We find that buying shoes online can be complicated. Reading online shoe descriptions can sometimes make a shoe that would (without all the fancy, indecipherable shoe-talk) otherwise appear as a pair that 'you like and want' into a 'a pinked split toe'. A pinked split toe? But it looks black ... and 'square'.
But once you know the lingo, these descriptions—which you'd be hard-pressed to get from many department store shoe salespersons—can become invaluable ways of really coming to understand you personal footwear preferences and can help ensure that you consistently find the shoes that best fit your style and your foot.
This glossary is hardly exhaustive, and some terms may never appear on our site, but it includes nearly all of the terms that we could collectively muster and it should help you in most all circumstances.
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 --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.
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.
Balmorals -- Balmorals (or 'Bals') are typically ankle-high, front-laced shoes, wherein the bottom of the shoe's lacing is sewn to the front of the shoes 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.
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. In addition, a bespoke shoe customer gets to choose most every detail of construction, from major choices like the leather to details like heel type.
Bluchers -- Bluchers are typically ankle-legnth, front-laced shoes, wherein the bottom of the shoe's lacing is left unattached to the shoe's throat (unlike a Balmoral). It's typically easier to adjust the fit of a Blucher since the shoe's side flaps can be easily loosened or tightened across its tongue (which is usually just an extension of the vamp of the shoe, versus a separate piece of leather). Bluchers were named after the Prussian field marshal Gebhard Leberecht von BlÃ¼cher, Prince of Wahlstadt (1742-1819) who famously ordered such shoes for all of his soldiers.
Blucher Toe -- A Blucher toe is typically described as 'an Apron Toe in reverse', as the toe's overlay in tuned-in to create a smooth 'apron-less' look.
Boat Shoe -- A kind of casual shoe that can normally be slipped on and worn with or without socks. Boat shoes are typically made with non-slip soles (so as to avoid slipping on a wet boat deck) and they are often featured ornamental side-lacings.
Boot -- Any shoe that comes above the ankle. Boots can be formal or casual, and are often quite utilitarian in their design and are associated with certain trades or leisure activites -- such as steel-toe construction boots, or motorcycle boots.
Brogue -- A 'heavy' balmoral, or oxford-style shoe that flaunts ample 'pinking' (perforations or zig-zag detailing) and 'perforations' in order to accentuate the look of the shoe's seams.
Brogueing -- A term that refers to the perforations or small punches that can be used to decorate a shoe. All those holes on a wingtip? That's brogueing.
Calfskin -- A famously soft leather made (as the word suggests) from the skins of calfs.
Cap Toe -- Common in dress shoes, a cap toe can be quickly identified by the straight line of stitches or punches across the shoe's toe.
Chelsea Boot -- Popularized in England during the 1960s (purportedly due to the Beatles' fondness for the style) and also referred to as a 'Jodhpur Boot'. It is a slip-on, heeled, ankle-heigh boot most easily identified by the elastic side panels that reach from the shoe's heel to its top.
Collar -- The material sewn into the opening, or the topline, of the shoe. The collar can be padded to provide increased support or comfort.
Counter -- A stiff piece of material (typically leather) used to maintain a shoe's shape, and which is inserted between the shoe's lining and upper materials.
Crepe Sole -- A kind of sole typically cast from rubber and made to resemble the texture of wrinkled crepe paper. These soles are almost exclusively seen on casual shoes.
Croc Embossed -- Leather that is typically made from cow skin, but which has been made to resemble crocodile skin through stamping a pattern similar to crocodile skin into the leather and then giving the leather a high-shine.
Cuban Heel --
Derby -- A term sometimes used to describe shoes that features 'Blucher' style lacing.
Elastic Gore -- An flexible, elastic fabric that is sewn into the shoe's lining in order to provide a snug fit.
Footbed -- A term sometimes used to denote a shoe's insole.
French Binding -- A way of detailing a shoe's 'topline' by sewing, or binding, an additional strip of material along the shoe's topmost edge. This style of finishing is often produced with a contrasting material from the rest of the shoe's upper.
Full Grain Leather -- Leather that has been tanned so that the a natural texture, or grain, of the animal skin is visible.
Gimping -- Please see 'Pinking'.
Haircalf -- A kind of calfskin leather which maintains the calf hide's soft furry texture.
Heel --The part of shoe that is attached under the heel of foot, and which varies in height and material according to the style of the shoe. In dress shoes, the heel is often fabricated separately from the shoe's sole.
Insole -- The inner sole of the shoe, which is often cushioned for comfort or molded for orthopedic reasons.
Instep -- The area of the foot between the toes and the ankle, or the top front part of a shoe
Jodhpur Boot -- See 'Chelsea Boot'.
Kid Leather -- Leather made from goat skin.
Lapped Seam --Created when two pieces of material are attached by being sewn together, one on top of the other.
Last -- The wooden block around which a shoe is formed. The last represents the shape and size of the intended wearer's foot. Last's can be standard sizes or bespoke.
Lasting Margin -- The section of the upper that is tucked under and attached to the shoe's sole.
Lift -- Please see 'Heel'.
Loafers -- Also referred to as Moccasins, they are slip-on shoes noted for their comfort. The shoe's construction tends to be simple and 'roomy'.
Louis Heel -- Developed in the seventeenth century, it is a heel fashioned from an extension of the shoe's sole.
Medallion -- The ornamental details that are created by 'perforating,' or brogueing', the toes of dress shoes in varied, but always symmetrical designs.
Mersey Boot -- Similar to the Chelsea or Jodhpur boot, but zipped along the side (instead of elasticated) and often fitted with a slightly raised heel.
Monk Strap -- An oxford-style shoe that is fastened with a strap closure, instead of being laced-up.
Moc Toe -- Shoes that are fabricated in the simple manner similar to moccasins (or loafers), but which lace-up (instead of simply slipping-on).
Moccassin -- Please see 'Loafer'.
Motorcycle Boot -- Boots designed with a thicker, more durable sole with motorcycle riding in mind.
Nailed Construction -- Refers to shoes that have their pieces nailed together, instead of sewn.
Nappa Leather -- A kind of leather that is noted for its softness and flexibility.
Nubuck -- A kind of leather with a slight 'nap' and otherwise smooth finish, which is achieved by 'bucking' (or sanding) the hide.
Outsole -- The bottom-most part of the shoe's sole.
Oxfords -- Another term for a Balmoral style shoe sometimes used to describe shoes that features 'Balmoral' style lacing.
Perforations -- Small holes punched into the shoe's leather, often on the toe, in order to add ornamental details to dress shoes.
Pinking -- This term refers to the zig-zag, saw-toothed finish found the edge (or seams) of some shoes' components (particularly the toe).
Quarter Panels -- The side components of the shoe, which run from its heel to its toe.
Rand -- A piece of leather used to even-out the shoe's sole before attaching the heel.
Ruched -- More common in women's footwear, it is a kind of finishing detail created by gathering and stitching together material in a pleated, or bunched manner.
Saddle Shoes -- Made famous by catholic school girls and golfers everywhere, the saddle shoe gets its name from the contrasting, darker middle section of the shoe, which is said to resemble a saddle sitting across the back of a horse.
Scalloped, Scalloping -- Like pinking, but a wavy cut instead of a jagged, saw-toothed cut.
Spectators -- Made popular in the 1920s and 30s by Jazz and Swing musicians, they are a kind of shoe that (like the saddle shoe) is made from contrasting colored materials. Spectators do not have the typical saddle-look of the saddle shoe, however. Spectators are typically wing tips with toes and upper heels contrasting from the shoe's other components.
Toe Ridge -- A molded ridge found along the top of the footbed in certain sandals.
Upper -- From heel to toe, this term refers to the all the parts of the shoe that cover the top of the foot.
Vamp - This term is used to refer to the front center part of a shoe's upper, in some shoes (like Bluchers) the vamp is extended in order to form the shoe's tongue.
Venetian Loafers -- Loafers that lack the ornamentation often found across the middle, or as one source stated 'loafers with nothing to put a penny in'.
Welt -- A strip of leather that is used to sew together the shoe's outsole and its insole and upper. The welt can be made to 'stick-out' from the sole and further ornament the shoe.
Wing Tip -- A style of shoe that has a toe that looks like a "W", and which often sports a great deal of pinking.