Welcome to the Stitchdown Shoe & Boot Term dictionary. There are many words in here, about shoes and boots, followed by definitions. You should read them.

Putting correct information out into the world is paramount at Stitchdown; if you have any questions or feel a definition isn’t 100% correct, please do shoot me an email and we’ll work through it all.

NOTE: while sometimes the use of one or the other is specifically required to elucidate a point, throughout the bulk of this dictionary the term “shoe” can also be thought of as a synonym for “boot” as well. 

Ok, now dig in…

Aglet

Those little plastic or metal things on the ends of your shoelaces. Starting this dictionary right up with the exciting stuff!

Antiquing

A process by which leather or metal is made to look, somewhat predictably, older than it actually is.

Apron

A piece of leather that sits just in front of a shoe’s lacing system, and then is connected to the vamp leather with a stitch. Often connected to the shoe’s tongue. Love me some aprons.

Paraboot Avignon Brown Grain Leather Review

Check out that sexy apron, right behind the split toe and in front of the laces

Arch Support

A raised, curved platform near the middle of a shoe’s footbed that provides support for the arch of your foot.

Back Seam

The seam, in the back. Of your shoes. Generally vertical, it’s where the upper leather is stitched together on almost all shoes.

Backstay

The thin strip of leather you’ll see running vertically up the back of some shoes and a whole lotta boots.

Balmoral

So, this one means a bunch of things in different places. It’s sometimes used pretty interchangeably with “oxford,” or, a shoe in which the quarters come together and the lacing system is sewn closed (unlike a derby or blucher, in which the lacing system remains open). Some say a balmoral needs to have a vertical stitch running backwards. Others contend that balmorals have no seams other than a toe cap! It’s crazy, honestly. So kinda feel free to use it if it’s close, I guess. “Bal” works too, if you’re good buddies.

Bellows Tongue/Gusseted Tongue

A tongue that attaches to both sides of the interior of a shoe’s upper, to create an enhanced level of waterproofing. Often seen in shoes that were traditionally created for hunting or heavy work. They can sometimes be tricky to fold correctly for comfort when lacing—make sure to get it right pretty quick off the bat or the leather may be “trained” in the wrong manner. Google “s-folds” if you’re new to them.

Bespoke

The process of creating a shoe specifically for one individual’s feet, in most cases completely from scratch beginning with the construction of a custom last. The ultimate in comfort, uniqueness (or not…it’s up to you!), and cost.

yohei fukuda bespoke shoes

Oxfords by Yohei Fukuda, Japanese bespoke master

Blake Rapid Construction

Similar to Blake Stitch Construction (see next entry), it also introduces a midsole that is attached to the outsole with a secondary Rapid stitch. This makes the shoes slightly easier to resole, and more waterproof, but creates additional bulk and a look more similar to a Goodyear welted shoe.

Blake Stitch Construction

A technique for attaching the upper of a shoe directly to the outsole with a sturdy stitch, using a specific machine. This method can result in a shoe whose stitching isn’t visible at all when it’s worn, although the stitches are seen on both the outsole and from inside the shoe. This allows for a sleeker looking shoe that is light and flexible, although waterproofing is somewhat sacrificed compared to welted construction methods. Named for its inventor Lyman Reed Blake, who later sold the patent to Gordon McKay, it’s also sometimes known as the McKay method. Blake stitched shoes can be resoled, although a lot of cobblers don’t have access to the machinery required, making resoling a touch trickier.


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Blind Eyelets

The little metal circles your laces go through, except you can’t see them from the outside of the shoe, as they sit underneath the eyelets. Used in all types of shoes but especially oxfords, as they create a more formal appearance.

Blucher

So sometimes you’ll see blucher used interchangeably with “derby,” especially in the US; this isn’t really accurate. Yes, they both have an “open” lacing system, but in a derby the shoe’s large quarter panels are sewn on top of the vamp (and the panels housing the eyelets are separated from said vamp). But on a blucher, the lacing system is created by small panels sewn onto the vamp, and that’s it. The best way to make any sense of this stuff is to just look at pictures; there’s one above. The blucher a cleaner shoe, and therefore generally considered to be a more formal one. How do you pronounce it? It’s debated, but I say: “BLOO-churrrr.”

Meermin Shell Cordovan Plain Toe Blucher

A shell cordovan plain toe blucher by Meermin

Boat Shoe

A shoe made of upcycled boats. Just kidding! A casual but often quite handsome shoe originally designed for use on marine vessels, featuring a non-slip outsole, and generally, a lacing system that runs through the interior of the upper and out through the eyelets, to create a tighter fit so your shoe doesn’t go flying off as you break out the Whomper. Often worn without socks, and luckily, very accomplished at not getting stinky.

Quoddy Classic Boat Shoe Navy

That’s a boat shoe right there

Boot

When is a shoe not a shoe, but still a shoe? When it’s a boot, or more specifically, when that shoe’s upper comes up over the wearer’s ankle (or maybe just under, with chukka boots). While many swing more casual and rugged, formal boots, especially wingtips, are perfectly acceptable to wear with suits at most cooler parties. Boots are wonderful.

Break

The part of the shoe upper that creases, because you’re walking in these things and they flex like constantly. On shell cordovan shoes, the break will be far less noticeable and more of a “roll” than the true crease you’ll find in most other types of leather.

Brogueing

The process of punching tiny little holes into various portions of a shoe’s upper to create a decorative, or “brogue” pattern. One of its original uses was in country shoes, to create drainage for when the wearer would gleefully tromp through heavy moss and bogs. Largely because of that, throughout most of history they’ve been considered less formal than non-brogues, although there’s a lot more grey area there now (at least according to this particular dictionary writer who wears them unabashedly to weddings including his own). The significant decline in bog-walking likely has helped that.

Grant Stone Longwing Snuff Suede

Longwings are heavy on the brogueing, and fantastic

Brogue

A shoe that features brogueing. There are many kinds! See below: Full Brogue, Half Brogue, Longwing Brogue, Quarter Brogue, Semi-Brogue.

Burnishing

You know when a shoe’s leather looks darker and kinda cooler in some areas, often the toe? That’s possibly burnishing, and it’s accomplished by heavy brushing of the leather, often with a machine component called a burnishing mop. You can selectively use polish to achieve a somewhat similar effect, but it’s not really the same thing.

burnished crockett jones

Burnished toes on Crockett & Jones cap toes

Calf Leather

The fine-grained leather most often used in higher-end shoes, it comes from a young cow (I know, I know), and is especially soft, supple, durable, and beautiful.

Cap Toe

This is going to sound extremely obvious, but a style of shoe that features a leather “cap” on its toe, generally stitched straight across the vamp. In general it’s a separate piece of leather, but there also exist variations on which the upper leather is delicately pinched back over itself to create the look of a cap, which is a pretty cool move.

Cemented Construction

A method of shoemaking that tosses out Goodyear, Blake, stitchdown, etc stitches for, essentially, glue. The shoe will end up nice and light and flexible, and may pretend to be more comfortable in early uses, but doesn’t offer many of the long-term benefits of stitched shoes, including resoling. Sometimes brands will even make cemented shoes that look like non-cemented shoes, giving them faux stitching around the sole. Bad sign. So yeah, beware.

Chelsea Boot

A laceless, slip-on ankle boot that stays on your feet thanks to two panels of elastic over the ankles, also known as double-gore construction. Almost all feature a pull loop on the rear of the boot (and sometimes the front as well), so you can actually get them on. Can be found in all manner of stylistic variations these days—personally I’m on the rugged Chelsea train pretty hard —but many makers still consider a Chelsea boot’s true self to be a plain, slightly elongated toe. The Beatles dug ’em.

Rider Boot Co. Fritz in Waxy Kudu: $400

Rider Boot Co. Chelsea Boot in kudu leather

Chonk

One of the most important qualities a shoe or boot can display. It’s not chunk—it’s chonk.

Chromexcel

A lightning rod combination-tanned leather produced by Horween Leather Co. in Chicago. Both beloved and sometimes maligned (wrongly, I feel) for its perceived tendency to sometimes reveal bad creasing (aka the “CXL Lottery”). Commonly abbreviated as “CXL,” it sounds like it’s from the future despite being made for over 100 years. Chromexcel is “hot-stuffed” with oils and waxes during the tanning process, creating a “pull-up” leather that may more easily display coloration differences if scuffed, but can also be revived by vigorously brushing those oils and waxes to the surface with a horsehair brush. There’s a ton more depth to the tanning process, but I’ll let Nick Horween explain right here. You can see how it ages and patinas over time in my review of my Alden Indy 403C brown Chromexcel boots.

Alden Indy 403 Boot Review

Alden Indy 403c boots in brown Chromexcel

Chrome-Tanned Leather

Leather that is produced by soaking hides in acid, salt, chromium sulfate, and all sorts of other stuff. This process can make leather very quickly; it isn’t so great for the environment, especially compared to vegetable-tanned leathers.

Chukka Boot

About the lowest-cut boot you’ll find, rising just around the ankle, and often featuring just two or three sets of eyelets. Very simple pattern, highly casual in most instances (although Alden’s shell cordovan versions would beg to differ), but endlessly versatile. Sometimes referred to as a “desert boot,” although that’s actually just one specific style of chukka, usually featuring a crepe sole and suede uppers.

alden unlined chukka snuff suede

Alden unlined chukka boots in snuff suede

Combination Last

A shoe last (the wooden or plastic form around which all shoes are constructed) in which the heel is significantly less wide than the forefoot/toebox area, typically a difference of two widths (ex: D and B). Designed to offer orthopedic support benefits, but really it just makes for a better fitting shoe in most cases.

Combination-Tanned Leather

A leather that is created by a (get this!) combination of vegetable-tanning and chrome-tanning. Chromexcel is probably the most well-known example.

Commando Sole

A chunky, knobby, lugged outsole that offers exceptional traction and grip in a variety of conditions. The true commando sole is BIG, and not altogether handsome on anything but work and hiking boots (on which it’s extremely handsome!). There’s also a slimmed-down version like I have on my Alden 403Cs (read the full review here) that is way more discrete, but still offers a scaled-down version of the advantages of the full commando in foul conditions.

Crepe Sole

Made from latex drawn from tapped rubber trees, crepe soles are textured in appearance and tend to offer exceptional cushioning and comfort. Like anything else, there are different grades of crepe soles, but all will wear down more quickly than most other rubber sole types on pavement—the tradeoff for the bounciness. Can be pretty slippery when worn, and they also get dirty. I still dig ’em situationally.

alden crepe sole

Crocodile Leather

Leather, from crocodiles, and pretty easily identified as such. Not cheap!

D-Rings

Used as a lacing system in lieu of punched eyelets—especially on hiking boots including those from Danner—these are little d-shaped pieces of metal that connect with another piece of metal that is riveted to the boot upper.

Danner Mountain Light

Derby

A shoe (or boot) that stands in opposition to the oxford or balmoral, in that its lacing system is open, featuring two leather flaps called quarters that lace together over the tongue. Generally considered to be less formal than oxfords/bals, although some oxfords, especially longwing brogue bluchers, can more than hold their own in many situations. Little different in important ways from a blucher—see the “blucher” entry above for more on that.

Viberg Derby Shoe

A storm-welted Viberg derby shoe

Double Monk

All monk-strap shoes feature no laces, instead using a buckle system to secure the shoe on the foot. Double monks sport two buckles and a wide strip of leather that comes across the top of the shoe from the medial (inner) side and secures on the lateral (outer). Generally considered less formal than an oxford or balmoral, and often more formal than a blucher or derby. The John Lobb William is one of the icons.

Meermin Shoes Double Monk

Meermin double monks

Driving Shoe

A slip-on moccasin originally engineered for driving, with a knobby rubber outsole designed to grip the pedals. A distinctly casual shoe that for whatever reason people enjoy dressing all the way up to suit duty if they feel rich enough, they’re generally worn without socks. Very popular in New York, where nobody owns a car.

Elastic Gore

A stretchy fabric panel that allows laceless shoes to give enough to slip on, but which rebounds back to provide a tight fit—and are durable enough to do that over, and over, and over. Most prominently found on either side of a pair of Chelsea boots. Also former Vice President Al’s nickname in high school sports due to his extreme flexibility.

Benzein x Stitchdown Rare Wine Reverse Chamois Chelsea Boot

Benzein x Stitchdown Chelsea boots displaying elastic gore on the sides (and a pull tab)

Engineer Boot

A high work boot with a strap across the top of the foot beginning at the instep (to secure the boot once it’s on), and another at the top of the boot (which can also be cranked down for a better mid-calf fit, but is pretty much to look cool. Even though you can’t see it with pants on.). Their origin story is muddy, but they may be derived from equestrian style, and for sure the Port of Portland commissioned Wesco to make tons of them for welders on ships in the 1930s and 40s, so they could easily kick them off in the instance that HOT SLAG got into their boots. Also their laces were apparently burning off. Engineering degree not required for use but definitely recommended. Standard & Strange is the king retailer of the style.

Wesco Engineer Waxed Flesh

Wesco x Standard & Strange Mister Lou engineer boots in Horween waxed flesh

Eyelet

The perforation in a shoe’s upper, which your laces go through. You already knew that one.

Footbed

Acceptable synonym, as far as I’m concerned, for the permanent insole that a shoe is built around. Although I don’t make shoes, so, it’s your decision to listen to me or not. Also if you have removable feet, a place for them to take naps, especially if you don’t have a comfy-enough footcouch.

Full Brogue

A brogued shoe featuring a pointed toe cap that then extends backwards towards around the middle of the ball of the foot. Also often referred to as wingtips.

Amblier Suede Wingtip

A very nicely executed full brogue/wingtip oxford

Full Grain Leather

Leather whose grain hasn’t been altered in any way, retaining the natural grain characterstics of the hide.

Gibson

Same as a derby, really. I think.

GMTO

Short for “Group Made to Order”. A special-run made-to-order shoe that a whole bunch of people get all at the same time because they’re all very tasteful individuals. See: “Made to Order,” “MTO.”

Goodyear Welt

Can refer to multiple important things. 1) The footwear construction method, in which a shoe’s upper and welt is attached to a rib below the shoe’s insole, after which the welt is then attached to the outsole with another stitch. 2) Also, the actual welt itself, a strip of leather—or much less ideally, plastic or rubber—which runs around the exterior of a shoe’s upper and attaches to all the things described in (1). One of the most widely used constructions in quality footwear. Often over-marketed as “THE BEST EVER NOTHING CAN TOUCH IT, YEAHHHHH,” which isn’t really true at all! There are a lot of very, very good ways to make shoes. But done right, it’s certainly one of them.

grant stone ottawa boot dune chromexcel

Closeup of a Goodyear welt on a Grant Stone Ottawa boot

Grain

Can refer to the natural grain of a hide of tanned leather—which is more apparent on leather from certain animals or amplified by different tannages and processes including milling/tumbling—or the effect that occurs on a leather that is stamped or “plated” to create an artificial appearance of visible “grain.”

Half Brogue

A cap-toe shoe, generally with perforations on the cap, and a medallion on the toe, plus maybe some other fancy stuff here and there. A chiller alternative to a full-brogue. Can manifest in derbies or oxfords.

Alden x Brogue Blue Suede Shoes

Beautiful Alden cap-toe half-brogues sold by Brogue Gentlemen’s Shop in California

Harness Boot

A slip-on boot typified by three leather straps—one that wraps around the front of the ankle, one that wraps the back, and a third that connects to the bottom of the upper—that all connect on both sides of the boot by attaching to an o-ring, or a more triangular ring. Which is not a ring, technically. But you get it. Popular with motorcyclists. Don’t love ’em personally but hey that’s just me.

Heel

The platform on the back of a shoe that sits under a wearer’s own heel. Not all shoes and boots have them! And guess what, @tichoblancoshoes—wedge boots rule. So yeah, take that.

Heel Counter

Can refer to either an interior piece of leather or other material that reinforces the heel of a shoe, or the visible panel of upper leather that wraps a heel. Good heel counters (the internal kind) are very important—crappy ones offer little support and can become quite uncomfortable over time.

Viberg Service Boot Shinki Color 4 Oiled Horsebutt

A good look at one of the most perfect (exterior) heel counters in the game: Viberg’s Service Boot

Insole

The piece of leather (ideally) that a shoe is built around in many construction styles. ALSO, a removable piece of leather or foam that goes atop a footbed, and provides extra cushioning, support, or helps a shoe that’s a little too big to fit better by eating up some volume. Which makes things complicated, but what are you going to do I guess. Except of course call the permanent insole a “footbed”, which I personally like to do.

Jodhpur Boots

A slip-on ankle boot that features a strap wrapping the ankle, which is fastened with a buckle. Apparently Chelsea boots are also considered Jodhpurs but I find that to be completely insane so we’re gonna just not do that. Wikipedia claims they named after Jodhpur, the second-largest city in the Indian state of Rajasthan!

Jodhpur boots carmina

Again, Jodhpurs are not for me, but Carmina makes some excellent ones

Kudu Leather

Kudus are a member of the antelope species that sport some very cool twisted horns. Found in woodland Africa, their leather is prized for its combination of softness and durability, as well as its unique scarring that come from a lifetime spent trying to get by in woodland Africa. The majority of quality kudu leather is tanned by England’s Charles F. Stead tannery. Sometimes it’s a little more tame, but can get pretty wacky indeed. In a good way.

Parkhurst x Stitchdown Nighthawk Kudu boot

A very distinctive C.F. Stead kudu leather upper on the Parkhurst x Stitchdown Nighthawk Allen boot

Lace to Toe

A boot (or sometimes shoe, if you’re lucky) whose lacing system extends downwards much closer to the toe than a traditional boot. They rock.

Clinch Boots—Brass Tokyo-Monkey Boots

An excellent lace to toe example on these monkey boots from Clinch

Laces

These are those stringy things that go through the eyelets and keep your shoes on. This is a very complete dictionary.

Last

The wooden (or sometimes plastic) form around which a shoe’s upper leather is stretched, resulting in, well, a shoe. Part of what a last accomplishes is functional—how wide and tall a shoe is at every different point of one’s foot, for example, or how the toe and overall shape fits. The other function is aesthetics—say, how far forward a chiseled toe extends. Most shoemakers use a relatively small number of lasts across their range of styles, to make sizing and appearance more predictable. In bespoke shoemaking, a custom last is created for each of the buyer’s feet, to create a truly custom experience.

White's Boots 55 Semi-Dress Last

A White’s Boots 55 shoe last

Lasting

The process of leather being pulled over and around a shoe last, to create the shoe’s form.


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Leather

The tanned animal hides that the majority of quality shoes are made from. To make them useable, raw hides must be tanned, an ancient process that can involve dozens of steps. Honestly that process is pretty crazy, and way too in-depth to detail here, but this is a great read on vegetable-, aka veg-tanning. While a majority of quality shoes feature cow or calf leather of some kind, many other leathers are also popular, including the aforementioned kudu, and what many consider to be the holy grail of shoe leather (yes it’s leather): shell cordovan, which is made from a horse’s butt.

Lining

The material that is stitched on the inside of a shoe’s upper; basically, what would touch the sides and top of your foot if you weren’t wearing socks. Which you don’t always have to! Many shoes are unlined, whether because of cost, or because unlined shoes are more flexible, lightweight, and comfortable in warmer months—when, again, fewer people wear socks. Also some leathers just don’t need it.

Loafer

A generally laceless shoe that is extremely comfortable once broken in if the fit is right. While loafers are traditionally considered to be a casual, many shoemakers such as John Lobb, J.M. Weston, and Alden create beautiful loafers that are acceptable in many business and some formal environments, depending on how cool you are. There are many variations of loafers, some of which are detailed in this here dictionary.

Longwing

Perhaps the greatest dress shoe pattern of them all, involving a panel that begins with a pointed brogued toe cap, which then shoots all the way back to the backstay of the shoe. Generally you’ll see a ton of perforations dotting the entire thing. When done right, stunning. When done wrong—honestly, still not that bad! Generally considered to be more casual than an oxford but I don’t necessarily care about that and wear my Alden color 8 shell longwings to weddings, including my own.

Alden Longwing Blucher in Color 8 Shell Cordovan

The “King Wing”: Alden longwings in color 8 shell cordovan

Loose Grain

We’re not even gonna do this one, as there’s just too much debate to what it means. But chances are if you think you have loose grain on a boot, you don’t—it’s just a bad break or creasing.

Lug Sole

A generally chunky rubber sole with knobby “lugs” that reach farther down—and are what contact the ground—than the base sole. Great for hiking, heavy work, snow, and anything that requires more traction. Will definitely get you yelled at for bringing lots of mud and dirt into the house, but they’re worth it. Overlaps with a commando sole, but that’s kind of an all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares situation.

White's Boots x Division Road Logger 350 Boot

Heavy Vibram lug soles on some White’s Boots from Division Road

Made to Measure

A process by which a shoemaker will measure your foot and make slight alterations to its base last to provide a better fit. Maybe somewhere between 10% to 30% of the way to full bespoke, depending on the maker.

Made to Order

When you call up a shoemaker and say “hey you don’t make this but HERE’S WHAT I WANT!” with all sorts of custom specs including last, leather, sole, etc. And they make it for you. Very few shoemakers do this; treasure and support the ones who do.

Medallion

The punched brogueing on the toe of a shoe or boot. The artistry and creativity behind medallions is sometimes overlooked, as from a distance they all kinda look the same. Next time, look closer.

Tricker's Bourton Brogue Shoe—Snuff Kudu Reverse Leather—Division Road

Tricker’s iconic heart medallion

Midsole

A leather (better) or rubber (not better) piece that lives between the outsole and upper on a boot or shoe. Sometimes you’ll see two or more midsoles, if you want that chonk (see: Chonk).

Mini-Ripple Sole

A thin rubber sole pioneered by Vibram that has a whole lot of tiny little triangles on its bottom. Not the most long-term durable, but pretty darn comfy.

3 Sixteen x Viberg Mini Ripple Service Boot

Viberg Service Boots on a mini-ripple sole

MTO

Short for “Made to order”. See “Made to Order”.

Moc-Toe

A type of boot or shoe that features a distinctive ridge ringing the toe with stitching on either side. Name derives from “moccasin toe”, which is just another in a long string of cultural appropriation from native people, but, I guess it fits? Most often seen in work boots.

Red Wing Moc Toe Boot Model 8138 In Briar Oil Slick Leather

The most iconic moc toe of them all: Red Wing’s

Moccasin Construction

One of the oldest ways of them all to make a shoe, pioneered by Native Americans before catching on with settlers, who appropriated and bastardized them pretty good. But people make really great ones now, so…it’s ok? Maybe? Either way there’s basically no way to make a more comfortable, form-fitting shoe. True moccasin construction refers to a gigantic vamp that is like 80% of a shoe, which wraps under and up the sides of a wearer’s foot, and is closed in the back before a “plug” is installed over the toes and front of the foot. Obviously there’s slightly more to it than that, but that’s all you’re getting out of me today.

Monk Strap

Can refer to both 1) a shoe that has a single strap fastening to the wearer’s foot, running across the instep of the foot, and 2) the strap itself.

Monkey Boot

One of the greatest boots of all time, highlighted by a lacing system that runs all the way down very close to the toe. Developed by monkeys, for monkeys, before smart humans noticed. There are various forms of monkey boots, but my personal archetype includes a separate piece of leather for the toe in the upper pattern, and some upper stitching shooting backwards towards the heel.

Sagara Cordmaster

Sagara Cordmaster monkey boots, maybe the best monkey pattern in the whole game

Naildown Construction

One of the simplest forms of modern shoe construction, in which the upper leather is folded under and attached to a insole with like a million (ED NOTE: Ben I can only tell you so many times I need you to count exactly how many nails are used, please revise) tiny little nails. A midsole is then nailed to the insole in similar fashion, and these days an outsole is attached to the midsole generally with a Rapid E stitcher.

Norwegian Welt Construction

A shoe construction style in which the upper is stitched to an insole rib, and then folded out, where a tall welt is placed atop it, stitched through the upper, and then it all gets stitched through an outsole. Good for waterproofing.

Paraboot Avignon Brown Grain Leather Review

Split-toe apron-front Paraboot Avignons displaying a Norwegian welt

Nubuck

A leather that has the grain side sanded down so said grain becomes quite short and wonderfully soft. Feels kinda velvety in some instances. Over time it can get beat up pretty cool—hence the archetypal “dirty buck.” (Although those are generally white or light tan so they get extra dirty. And they often use suede, which is a different type of leather altogether. But you get the idea.)

Ostrich Skin

Think about it. Weird stuff. Used in lots of cowboy boots but you’ll see it on other boots when people get wacky.

Outsole

The leather or rubber that touches the ground on any shoe or boot. Variations are endless.

Oxford

A dress shoe that is defined by a closed lacing system—aka the laces go through holes that attach to the vamp, in contrast to a derby shoe. Generally considered to be the most formal of all shoe types. Also a fancy dancy British university where people presumably still wear these shoes plenty.

Amblier Ashton Oxford Espresso

A beautiful simple oxford from Amblier

Oxford (Made by Work Boot Manufacturers)

My personal favorite intentional misnomer in the footwear game: for whatever reason, makers like Red Wing, White’s Boots, Nicks Handmade Boots, Viberg, etc, all call their derbies “oxfords.” It’s been that way for a while. Mayyyyybe back in the day they were thought of as just fancier shoes in general compared to boots, and oxfords are fancy shoes? Maybe??? You know what, I really need to look into this.

Viberg 145 Work Oxford — Tobacco Chamois Reverse - 1035

Viberg x Standard & Strange 145 oxford, one of my favorites

Patent Leather

Bad stuff. For the most part, stay away unless it’s rental tuxedo shoes. Heavily processed to get a super-duper shine, but over time will crack and can’t be repaired. If you demand that look, just get some black shell cordovan, honestly.

Patina

Some would tell you that patina is the change in appearance and texture that occurs when metals oxidize over time, but us shoe people never came up with a different word for how leather gets all cool and weird with wear. So we say patina. It’s fine. Also: basically paint that’s expertly applied to shoe leather to give them a very unique look.

Pattern

All the pieces that make up a shoe, and how they are put together. In addition to the right shoe last, the pattern is the most important determinant of how a shoe will look—and millimeters can make a huge difference in terms of how a shoe sings or croaks.

Penny Holder

The little guy that holds pennies in the strap of your penny loafers. What do you mean you don’t have actual pennies in your penny loafers? WHAT IF YOU HAVE TO MAKE A PHONE CALL IN 1919?!?!?

Penny Loafer

The most classic of all loafer patterns, which includes a strap across the top with a little slot cut out, for very important pennies (see above).

JM Weston Store Paris—180 Loafers

The J.M. Weston Moccasin 180, possibly the greatest penny loafer to ever exist

Perforation

An individual hole that gets punched through leather panels to create brogueing. We’re really getting down to the little things here.

Pinking

The sawtooth-looking edge you’ll see on the panels of certain shoes and boots, most especially longwings. Wielded properly, one of the cooler little touches you can put on a snazzy piece of footwear.

Wonderfully aggressive pinking on these Viberg x Division Road shell cordovan Shelby Service Boots

Piping

The little round piece of leather you’ll see rimming the ankle collar and facings of certain dressier shoes and boots. Can really class things up a touch over a raw edge especially.

Plug

The piece of leather that sits atop the front of the foot, and is hand-sewn to a vamp in moccasin construction shoes.

Pull Tab

The looped piece of leather or fabric on the back of a boot (or shoe, although that’s borderline insane in most instances) that helps you pull them on. Little trick—you’re not supposed to actually put your finger through and pull up, as that may lead to breakage; what you should do is pinch both sides together with your fingers and pull on. But even though you know that now, you’ll do it the other way regardless, I’m sure of it. Just be careful.

Pull-up Leather

An aniline drum-dyed leather finished with waxes and oils that exhibits a lighter shade of color when you stretch or press down on it. Or, I suppose, pull up.

Quarter

The panel on the mid-to-rear of a shoe that overlaps on top of or under the vamp, and extends backwards. Generally where the lacing system exists.

Quarter Brogue

A cap toe shoe with some perforations along the top edge of the cap, but no medallion on the toe. Barely a brogue!

Alden Regina Grain Jumper Boot

Showing off a quarter brogue/perforated cap-toe style in a boot, Alden Madison’s Jumper

Ready to Wear

Basically, most shoes—they come in a box, all ready to be worn! Bespoke or made-to-measure makers  will sometimes develop ready-to-wear lines that are in set sizes and designs, which is the only reason this term even exists.

Russian Grain

Probably the leather with the coolest story ever. Featuring an incredibly unique kinda stringy grain pattern, it originally tanned in Russia dating WAAYYY back, but then they stopped doing that for some reason. In the 1970s—this is where it gets good—some divers found a shipwreck off the English coast, and it had a cache of the stuff on it that was almost 200 years old! And somehow was still in good usable shape!! Insane. So from there, after extensive research, it was recreated, and you can get it on your shoes now. So wild. Read more about it here.

Russian Grain Leather

Crockett & Jones is the king of Russian Grain leather

Saddle Shoes

A very specific shoe style defined by a vaguely saddle-shaped upper panel right around the middle of the shoe, generally with some perforations running up either side. The classics are white with a navy or black “saddle” panel. I have no idea if they’re good for riding horses but my guess is not. VERY good if you’re attending high school in like 1949.

ealdwine alden saddle shoe

Absolutely classic Alden saddle shoes from Ealdwine Raleigh

Scotch Grain

A heavily grained, kinda burly, nicely weather-resistant shoe leather that apparently was originally made by using old barley from whiskey barrels in the tanning process. These days, it’s usually “plated,” or stamped. Not for everyone but I love it.

Semi Brogue

Pretty much the same as half-brogue.

Service Boot

One of the most iconic and timeless boot patterns, which was (likely) born from a military use around the early 20th century. In most iterations, service boots are unlike derby boots in terms of their visible heel counter panel—service boots have one.

Viberg Service Boot Shinki Color 4 Oiled Horsebutt

The Viberg Service Boot

Shank

The long piece of metal, wood, or leather (or I guess plastic but you don’t want that) that is inserted between a shoe’s insole and midsole/outsole to provide support and kinda keep everything in one piece. There’s a prison murder joke just sitting here, but, not doing it.

Shell Cordovan

Horse’s butts, turned into wonderful unique shoe leather (there is debate, but around here: yes it’s leather). Shines like the noon sun with a little elbow grease, rolls instead of creases, basically indestructible even after decades. Takes forever to make. Costs a lot. Nothing like it.

alden jumper boot cigar shell cordovan

Alden Jumper Boots in Horween cigar shell cordovan from

Silhouette

Kinda just how a shoe looks in terms of pattern and last shape, especially from the side.

Sole

Same as outsole, above.

Spectators

A two-tone brogued shoe featuring panels of contrasting colors, generally two, one of which tends to be white although that’s not essential. Most of the time you’ll see the toe cap and heel in the contrast color, and occasionally other panels as well. Possibly invented by John Lobb as a cricket shoe, naturally. They are dandy, and honestly they are dope.

Cobbler Union Spectator

Cobbler Union spectators—the shoes the brand launched with

Speed Hooks

An alternative to eyelets on boots, which allow you to wrap the laces around each hook to cinch them up. “Speed” can be a relative term, but especially on tall boots they definitely help.

Split Toe

A toe design formed by two different panels stitched together at the dead-center of the front of the shoe. Always seen with an apron behind them, I’m pretty sure at least, or they’d look quite weird. I personally love split-toe shoes; I’m still on the fence for split-toe boots.

alden larossa scotch grain norwegian split toe

Alden Norwegian split toe derbies with a handsewn apron and toe

Stacked Heel

A heel made of pieces of leather (hardy veg-tan if it’s any good) stacked atop each other before a piece of rubber is attached to the bottom. Sometimes two pieces, sometimes three, sometimes even more. The arguable best kind of heel in terms of shock absorption, comfort, and looks. And no, it is NOT made out of wood. That would be insane.

Stitchdown

A shoe media property that writes dictionaries. Also a form of footwear construction in which (for the simplest explanation) the upper is flanged outward and attached to the midsole, followed by another stitch ringing that one connecting the midsole to the outsole. Beloved by Pacific Northwest bootmakers.

Whites Oxford Brown Dress

White’s Boots oxfords displaying White’s signature rolled welt handwelted stitchdown construction

Storm Welt

A construction that features a raised ridge running along the edge of the upper before descending into a flat piece for the stitching to go through. Some people say it’s the same as a Norwegian welt, but I don’t personally see how that could actually be the case.

Alden Indy 403 Boot Review

Natural (undyed) storm welt on some Alden Indy boots

Suede

A very soft, slightly nappy leather that is created by splitting the interior side of a hide (the flesh side) from the grain side, and sanding/buffing it way down. Easier to maintain and capable of harder wear than you’ve maybe been lead to believe. Also looks fantastic beat up, I promise.

Tannage

Basically, one of the outputs of any number of leather tanning processes/formulas.

Tassel Loafers

Loafers with tassels attached to them! Probably invented by Alden but honestly all these things are really hard to nail down. If you went to an Ivy League school you may have been issued some at orientation.

Teacore Leather

A leather that is “overdyed” a color different than said leather’s “core” color, which is then revealed through wear as the top layer of dye is scratched and scuffed over time.

Toe Cap

A piece of leather that’s attached to the front of vamp of a shoe or boot, covering the toe. You’ll also see faux-caps, in which stitching forms the appearance of a true toe cap. Although adapted for use on plenty of formal boots and shoes, they’re thought to have been invented for work and military use, as they would provide additional protection and durability, and could be replaced without requiring an entirely new shoe.

Tongue

The strip of leather or other material that runs up the toe section to the top of the lacing system on a boot. You knew that one too. But thanks for reading!

Upper

The leather, etc that makes up the bulk of a shoe. Everything you see from the outside other than the sole and welt is the upper, pretty much.

Vamp

One that’s harder to pin down than you might think, but on a welted boot or shoe, it’s basically thought of as the front panel of the shoe, as far back as that goes. Yuki from Yuketen described it to me as “the largest part of the shoe,” as the vamp on a handsewn moccasin construction shoe wraps all the way around the bottom of the foot and comes up its sides, where it’s attached to the “plug” that sits over the toes and top front of the foot.

Vegetable-Tanned Leather

Leather that is created by bathing hides in, generally, tree extracts as opposed to exposing them to chemicals like chromium. Better for the environment without question; will often develop a more unique and interesting patina than chrome or combination-tanned leathers.

Waist

The most narrow area of a shoe, sitting just rear of directly underfoot. Higher-end shoes (and certainly bespoke shoes) will often featured more extreme contoured “fiddleback” waists, which are seen as a mark of distinction and quality. Also: tighter-waisted shoes tend to offer better support.

Wedge Sole

Fantastic, comfortable, versatile soles—do NOT listen to what @tichoblancoshoes tells you. Generally made from foam rubber (sometimes referred to as “crepe” although I personally think that’s a different, very specific form of sole altogether). Generally found on work boots, but also can be juxtaposed against a more formal brogue shoe with pretty effective results; nobody is better at this move than Tricker’s.

Whites Boots 350 Cruiser Distress Roughout8

A Vibram 2021 “cavity” wedge sole on White’s Boots 350 Crusiers

Welt

The strip of leather—or much less ideally, plastic or rubber—which runs around the exterior of a shoe’s upper and gets said upper and outsole attached to it one way or another through various shoemaking construction methods.

Wholecut

A shoe that is made of a single piece of leather, which is connected at the rear. Not easy to do! Generally seen on oxfords, Chelseas, and some boots. John Lobb once made a wholecut longwing oxford once and it’s nuts.

carmina wholecut oxford shoes

Carmina wholecut oxfords

Wingtip

A cap-toe shoe, generally with perforations on the cap, and a medallion on the toe, plus maybe some other fancy stuff here and there. A chiller alternative to a full-brogue. Can manifest in derbies or oxfords. Largely interchangeable with “full brogue”; technically longwings are a separate class from wingtips.

Work Boot

A boot, for heavy, hard, boot-beating work. Or not! Maybe just for fashion! Although nobody who makes those boots would ever call them this.