A Gentleman’s Guide

Shoe Terms You Need To Know

Upgrade your knowledge and learn the lingo with the MR PORTER's in-depth shoepedia

In comparison to say, French, or Mandarin, the language of shoes is not difficult to learn. And it’s worth doing. Granted, it’s not something that comes up that often in day-to-day conversation – when was the last time someone stopped you in the street and said “nice welt!”? – but if you don’t speak shoe, you will more often than not get caught out when shopping online for footwear. Why exactly should you care about an air-filled “midsole”? What are the benefits of a low “throat”? To help you out in this most worthwhile endeavour – and to celebrate our multitudinous shoe offering – we at MR PORTER have put together the following guide to key terms that should be in your lexicon when dissecting the latest arrivals in the department. Think of it as a useful follow-up to our earlier piece on All You Need To Know About Dress Shoes. Bookmark both now, and never be left in the dark, shoe-wise, again.

Dress shoes

1. Eyelet
The small metal ring that reinforces the lace hole and stops it from wearing away.

2. Heel
The thick piece of leather or rubber that’s attached to the sole of a shoe to raise and support the back of the foot. Dress shoes tend to have a separate heel piece, which can be replaced if necessary. Contemporary designs often use a wedge-shaped rubber sole that does away with the need for a separate heel.

3. Heel cup
A semicircular piece of leather or other sturdy material that is stitched or glued over the back of a shoe’s quarter (see below) in order to reinforce the heel area, which tends to experience the most strain (alongside the toe) in the course of a shoe’s general wear and tear.

4. Quarter
The back part of the upper, typically beginning where the vamp (see below) finishes, and wrapping around the heel. If the shoe is whole cut, the quarter and vamp will be the same piece of material. In most shoes, however, they are two separate pieces of leather.

5. Sole
The piece of hard material on the bottom of the shoe. This can be leather – which is more breathable but also more vulnerable to moisture and water damage – or rubber – which offers some protection against the elements, but is less formal.

6. Toe cap
A piece of leather (or other material) that is stitched or glued to the toe of a shoe. This helps to reinforce this often strained area, but it can also make for a nice graphic accent.

7. Tongue
The flexible piece of material that sits underneath the laces and quarter of a shoe. This helps to spread the pressure of a shoe’s closure across the foot.

8. Topline
The uppermost edge of the quarter at the back of the shoe (i.e. where the hole is for your foot). On sneakers, this is often called the “collar”.

9. Top piece
A thin layer of leather or rubber attached to the bottom of the heel. It is the bit that touches the floor.

10. Upper
A word used to designate the entire top half of the shoe that covers the foot, including the vamp and quarter. It is attached to the sole with either glue or nails.

11. Vamp
The front section of a shoe’s upper, which typically stretches from the toe to the middle of the foot, where it meets the back part or quarter.

12. Welt
The thin strip of leather that runs around the edge of the sole (which juts out slightly on a dress shoe). The purpose of this is to fasten the upper to the sole.


1. Collar
The top edge of the quarter, where you insert your foot (called the “topline” on a dress shoe). It is often padded for extra comfort.

2. Foxing
A strip of material that runs all around the outside of sneakers, covering the line where the upper meets the sole (essentially, the sneakers' version of the welt). This slows the degradation of the glue that holds the upper and sole together, and can range from a thin strip of rubber (for example on these Converse Jack Purcells) to a wide, graphic piece of leather (as seen on Nike’s Air Max 1).

3. Heel counter
A piece of plastic that lines and reinforces the inside heel of sneakers, keeping them sturdy and supportive of your foot.

4. Heel tab
This can refer to a variety of things: either a decorative piece of leather that's used as an accent on the back of the collar (such as on these adidas Originals classic Stan Smiths), or a small loop of fabric, also positioned at the back of the collar, to help you pull the shoe on (see Nike’s Roshe Run sneakers).

5. Inner sole
Usually refers to the sneakers' entire interior lining. In more performance-based designs, this is often carefully cushioned and padded to provide extra support. Sometimes, as in these Nike Archive 83.M sneakers, this comes in a different shade from the upper to add a flash of colour around the ankle.

6. Lace guard
An additional piece of leather sewn or glued on top of the lace area, to reinforce the lace holes and shoe opening.

7. Midsole
A wedge of spongy material in between the outsole (see below) and the upper. This helps to provide extra support (and, sometimes, that “bounce” factor that you get from athletic shoes).

8. Outsole
The hard outer layer on the bottom of sneakers' soles. This is the part of the sole that touches the floor when you walk.

9. Padding
Cushioned segments that improve comfort and are typically placed around the collar of sneakers.

10. Sock liner
The first layer of foam or padding that the bottom of your foot rests on in a running shoe.