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Shoe Architecture 101: Part I – Shoe Anatomy

Shoe Anatomy

As my three new pairs of shoes from Goodwin Smith arrived today, I thought I would sit down and write a piece I’ve been meaning to do for a while illustrating shoe anatomy.  Using my shiny new Shaw Two-Tone Bordo Brogues, I decided that I would convert them into illustrations – so don’t steal them, or at least not without my permission. Thanks.

I’m going to break this down into a bit of a series, in which I’ll talk about the components that make up a shoe, the main different types of construction and then ‘families’ of shoes.  I expect it’ll be three parts, though it may be more if I start going off on tangents; or if you, dear reader, would like more information in certain areas.

Right! So, let’s begin.  Though shoes all vary, they can largely be broken down into a few key sections.  Just to clear things up, the below is a shoe.

Shoe Architecture 101: Shoe Anatomy - A Shoe

Got it? I want to make sure we’re all starting from a level playing field here.

The Basics

Starting with the basics then:

  • Upper The top part of the shoe – the bit that covers your foot.  Usually leather, though mixes of materials are also common.
  • Sole The bit that touches the ground (If you don’t know this one, you may be subnormal).

The Good Stuff

Here’s where you can start impressing people.  Note: only people who care about shoes will be impressed.Shoe Architecture 101: Shoe Anatomy - The Good StuffShoe Architecture:  Shoe Anatomy - The Good Stuff - Top View

  • Top Line This is the top edge of the shoe – generally the circumference of material into
    which you stick your foot
  • Counter A piece of leather placed over the back of the heel.  Not on all shoes.
  • Quarter This is the back ‘half’ of the upper (the half is made up of two Quarters, one per side), and usually goes around to the eyelets.  In some shoes, the eyelets go in the vamp (like in Gibsons – see Part III – Coming Soon!)
  • Vamp The section of the upper that effectively wraps over the top of your foot.  The tongue is part of the vamp.
  • Toe Cap The piece of leather that wraps over the toes
  • Top Piece The lowermost part of the heel. This is the bit that you will take to the cobblers to get replaced when it wears out.


Originally intended to be more functional shoes, Brogues were working shoes really, allowing the wearer to easily clean them.  The perforations were originally all the way through the upper, allowing water to drain out of them.  This does not make Crocs okay.  Over time, shoemaking became a bit of an art form, and cobblers realised that they could perforate only the top layers of the leather to make decorative patters.  The Brogue as we know it was born.

Shoe Architecture 101: Shoe Anatomy - BroguingI just wanted to give you a couple of useful bits of lingo to help describe your brogues to anyone who will listen.  Two easy words:

  • Pinking This is the decorative saw-tooth or sometimes semi-circular edges of the upper where one piece of leather overlaps another.
  • Perforations The holes in brogues. They can come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, but the fact that they are holes they have in common.

That’s about it for shoe anatomy, Part I of this (approximately) three-part series.  Next time I’ll talk about shoe construction, and there’s a fairly good chance I’ll take a scalpel to a willing pair of old shoes to shoe you what’s going on.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, and do let me know if you have any questions.
Shoe Anatomy | Goodwin Smith #BuckingGoodShoes

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