Understanding the terminology of the parts and processes used in creating English handmade shoes can be both fascinating and valuable. It will enable you to understand how the shoes are constructed and will help ensure you understand all the terminology when purchasing your next pair of shoes or boots from a store or website so you fully understand what you are buying.
Different construction methods, Upper materials and various types of soles create a huge variation in shoe and boot styles and in their effectiveness for the purpose you are using them for. For example, you wouldn’t want leather soles for walking outdoors or a country shoe with a commando sole for a very formal occasion.
Here’s part one of what we would like to build as the ultimate English handmade shoe Terminology & Glossary.
Parts two and three will follow shortly and then compiled as a permanent page on the site.
Please comment with any omissions which you may think will be helpful for those of us interested in English handmade shoes and or any corrections you may feel are needed.
Aglet – A metal or plastic tag at the end of a shoelace. The aglet makes lacing easier and it protects the lace from unraveling. Historically, the aglet took a more ornamental form than it does today.
Algonquin Toe – A style originated in the 1700s and named after the Algonquin Indian tribe for having designed it in the eighteenth century, the ‘Algonquin Toe’ (also referred to as the Split Toe) is constructed by joining two pieces of leather together at the ‘vamp’ and ‘welt’ of the shoe.
Antic Calf Leather – Finely textured calfskin from Italian tanneries.
Antiquing – A type of leather finish that creates a contrasting, rubbed-off appearance.
Aglet – A small plastic or metal sheath used to protect the end of a shoestring, cord, or drawstring.
Apron – Some sort of visible stitching or edge that forms a sort of “lake” at the front of the shoe. You typically only see this on Derbys or Loafers.
Apron Toe – Unlike many shoe terms, an Apron toe is actually what it sounds like. It can be recognized by the visible edges or stitching that finishes off the toe and forms a sort of apron along the shoe’s front.
Appaloosa Calf Leather – A calf leather, made to look like shell cordovan (at least when new). Hence the reference to a horse breed (C&J calls it ’Cavalry-Calf).
Arch – The high, curved part of the sole of the foot, located between the ball of the foot and the heel. This term can also refer to the raised area of the insole of the shoe, which is meant to pad and provide support for the arch of the foot.
Back Seam – The vertical seam at the center of the back of a shoe or boot.
Backstay – A short strip of leather that connects the quarters down the back of the shoe.
Ball – The padded area of the foot between the big toe and the arch of the foot.
Balmoral – Typically an ankle-high, front-laced shoe, wherein the bottom of the shoe’s lacing is sewn to the front of the shoe’s throat, creating a closed ‘V’ shape at the bottom of the lacing. When tied, the Balmoral’s tongue is completely concealed, except for its tip. It is said that this style received its name and popularity after Prince Albert was seen wearing such a shoe during an extended holiday at the Balmoral castle. Also Known as Oxfords.
Bellows Tongue – A wide folding tongue that is completely attached to the sides under the eyelets to the vamp to make the shoe watertight.
Bespoke – A truly bespoke shoe is made on a last that has been custom-made for an individual, rather than one of the standard lasts that used for 99.999% of the shoes in the world. Also, a bespoke shoe customer gets to choose most every detail of construction, from major choices like the leather to details like heel type.
Betis Calf Leather – Natural neutral-base calfskin with a pure aniline finish. It can be processed with creams or wire brush to create footwear with a wide range of effects. It can also be decolorized with alcohol and water, then reassembled ton-sur-ton. Trademarked product of the Ilcea tannery in Italy.
Bicycle Toe – A type of toe characterized by two stitched straight line accents, so named because of their similarity to professional bicycling shoe detailing.
Blake Stitched – In a shoe that is Blake stitched, the sole is attached directly to the upper of the shoe, rather than to an intermediary welt. This makes for a lightweight shoe with the sole thinner and more flexible, but by definition less robust.
Blucher – A shoe with two side panels or “quarters” which are laced together over the tongue. The lacing is ‘open-throat’ (not stitched together at the bottom) and allows for more adjustment or ‘give’ around the instep than ‘closed-throat’ ‘Oxford ‘V’-shaped lacing. Also sometimes known as Derby or Gibson.
Boat Shoe – A type of shoe originally meant to be worn aboard a boat, usually with a siped, non-slip outsole, often with side lacing details and two or three eyelets, A casual shoe you can wear with or without socks.
Bologna Construction – In Bologna construction, the upper is folded back upon itself and sewn into a sort of tube before it put onto the last. After lasting, a soft insole is inserted, and the upper construction is stitched to the outsole like a Blake construction (ie, the stitching will appear on the inside of the shoe). The resulting shoe, if it is done well, is slim and very flexible.
Bookbinder Finnish – A long-standing and highly regarded glossy corrected grain leather developed and used by Church’s shoes.
Boot – Any shoe that extends over the ankle. Boots can be formal or casual, and are often quite utilitarian in their design and are associated with certain trades or leisure activities — such as steel-toe construction boots, or motorcycle boots.
Blind Eyelets – Eyelets that have a small metal grommet on the underside of the leather to create the holes through which you stick your shoelaces. Generally the less visible the grommets, the more formal the shoe.
Break – The natural crease created across the vamp of the shoe from everyday wear.
Brogue – A style of low-heeled shoe or boot traditionally characterized by multiple-piece, sturdy leather uppers with decorative perforations (or “broguing”) and serration along the pieces’ visible edges. They were traditionally considered to be outdoor or country footwear not otherwise appropriate for casual or business occasions, but brogues are now considered appropriate in most contexts. Brogues are most commonly found in one of four toe cap styles (full or “wingtip”, semi-, quarter and longwing) and four closure styles (Oxford, Derby, Ghillie and Monk). Today, in addition to their typical form of sturdy leather shoes or boots, brogues may also take the form of any other shoe form that utilizes or evokes the multi-piece construction and perforated, serrated piece edges characteristic of brogues.
Brogueing – A term that refers to the perforations or small punches that can be used to decorate a shoe. Also known as Decorative perforations. It’s been said that these were historically done to help country shoes drain out water, but nowadays it’s just for decoration.
Buckle – A clasp at the end of a length of fabric or leather that joins one end of the material to the other.
Burnishing – A bit of darkening of the leather, usually at the toe or heel. Sometimes it’s called antiquing, especially if it’s done all over the shoe.
Calf Leather – The skin of very young cattle that offers fine grain, suppleness and exceptional durability. A versatile leather that can be used for virtually every type of shoe.
Cap Toe – A type of toe style with a full toe overlay and a straight stitching line across the top part of the toe, often seen in dress shoes. Sometimes referred to as the part of the upper covering the toe.
Castoro Suede – Castoro is a type of suede that imitates beaver skin.
Cemented Construction – A construction using specialized adhesives, in place of stitched welts, to bond the upper parts and soles, thus achieving lightness and flexibility.
Chelsea Boot – Type of boot, usually ankle height, in a pull-on style with elastic side panels, or double-gore construction. Popularized in England.
Chukka Boot – An ankle-high boot style with suede or leather uppers and leather or rubber soles. Featuring open lacing with two or three pairs of eyelets, usually with a plain toe. The name Chukka possibly comes from the game of polo, where a chukka is a period of play. Generally, “chukka boot” refers to a form of desert boots originally worn by British soldiers in the Western Desert Campaign of World War II.
Circumference – The measurement around the shaft of a boot taken at the widest part near the top of the boot shaft.
Collar – The material sewn into the opening, or the topline, of the shoe. The collar can be padded to provide increased support or comfort.
Combination Last – A footwear last in which the heel is two sizes smaller in width than the widest part of the shoe, producing a shoe with a narrow heel and a wide toebox.
Contoured Footbed – An insole that easily molds to the shape of the foot.
Commando Sole – The Commando or Lugged sole is your classic hiking/workboot rubber outsole. Known for its chunky rugged profile, thick lugs great traction and weather resistance. Born out of tragedy, Italian inventor Vitale Bramante created the sole after six of his friends died in a climbing accident in 1935. He thought their deaths might have been avoided had they been equipped with better footwear. He patented the design and soon founded the company Vibram that would sell the soles all over the world.
Cordovan Leather – A soft, fine-grained, colored leather produced mainly from the shell of a horse butt. Known for its non-porosity, density, and good wearing characteristics, The name derives from Cordoba, Spain, where the leather was first produced. Shell cordovan is distinguished by its lustrous waxy finish, superior durability, and suppleness that readily conforms to the shape of the wearer’s foot.
Corrected Grain leather – leather that has been sanded and buffed to remove imperfections such as scars from the surface of the material. Usually, the surface is spray painted and embossed with a leather-like pattern to resemble natural appearance. An artificial grain can then be embossed or spray-painted with a leather-like pattern on the leather. to resemble a natural appearance.
Covered Heel – A heel covered in the same material as the upper construction.
Crepe Rubber – A crude natural rubber with a crinkled texture, used in shoe soles.
Crepe Soles – These are made from natural rubber gum and have a distinct “squiggly” pattern on the outsole. A traditional sole that provides comfort and natural shock absorbency. Crepe soles are a natural product and somewhat porous. Therefore the color can change with age. Crepe rubber soles have a rich and long history as the soles on British troop combat boots during WWII. They do not provide the best traction and should be avoided for wet weather or winter wear. Their common yellow/sponge characteristics can provide a great look in casual boots like the popular Desert Boots and other designer boots.
Crest To Sock – A shoemakers emblem or logo printed or stamped onto the sock of the shoe.
Crust Leather – Crust leather is tanned and dried, but not dyed. On crust leathers, the coloring is applied via polish, by hand, after the shoe is made. Thus you get subtle color variations all over the shoes.
Curing – The application of chemicals to animal hides in preparation for the tanning process.
Cushioning – Padding on the insole or outsole of a shoe for added comfort and stabilization.
Daino – Deerskin.
Daino Calf Leather – Calfskin leather that has been treated to give the leather the same feel and look as deerskin.
Demi Boot – A style of boot whose shaft is generally no taller than the anklebone.
Derby – A shoe with two side panels or “quarters” which are laced together over the tongue. The lacing is ‘open-throat’ (not stitched together at the bottom) and allows for more adjustment or ‘give’ around the instep than ‘closed-throat’ ‘Oxford’ ‘V’-shaped lacing.
Derby Boot – The boot version (extends over the ankle) of the Derby shoe.
Desert Boot – A chukka boot (A boot style with laces, usually with a plain toe, and is the height of the ankle) with crepe rubber soles and, typically, suede uppers. Desert boots were popularized in the 1950s by English shoe company C. & J. Clark now known as Clarks shoes. According to Clarks, inspiration came from “the crepe-soled, rough suede boots made in Cairo for British Army officers”.
Diamond Rubber Sole – A Rubber sole with embossed diamond patterning to give extra grip.
Dainite Sole – The refined cousin of the Commando sole. Made by the English company Dianite which is a sub-brand of the Harboro Rubber Co. It has become a generic term for their most popular sole. It is a rubber sole with large studs that provide grip – whilst not so traditional, they do provide good all-round grip and durability for most surfaces. The recessed lugs allow for a low profile that is much thinner than other lugged sole options. Because of their slim design, Dainite soles are often used in dress boots.
Distressed Leather – Leather that has been rubbed, scratched or treated for a stylish effect.
Double Monk Strap – Double monk strap shoes offer an additional strap and buckle to single strap Monk strap shoes (see Monk Strap), which in theory allows for a better fit especially for smaller or narrower feet.
Double Speed Eyelets – External eyelets that are shaped like open hooks or D-ring eyelets. They typically appear within the last few rows of eyelets. Double speed eyelets can be found in casual footwear, but they most often appear in shoes like work boots, hiking boots, and ice skates. They’re also much easier to lace than other kinds of eyelets. Often times a hooked eyelet is attached to a traditional punched eyelet that gives the wearer the option of winding the laces around the hooks or threading them through.
Dressing – The application of polish or gloss to a shoe to maintain its finish and appearance.
Driving Moc – A type of casual Slip-on shoe that is ideal for driving, with a flexible, pedal-gripping sole and a wraparound protected heel.
Elastic Gore – An elastic fabric panel inserted into shoes to provide stretch.
Embossed Leather – A design that is imprinted onto leather and often simulated exotic skin – i.e., croco or snake. It may also be a random pattern.
Eyelets – The holes through which you stick your shoelaces. Metal rings called grommets are usually used to support these holes. If the grommets are on the exposed side of the leather – the side that you can see – and they’re in a different color than your uppers, then they’re called Agatine Eyelets. If they match your uppers they’re called Matched Agatine, and if they’re on the underside of the leather, they’re called Blind Eyelets. Generally speaking, blind eyelets are more formal than matched agatine eyelets, which in turn are more formal than agatine. Essentially, the less visible the grommets, the more formal the shoe.
Eyelet Tabs – The tabs on a Derby shoe that are used to hold eyelets.
Eyestay – The part around the lace opening (throat of the shoe). It can feature webbings, eyelets, etc.
Faux Lace – Also called Fake Lace. When a shoe has the appearance of laces, but they are for decoration only, they do not function to open or close the shoe.
Finish – The process by which the final appearance of a shoe is created. The finish can include the application of polish to create a high-gloss finish, or a contrasting polish to create a rub-off finish like “antiquing”.
Folded Top Line – When the material around the opening of the shoe, where you stick your foot in is folded over to create a smooth soft edge.
Footbed – The insole of the shoe, where the foot rests. Another term for the insole.
Forefoot – The area of the foot between the ball and the toes.
Foxing – A piece of leather trimming fitted into or on top of the rear quarters.
Full Brogues – (also known as wingtips) are characterized by a pointed toe cap with extensions (wings) that run along both sides of the toe, terminating near the ball of the foot. Viewed from the top, this toe cap style is “W” shaped and looks similar to a bird with extended wings, explaining the style name “Wingtips” that is commonly used in the United States. The toe cap of a full brogue is both perforated and serrated along its edges and includes additional decorative perforations in the center of the toe cap. A shoe with a wingtip-style toecap but no perforations is known as an “Austerity Brogue”, while a plain-toe shoe with wingtip-style perforations is a “Blind brogue”.
Full Grain Leather – Leather that has been tanned so that the natural texture, or grain, of the animal skin is visible. Full grain leather comes from the top layer of the hide. It includes all the grain – hence the term Full Grain leather. This type of leather retains the inherent toughness, as well as the imperfections because there are no surface alterations or splitting.
Fumè finish – A Black aged finish.
Ghillie – Pronounced “gil-ee”, this is a style of footwear in which the laces pass through fabric or leather rings or loops attached to the front opening of the shoe, rather than eyelets.
Gibson – A shoe with two side panels or “quarters” which are laced together over the tongue. The lacing is ‘open-throat’ (not stitched together at the bottom) and allows for more adjustment or ‘give’ around the instep than ‘closed-throat’ ‘Oxford’ ‘V’-shaped lacing. Also known as Derby or Blucher.
Gimping – This term refers to the decorative edging in a saw-toothed or Zig-zag design used on the uppers of some footwear and done for decoration. Achieved by the shoemaker using a gimping machine, in which steel tools with various patterns can be fitted to achieve the desired effect. Also known as Pinking.
Gimped Tongue – V shaped edging on the tongue. Also known as a Pinked Tongue.
Girth – The circumference of a shoe last measured around the ball of the foot.
Glacè Calf Leather – A calfskin leather which has been baked under a very high-temperature with a natural wax coating applied beforehand such that it results in a very high, textured shine.
Goatskin – Leather made from the hide of a goat.
Goodyear Welt – A shoe construction in which the upper and sole of the shoe is stitched together, The process to achieve this is known as Goodyear Welting. Named after Mr Charles Goodyear Jr, who patented the construction technique in 1871. The welt, a ribbon of leather that runs around the edge of the upper and joins the insole to the upper. Constructing a Goodyear welt involves running a lockstitch through the upper, insole and welt, whilst an entirely separate stitch is used to attach the outsole. The resulting seam is visible and runs around the outside of the shoe, where the upper and outsole meet. The cavity between the welt and insole is then filled with a layer of cork that molds to the wearer’s foot, providing insulation and comfort. This double-stitch reinforcement is incredibly robust and acts as a waterproof barrier. It also enables your shoes to be easily repaired in the future. Welting footwear makes the shoe incredibly resilient – perfect for Country Shoes and Boots.
Gore – A piece of woven, elastic fabric stitched into either side of a shoe’s vamp in order to make it more comfortable and easier to put on and take off.
Grain – The inherent surface pattern of leather, differentiated by the animal from which it came.
Grain Leather – Leather usually heavier than buffing made from the grain side of a skin and in the case of cowhide often split from a hide already tanned and dried.
Half Bellow Tongue – A wide folding tongue that is attached halfway up the sides under the eyelets to the vamp to make the shoe watertight.
Half Brogue – Half Brogues (also known as Semi brogues) are characterized by a toe cap with decorative perforations and serration along the cap’s edge and include additional decorative perforations in the center of the toe cap. The half brogue was first designed and produced by John Lobb Ltd. as an Oxford in 1937 to offer his customers a shoe more stylish than a plain oxford, yet not as bold as a full brogue.
Harness Boot – A type of boot characterized by straps across the instep and heel, usually joined by a ring detail.
Heel – “Heel” can refer to both the rear, padded area of the underside of the foot, as well as the solid part of a shoe that supports the heel cup.
Types of shoe heels include:
- Baby Louis – The same shape as a Louis heel but a 12/8 or shorter.
- Built Heel – Created from layers of leather or fiber with contrasting tones.
- Continental – A higher heel with a slightly curved back and flat front.
- Cuban – A thick, stacked heel with little or no curvature and tapered at the bottom; usually medium in height.
- Louis Heel -Developed in the seventeenth century, it is a heel fashioned from an extension of the shoe’s sole.
- Louis or French – Features a curved back and ranges in height from 16/8 to 24/8.
- Stacked – Similar to the built heel but typically can be created from synthetic and leather materials. Often found on spectator shoes.
- Wedge – A heel of any height that is as wide as the shoe itself and follows the contour of the shoe from toe to heel.
Heel Breast – The forward-facing side of the heel.
Heel Cup – A strip of leather on the outside of the heel used to cover the seam joining the quarters.
Heel Height – Heel height is measured on a vertical line at the breast of the heel and goes from the bottom surface of the sole (where it meets the heel) to the floor. Heel height is traditionally measured in increments of 1/8th inches, so, for example, an 8/8 heel is 1″ high.
Heel lifts – Two to four pieces of leather stacked to form a heel. The sides are then usually painted black or brown, depending on the color of the upper.
Heel Seat – The part of the shoe directly below where the heel of the foot rests, and where the sole and the heel are joined together.
Heel Spurs – Soft deposits of calcium that grow on the “plantar fascia”, a band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot, and are typically very painful.
Hidden Gore – An elastic panel at the front of a shoe that is covered by the shoe’s tongue and provides added comfort.
Hide – The skin of a large animal that is treated, tanned or finished for use in boots, shoes, handbags, and clothing.
Highland Grain Leather – Very much looks like Pebbled Grain Leather, an embossed leather grain finish that resembles a pebbled surface. The name probably originates from Bruichladdich Grain Leather that was originally developed by thrifty Scots on the Isle of Islay as a method of utilizing the mash byproduct of the whiskey distillation process. Utilizing vintage charred oak barrels that have served their whiskey aging purpose, Highland cattle skins are layered within the barrels and interspersed with copious amounts of leftover barley mash. Over time, sometimes as long as 12 or more years, the skins develop the familiar pebbled, shrunken grain. The mash also imbues the skin with its customary Cognac color. Hides aged 30 years are the connoisseur’s choice, and only available at the most exclusive bespoke bootmakers. Most are private firms who only accept commissions via referral. Completely unknown on enthusiast forums. In less democratic times the skins were reserved for nobles. Known in the U.S. as Scotch Grain, a misnomer. Scots’ grain is correct for those unable to properly pronounce Bruichladdich. Much of what passes for genuine Scots’ grain is ersatz non-Celtic dairy cattle gunge squeezed twixt embossing rollers to simulate the effect of mash aging.
Hooked Eyelets – See Double speed eyelets.
Part two coming very shortly, please comment with your thoughts.
William & Joanne.