends to the front edge of the vamp. In athletic shoes the vamp and quarter panels are often one continuous piece of nylon or leather with additional leather pieces added to reinforce critical areas of the shoe. Reinforcement added to the region of the medial longitudinal arch are termed the saddle if it is added to the outside of the shoe or the arch bandage if it is added to the inside of the shoe.

The counter is a component of the quarter that stabilises the hindfoot in the shoe and retains the shape of the posterior portion of the shoe. Counters are usually made from fibreboard or heat moulded plastic. Foxing (Rossi 2000, p68) is an additional piece of leather that covers the counter externally. Sometimes a counter will extend medially to support the heel and prevent prolonged pronation. In some children's shoes and athletic footwear the stiffener is extended on the medial of the arch to provide an anti-pronatory wedge.

Toe cap
Many shoes incorporate a toecap into the upper of the shoe. Toecaps are either stitched over or completely replace the distal superior aspect of the vamp and can be made into a decorative features referred to as toe tips. The toe box refers to the roofed area over and around the part of the shoe that covers the toes. The function of the toe box is to retain the shape of the forefoot and allow room for the toes. The height and width of the toe box is dictated by shape of the last used to construct the shoe. Certain types of non-athletic and athletic footgear will offer extra depth in the toe box.

In quality shoes the quarters and vamps are lined to enhance comfort and durability. Linings may consist of various materials i.e. leathers, fabrics, and manmade synthetics. The lining on the insole segment is called 'the sock' and may be full-length, three-quarter or just the heel section. Many linings are made of synthetic material and are usually confined to the quarters and the insock.

The central part of the vamp just proximal to the toe box. The throat is formed by the seam joining the vamp to the quarter i.e. throatline. The position of the throat line depends on the construction of the shoe, for example a shorter vamp and longer quarters define a lower throat line. This gives a wider lower opening for the foot to enter the shoe. The throat is defined by the connection of the rear edge of the vamp and the front part of the quarter. The location of the throat will vary with the design of the shoe. Because the vamp and quarter panels are often one piece in the athletic shoe, the throat is at the eye stay. This refers to the point where the lacing is attached to the vamp. The throat of the shoe dictates the maximum girth permitted by the shoe.

The Sole of the Shoe
The term sole derives from 'solea' a Latin word meaning soil or ground.

Insole (inner sole)
A layer of material shaped to the bottom of the last and sandwiched between the outsole (and midsole) and the sole of the foot inside the shoe. The insole covers the join between the upper and the sole in most methods of construction and provides attachment for the upper, toe box linings and welting. This provides a platform upon which the foot can operate and separates the upper from the lower. The insole board is necessary in shoes that are constructed using cemented or Goodyear welt techniques because it is the attachment for upper and lower components. The majority of insole boards are made of cellulose and are treated with additives to inhibit bacterial growth. Athletic shoewear will often have a sockliner, a piece of material placed over the top of the insole board (glued in position or removable.

This is the outer most sole of the shoe, which is directly exposed to abrasion and wear. Traditionally made from a variety of materials, the outsole is constructed in different thickness and degrees of flexibility. Ideal soling materials must be waterproof, durable and possess a coefficient of friction high enough to prevent slipping. Leather has poor gripping capabilities and synthetic polymers are much preferred. There are also an infinite variety of surface designs. Extra grip properties can be incorporated in the form of a distinctive sole pattern with well-defined ridges. Alternatively they can be moulded with cavities to reduce the weight of the sole. These cavities need to be covered with a rigid insole or can be filled with light foam to produce a more flexible sole. In some cases two or more materials of different densities can be incorporated into the sole to give a hard wearing outer surface and a softer, more flexible midsole for greater comfort. Synthetic soling materials will off the physical property of dampening down impact levels (shock attenuation).


The shank bridges between the heel breast and the ball tred. The shankpiece (Rossi 2000, p154) or shank spring can be made from wood, metal, fibreglass or plastic and consists of a piece approximately 10cm long and 1.5 cm wide. The shank spring lies within the bridge or waist of the shoe, i.e. between heel and ball corresponding to the medial and lateral arches. The shankpiece reinforces the waist of the shoe and prevents it from collapsing or distorting in wear. The contour of the shank is determined by heel height. Shoes with low heels or wedged soles do not require a shank because the torque between the rear and forefoot does not distort the shoe.

The heel is the raised component under the rear of the shoe. Heels consist of a variety of shapes, heights, and materials and are made of a series of raised platforms or a hollowed section. The part of the heel next to sole is usually shaped to fit the heel, this is called the heel seat or heel base. The heel breast describes front face of the heel. The ground contact section is called the top piece. Heels raise the rear of the shoe above the ground. A shoe without a heel or midsole wedge may be completely flat. When the heel section sits lower than the forefoot the style is called a 'negative heel' .

The strip of material which joins the upper to the sole. Most shoes will be bonded by Goodyear-welted construction. Some shoes use an imitation welt stitched around the top flat edge of the sole for decorative purposes, but it is not a functional part of the shoe.

McPhoil TG 1988 Footwear Physical Therapy 68:12 1857-1865.
Rossi W A (editor) (2000) The complete footwear dictionary (2ed) Kreiger Publicating Co: Florida.

Reviewed 27/05/20


  1. Wow thanks this really helped me with a project i had to do for school i ended up losing all my information and ive been all over google looking for informationa and urs helped the most so thanks

  2. thank you for the notes... its very helpfull for me

  3. What fabrics would work well as a lining? Maybe something made of nylon?

  4. Thank you for Sharing this nice information it is very informatics and Very good looking blog.
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    The Cobbleroad

  5. Thank you for posting this blog! I learned a lot here and I'm so happy that I read your blog. Me and my friend always browsing in the internet just to find an article about used shoes. Keep sharing!

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  6. Yaaah what a nice wording,to help miii in making my project

  7. Is there a name for the inner side of the upper above the arch of the foot?

    1. Like where the laces are? I would say that still qualifies as the vamp, but I'm not sure.

  8. Does anyone have any idea what the extra strip of leather applied around the welt on the outside of a shoe to make it more resistant to snow and rain is called? In Italian, it is called "stagno".

    1. I'm pretty sure we call it a "flange" in the UK Marianna.

    2. Thank you! Just seen your answer now

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