Shoes. You buy them, you wear them, you love them. But what do you really know about them? Most people can name a few types of shoes and the most commonly used materials in shoemaking. This is a great start, but there is a lot more to shoes than you might have ever dreamed of.
Keep reading to learn about the parts of a shoe, the different types of shoes, and even a few history lessons. By the time you’re done, you will be a true shoe expert. Are you intrigued by the traditions, styles, and components of shoes? Get comfy because you’re about to learn everything you ever wanted to know and then some.
When you’re finished reading, stick around! We want to hear from you after you have finished reading all of the sections. We are eager to know what you learn and how an informed opinion might help to guide your future shoe purchases.
What is a shoe?
A shoe is a foot covering with a solid sole and a heel. Some, though not all, provide additional fabric that reaches to the ankle. Shoes can extend beyond the ankle, though these are typically referred to as boots. Shoes provide protection to the feet and stability to the body.
Shoes are used for both practical and aesthetic purposes. Practical shoes are typically those that are used for employment or athletics. For example, steel-toed boots are commonly used in industrial or construction environments. Those who spend much of their workday on their feet, like nurses, may have shoes that offer extra support and padding. Those who work with animals might need waterproof shoes, such as rubber boots or duck shoes.
Athletes use shoes that are designed with their specific sport in mind. Runners may have very light soles that help them move at faster speeds. Football and baseball players will have thick soles with cleats that enable them to move through grass and dirt. Ballet dancers have shoes that have softer soles for flexibility or thick padding and stronger support when they dance en pointe. Bowlers need shoes that have slick soles to enable sliding on the alley. Each of these shoes has a specific purpose for their activity and would not be worn outside of their sport or stage environment.
Fashionable shoes are offered in all sizes, types, and price ranges. The style-savvy shopper may find sandals, pumps, wedges, heels, boots, sneakers, and more in an endless variety of colors and designs. These shoes generally offer the protection for which shoes were originally created while also allowing the wearer to display their own personality and flair.
As a runner and an avid walker, I have a large variety of shoes that I wear to keep my feet happy. At the same time, I want to look good, so I make sure my shoes are both stylish and functional. Luckily, I have plenty of options every time I shop!
Parts of a shoe
The parts of a shoe can vary greatly depending on the type of shoe. For instance, sneakers have laces while clogs do not. On the other hand, there are some standard features in every shoe regardless of style. Every shoe has a firm sole. The presence of that firm sole is what separates a shoe from a sock.
I have sometimes been asked if a traditional moccasin counts as a shoe because the sole is not firm. The answer is that a moccasin is a shoe because the material made to create a traditional moccasin, leather, is tough enough to protect the wearer’s foot in a way that a sock cannot.
The following is a comprehensive list of the parts of different types of shoes. They may not appear in shoes of all styles.
- A stiff panel that shapes the back of a shoe.
- The forward-facing portion of the heel.
- Stitching or material that gives structure to the opening of the shoe.
- The shoe’s rear.
- A hole in which laces are strung.
- The section where eyelets are placed.
- Material that fills the hollow between the insole and the midsole.
- Stacked material that adds height and/or stability to the bottom rear of the shoes.
- The interior that supports the bottom of the foot.
- The material inside the shoe that adds to the comfort of the shoe and extends its wearability.
- The layer between the insole and outsole.
- Monk Strap
- Strap and buckle for fastening shoes.
- The exterior of the sole.
- The rear and sides of the upper over the heel section.
- Panel that covers the instep.
- The part of the shoe that rests below the foot.
- The mid-shoe region.
- The interior of the shoe where the heel sits.
- A piece of rigid material between the insole and outsole of the shoe.
- Toe Box
- The interior of the shoe where the toes sit.
- Toe Cap
- Area at the toe of the shoe that adds protection or decoration.
- The portion of the shoe that touches the top of the foot.
- Top Lift
- The portion of the heel that strikes the ground.
- The portion of the shoe that covers the foot.
- Front of the shoe.
- The arch and in-step of the foot.
- The part of the shoe that connects the sole with the upper.
History and origins of the shoe
The earliest known shoes were found in Oregon in 1938. These shoes were sandals made from sagebrush that dated roughly to 10,500 BP. Scholars believe shoes were worn before this but that the materials used caused them to erode or rot away.
The Fort Rock Sandals, as they are now known, were made using a close-twined sole and an open-twine upper that created a toe flap. A number of sandals were found in this region, all using the same material and style.
It is thought that these sandals were reserved for use in the winter. Most likely, they were stuffed with grass to keep feet warm and protected when the wearers had to wade through cold water. Other times of the year, it is likely that the users of the Fort Rock Sandals went shoeless.
The earliest known leather shoe was found in Armenia. It is thought to be about 5,500 years old. The shoe was nearly perfectly preserved and stuffed with grass. It is unknown if the grass was used to keep the shoe’s shape or if it was worn with grass inside to ensure warmth. The shoe was made with one piece of leather that was tied with a lace. It is similar in nature to shoes that were made throughout Europe for hundreds of years.
It is almost certain that these shoes were not made for fashionable reasons but for more practical ones. However, some early Native Americans did decorate their moccasins with colorful beads, fringes, and tassels. These decorations usually signified rank, occupation, and sacred symbols.
Early shoes were made of materials that were most readily available. Today’s shoemakers have a wider array of materials from which to choose. Some designers try to find unique materials like bamboo or even glass, but the tried-and-true materials that are most common continue to be favored among top-selling brands.
This is arguably the most common material for shoes. It is long-lasting, durable, and comfortable. But, on the other hand, leather is also expensive. Likewise, if you are vegan, like me, leather is not an option.
There are a wide variety of fabrics that are commonly used in shoes. Some of these are cotton, polyester, wool, and nylon. Textiles are less expensive than leather, and they are vegan-friendly. They also wear out very quickly.
Soles are mostly made of rubber. This is particularly true of athletic shoes. Rubber offers the right amount of give to make shoes more comfortable. It is sturdy and will last as long as you take good care of your shoes.
Foam is an interior material. It is used in midsoles and uppers of most shoes. You are unlikely to see the foam for yourself unless your curiosity allows you to tear apart your beloved footwear.
Man-made materials of all kinds are called synthetics. Most of these are PU, a type of synthetic leather. They can be just as attractive as leather shoes at a fraction of the price, but you will also have to replace them fairly often.
Measures and sizes
Shoe sizes are confusing. They are not necessarily the same across all brands, which is why it is important to try shoes on even if you have worn the same size since you were 15. Shoe sizing gets even more confusing when you are looking at international shoes.
Start by measuring your foot. A ruler or a tape measure is fine for a quick measurement. My foot is about 9 3/4 inches long, which means I would wear a size eight in the US. That does not mean the same for the rest of the world.
A couple of years ago, I spent some time in New Zealand. I was surprised by a dinner date at a restaurant that was far nicer than I had planned. I went shoe shopping and asked for a size eight. The shoe that was brought to me was almost two sizes too large. Instead, I purchased a 6 1/2 slide that was sadly lost somewhere between Wellington and Dallas.
It’s not just New Zealand that has different sizing than the US. You’ll find this all over the map. In the UK and Mexico, I would wear a 5 1/2. In the EU, I would wear a 38 1/2. In Japan, my shoe size is 24, and in South Korea, it is 248.
If you are looking at shoes that are being shipped from overseas, find a conversion tool or simply ask. Knowing the length of your foot should give you all the information you need to get a good fit. It is also a good idea to look at reviews from others who have purchased the international shoes you have in mind if you can’t try them on before making a purchase. The reviews can tell you if shoes fit “true to size” or if they run large or small.
There is one more big issue with shoe sizing: gendered shoes. For reasons unknown, men’s shoes and women’s shoes in the United States have different sizes. Those who typically buy women’s shoes should subtract about 1.5 from their size to find the equivalent in men’s shoes. As with women’s, shopping internationally requires a conversion chart or a measurement to get the best fit.
Width is important to some people when it comes to buying shoes. I have wide feet, which means some of the narrower shoes simply don’t work for me. I don’t need to buy an extra-wide, but I can’t wear something that is any narrower than standard sizing. Some international shoes may run narrow, so it is vital to find the actual size before making a blind purchase.
Now that you have read through the first chapter, you should be ready to carry on a conversation with anyone about the construction and history of shoes. But don’t stop reading now! In the next chapter, we’ll talk about the different types of shoes, from ankle boots to zoris.
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An ankle boot is a shoe that reaches to or covers the ankle. It does not extend to the calf-like other boots. They are usually closed-toed, but they may have open toes or cut-outs. The original ankle boots laced up, but the Victorian times brought ankle boots with a series of buttons. Today, they may have buttons, laces, zippers, or buckles. The most common type of modern ankle boot is a slip-on.
Army Boots / Combat Boots
The army boot, also known as the army combat boot (ACB) or simply combat boot, was created for use in the armed services. The boots are waterproof, flame resistant, and shock-absorbing. They also have thermal insulation. These boots are generally made from leather and have a lacing system. Non-military personnel may use army boots for hiking, hunting, or simply as a fashion statement.
The term “athletic shoes” is a generalized description of shoes that are used for a variety of sporting events. They may be called gym shoes, tennis shoes, sneakers, runners, or trainers, depending on your location. Athletic shoes are commonly made from leather or man-made, leather-like material with rubber soles. They are specifically designed to support the athlete’s sport. For instance, a football shoe may have spikes called cleats for better grip on the field, while a running shoe is more lightweight to allow for a quicker pace.
Ballet shoes are specifically made for dancers. They are typically made from leather with an elastic strap that covers the top of the foot. They may contain a small elastic tie that gives the shoes a tighter fit. Some ballet shoes are made from canvas, though these are not long-lasting. In most cases, ballet shoes are pink or black. These shoes are made to give dancers stability and flexibility. Dancers may wear satin shoes with ribbon ties for performances.
You might go to the beach and see a number of different types of shoes. Water shoes, sandals, and flip-flops are all common beachwear. A beach shoe does not refer to any shoe worn on the beach. Rather, a beach shoe is lightweight with a rubber sole and a mesh body that is often made of a waterproof material like neoprene. These shoes are used for walking, swimming, and snorkeling.
Boat Shoes / Deck Shoes
Boat shoes were originally made to provide good traction on the slippery decks of boats. Today, they are fashionable whether on land or sea. The soles of the shoes are made from rubber with siping, much like a vehicle’s tires. The body of the shoe is made from either canvas or leather with waterproofing. They may be slip-on or have ties, but those ties are usually more decorative than practical. Boat shoes are sometimes referred to as “deck shoes.”
Boots are shoes that cover the foot and ankle. They often stop mid-calf, though they may be much lower or much higher. Boots often have heels, but some have flat soles. Boots may be worn for fashion or function. Practical boots like combat boots, steel-toed boots, and fishing boots each have a design that aids the wearer in completing their task. Fashionable boots can be ankle boots or thigh-high. Some even have stiletto heels.
Brogan Shoes / Brogues
Brogues are low-heeled dress shoes that are distinctive for their decorative patterns. The designs, called broguing, are holes pierced along the edges of the shoes. The styles of brogue shoes are either toe cap, wingtips, spectator, semi-brogue, quarter brogue, or longwing. A Ghillie shoe is a specific type of brogue that is rarely seen outside of traditional Scottish formal affairs. Brogues are traditionally made from tanned leather. They may close with straps, ties, or buckles.
Bowling shoes are specifically made for use at bowling alleys. They are usually made with a leather upper and a rubber sole that is very slick on the bottom. Casual bowlers rent shoes at a bowling alley while those bowlers who are more serious purchase their own. Those who buy their own bowling shoes will find an array of colors and styles. They will also find that their shoes have a rubber stopper for the non-sliding foot. Rental shoes are painted in garish colors to discourage theft and rarely offer a rubber stopper.
Barefoot shoes are made to closely mimic the feeling of walking or running with bare feet. They are often referred to as “minimalist shoes.” The shoes have a smaller amount of cushion and sole than a typical shoe. They are extremely lightweight; and either have a wider toe box or, in some cases, a separate space for each toe. The goal of barefoot shoes is to provide protection against dirt and discomfort while also allowing the wearer to feel the impact of each step.
The blucher shoe is closely related to the Oxford and derby shoes. Bluchers are dress shoes that are often worn in business or formal settings. They are made with open lacing and with a vamp made of one cut of leather. Small eyelets are sewn on top of this vamp. The blucher can be made from tanned leather or suede. The original bluchers, commissioned by Prussian field marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher, were boots. Blucher boots can still be found today.
The buck shoe is a type of dress shoe that was originally made from buckskin. Historically, the most popular buck shoe was white and made from nubuck or suede. They classically had red rubber soles as well. The oxford-style shoe is still popular but is more often seen in tan and light brown. The red sole is sometimes replaced with dark brown or even grey, but red remains the most common shade.
Buckled shoes are, not surprisingly, shoes that have buckles. It is usually a derby shoe with an elongated or round toe and a stitched leather upper. The difference is that the buckle shoe does not have open lacing. Instead, it has a monk strap with up to three buckles. The shoes may be smooth, or they might have broguing. You might find buckles on other types of shoes, like boots and sandals.
Baby shoes are those shoes that are made for babies. As babies are not typically walkers, baby shoes typically have soft shoes that provide protection but not stability. Baby shoes may come in the form of slippers, sneakers, or booties. They usually slip on but can have ties or velcro. They can be made out of any material, such as leather, canvas, or even crocheted yarn. Baby shoes are usually decorative rather than functional.
Basketball shoes are a style of athletic shoes specifically designed for playing and practicing basketball. The game requires a great deal of sprinting and quick changes of direction. Therefore, basketball shoes are made to both protect the ankle and absorb shock through a thick, rubber heel. Basketball shoes tend to be heavy, thanks to the design of the rubber sole. They almost always have tie closures, though some offer a velcro strap as well.
Cleats specifically refer to the protrusions on the bottom of an athletic shoe. They add traction for sports that take place in the outdoors or on ice. Common vernacular allows us to use the term “cleats” to refer to any shoes that have cleats. In reality, there are different styles for football, golf, hockey, soccer, lacrosse, cycling, track, and even logging.
Court shoes are formal shoes with a low-cut vamp. They traditionally have bows or buckles at the throat. Historic court shoes were made from black patent leather. They may have a low or high heel. Today, it is not uncommon to see heeled court shoes with additional decoration or none at all. In the United States, court shoes are often referred to as “pumps.”
A climbing shoe is made specifically for rock climbing. It is a lightweight shoe that has a rubber sole with grips that aid in holding onto steep surfaces. These shoes are made from leather, synthetic material, or fabric. They have a toe box that points downward to help with reaching into the smallest crevices. These shoes fit very snugly and are almost sock-like in their fit. Climbing shoes are not made for walking, which means they are usually only worn upon reaching the rock that is to be climbed.
Cowboys shoes are more commonly known as cowboy boots. These are western-style boots that were inspired by equestrian riding boots but are more rugged for outdoor work. They are made from leather with a slick interior that allows for easy sliding. They reach to the mid-calf to protect the lower part of the leg and have either a square, pointed, or rounded toe box. Traditional cowboy boots have a slanted heel to aid with horse riding. Those cowboy boots with short, flat heels are called ropers.
Cycling shoes are athletic shoes made specifically for cycling. Professional cycling shoes are rigid by nature and have a two-cleat system for attaching to the pedal. Cycling shoes also have a quick-adjusting system so shoes can be quickly fitted and re-fitted mid-race. There are various designs depending on the type of cycling, including road cycling, mountain biking, and spinning.
Clogs are shoes that are made from wood. They may be entirely made from wood, like the Dutch Klomp, or only partially made from wood like the English clog. A fashionable clog is typically a slide with a leather or cloth upper that is attached to a wooden shoe with a wide heel. The upper is attached to the wooden heel with metal brads. Dance clogs resemble tap shoes but have a full wooden sole that provides a different sound than the metal tap.
Crocs are a name brand of casual shoe that became popular in the early 21st century. These shoes are made from a foam resin patented by Foam Creations, a company that was purchased by Crocs. The foam material, along with the clog-shaped design and ventilation holes, makes the shoes light and comfortable. There are many imitations and counterfeits of the Crocs style, though they are usually not as durable as the original Crocs.
The term “calf boots” simply refers to boots that cover the calf. They are available in multiple styles and materials. They often have zippers but can also be slip-on. Mid-calf boots are similar in style but only reach mid-way through the calf. Calf boots might be casual or formal in nature.
Chukka boots are ankle boots made from calfskin or suede. They have three eyelets on the upper that hold an open lacing. The rubber soles have a small heel though there are sometimes variations with flat or wedge soles. Chukka boots were originally worn by the British in World War II but have become a trendy shoe for casual wear.
A cone heel is a heel that is shaped like an ice cream cone. They give off an appearance that is somewhat similar to a stiletto but are more comfortable and supportive thanks to the design that starts wide at the sole and narrows to a point.
Cork High Heels
Cork high heels offer a distinctive look to the footwear. The cork design gives off an eco-friendly vibe even in dressier shoes. Cork is also a comfortable choice that is lighter than the typical wood and leather. If the cork from the high heel extends to the sole, it can help to keep the wearer’s foot from becoming damp with sweat, which helps to prevent odor and bacterial infections. This is because cork absorbs moisture.
Canvas shoes are shoes that are made from canvas. While we typically think of canvas shoes as those that are designed like casual sneakers, canvas can be used in virtually any type of shoe. Canvas is popular for slides, sandals, and even some boots. Canvas is washable, light, and usually less expensive than shoes made from leather. They usually have a rubber sole.
Cross trainers are athletic shoes that have the characteristics of multiple types of shoes. They may have cushioning that offers stability to each part of the foot, which makes them more versatile than those shoes that are designed only for one sport. Many people prefer cross trainers because they are comfortable for day-to-day activities. They are good choices for people who casually participate in multiple sports.
The term “dress shoe” refers to any shoe that is worn to a professional or formal event. They differ from athletic shoes, like running shoes and cleats. They also differ from casual shoes like Crocs and beach shoes. However, many styles can be considered dress shoes. Some of these are heels, loafers, brogues, and even some boat shoes.
Derby shoes are dress shoes that have open lacing and a three-part, paneled construction. They have a stitched leather sole and a toe that is either round or elongated. They are similar in nature to both blucher and Oxford shoes. Derby shoes may have broguing, but this is somewhat rare. These shoes almost always have a short heel with a thin sole, but some designers have seen success with thick soles and wedges on their derby shoes.
Espadrilles are casual sandals with canvas uppers and would-rope soles. They may be flat slip-ons or high heel wedges. They sometimes have ankle laces. These shoes originated in Spain as peasant footwear but became trendy during the 20th century. Today, espadrilles are a common sight as casual or beachwear.
Elevator shoes provide height to the wearer through hidden insoles known as lifts. Unlike high heels or platform shoes, elevator shoes are meant to disguise the added height. These shoes are usually more formal in nature, though there are some elevator shoes that have a more athletic appearance. The insole on elevator shoes usually only adds a couple of inches of height, but some advertise that they add as much as eight inches thanks to the thickened insole.
Earth shoes were invented in 1957 by yoga instructor Anna Kalso. The shoe style features “Negative Heel Technology.” In other words, the shoe has a sole that is thinner at the heel than the sole and the toe. It is meant to mimic the feeling of walking through sand. These shoFlip-flops
Flip-flops are sandals that consist of a rubber sole with a single strap that is worn between the first and second toe of each foot. The soles are usually flat and offer little support to the wearer. The sole tends to “flip” up and “flop” away from the foot with each step, which gives the sandal its name. These shoes are sometimes referred to as thong sandals or slides.
Figure skates are a specific type of ice skate that is only used by figure skaters. Professional figure skaters purchase boots, which are usually made from leather, cover the ankle and have tie closures. They then have blades mounted to the base of the shoe in order to have a customized fit. Figure skating blades are slightly curved and have toe-rakes at the tip for easy stopping and spins. Recreational figure skaters can purchase skates with the blades pre-mounted.
Golf shoes are athletic shoes solely used for the sport of golf. These shoes usually have spikes or cleats attached to the sole for better traction in the grass. Most golf courses now only allow plastic spikes due to the damage metal spikes can cause to the grounds. Unlike typical cleats, the spikes on golf shoes are removable. This allows golfers to easily move from course to club without changing shoes.
Galoshes are very similar to Wellington boots. In fact, the terms are often interchangeable. However, galoshes can also be short, rubber boots that cover the shoe or transparent plastic coverings that are zipped around the wearer’s foot.
Gladiators, or gladiator sandals, are technically open-toed boots that have many openings to allow for air circulation. The original caliga had a flat sole, tied around the ankle, and was made from hard leather. Today, gladiators may rest below the ankle or reach as high as the knee. They may tie, use buckles or have a zipper that usually closes behind the heel. Gladiators were once used by Roman soldiers. Today, they are casual sandals worn by all genders.
Heels are raised areas on the base of the heel of the shoe. Heels come in all sizes, from a slight elevation to several inches long. There are many types of heels that are named according to their shape. Some of these include stacked heels, angle heels, Pinet heels, Annabelle, stiletto, and wedges. Raised heels are common in many casual, professional, and formal shoes.
High heels may refer to the heel itself or to a shoe with high heels attached. High heels differ from other heeled shoes in that the heel is significantly raised from the ground. Most high-heeled shoes have heels that are about two to three inches in height. Shoes with higher heels than this are becoming increasingly rare as health issues have been related to the extended wearing of these items.
Hiking boots are shoes made to protect the wearer while walking or hiking outdoors. They cover the foot and ankle in a thick material that is made of canvas and/or leather. They have metal shanks to keep the shoe rigid during wear. Rubber soles are designed to allow for gripping rough terrain and avoiding slippage in wet areas. These boots are typically heavily padded to further protect the foot.
When looking for hockey shoes, make sure you know what kind of hockey you seek. Field hockey shoes are athletic sneakers with gum rubber soles to provide traction on the field. They have low collars that rest below the ankle. Ice hockey shoes are lacing high tops with blades attached. They offer stability to the foot while also flexibility for quick stops and turns.
High-top sneakers are athletic shoes with collars that rest above the ankle. These sneakers may be made from canvas, leather, or synthetic leather. They may be cross-trainers or casual shoes, or they might be designed for use in a specific sport, like basketball. High tops usually have a lacing system though, in the past, velcro straps on high tops were thought to be stylish.
Huaraches are Mexican sandals made by weaving together strips of leather. The outer sole is also leather or made from a thin piece of wood. There is not a consistent design to huaraches as some are very simple while others are extremely intricately made. Huaraches are only considered authentic if they are handmade and woven with leather. Those shoes that are not handmade or that use cloth or canvas might simply be called sandals.
“Ice skates” is a generic term for boots that have blades mounted for wearing on ice. There are different types of ice skates, depending on their use. Different types of skates include figure skates, ice hockey skates, racing skates, and recreational skates. All skates are boots of varying heights that have blades attached to the base.
Inline Skates / Rollerblades
Inline skates are roller skates with wheels lined in a single row. They have a similar style and appearance as ice skates. Inline skates are made up of a boot that covers the ankle, which is then attached to a frame that holds four wheels. Some may refer to inline skates as “Rollerblades,” but this is the name of a company that makes inline skates and not the name of the shoe itself.
Jump boots are calf-length combat boots made from smooth, black leather. They lace like typical combat boots, though jumpers typically lace their boots in a cobweb style. Jump boots have rigid toe caps and a leather strip between the heel and sole. Fashion boots patterned off of jump boots may be made of different colors and materials, but official jump boots are usually black with a very high sheen.
The jackboot is a military boot that was designed for marching. Unlike other military boots, the jackboot does not lace up. It is a tall boot that raises mid-high or even higher in most cases. The jackboot is no longer commonly worn as it is highly associated with Nazis and totalitarianism.
The term “knee boots” refers to any boot that reaches the knee. It does not refer to a particular style but to the height of that shoe. Knee boots can refer to boots that cover the knee or reach just below the patella.
A kitten heel is not a type of shoe but a reference to the type of heel on a shoe. A kitten heel has the same thin appearance as a stiletto but is only one inch high. Kitten heels were first seen in the 1950s when women were expected to wear heels to formal and semi-formal events. They were sometimes called “trainer heels” for girls who were considered too young to wear a higher shoe. Today, kitten heels are sometimes worn by those who wish to wear heels but want a more comfortable shoe.
Loafers are slip-on shoes that do not lace or buckle. They have low heels, no heels, or, rarely, wedge heels. Loafers may be professional or casual, depending on their design and material. They can be made with synthetic materials, canvas, or leather. The most common loafer designs are horse-bit, tassel, kiltie, driving, slipper, and penny loafers. Espadrilles and boat shoes are also considered to be types of loafers.
A mary jane is a court shoe (pump) that has a thick, buckled strap across the top of the foot near the ankle. Classic mary janes had low heels and large, rounded toe boxes. They were largely preferred by young girls. Today’s mary janes may be flats, heels, or wedge shoes. They have become popular paired with punk and goth styles.
A mule is a shoe with an upper that covers only the toe and mid-foot, leaving the ankle uncovered. Many mules are flat, but they can have heels of any height and any style. Mules may be made with fabric, canvas, or leather with soles in leather, cork, rubber, or wood. Mules come in multiple styles, including loafer, mary jane, and clog, just to name a few.
A typical moccasin is made of one piece of leather stitched at the top and attached to a thin leather sole. The purpose of the shoe is to protect the foot from cold weather and rocky terrain. Traditional moccasins are slipper-style, though there are some that lace up. Moccasins can be plain, dyed, or beaded. They are usually worn to the ankle or lower, but moccasin boots are not uncommon.
Mukluks / Kamiks
Mukluks are soft boots worn in extreme cold weather conditions. They were historically made with reindeer or seal skin to provide waterproofing and to keep feet warm. Today’s mukluks are designed to combat the cold weather while also remaining fashionable. Many have fur on the outside, which is both functional and decorative. Mukluks may reach as high as the knee or just cover the ankle. Mukluks are sometimes referred to as kamiks.
A monk shoe is a dress shoe that uses a strap rather than a buckle or lacing. The monk strap covers the top of the shoe and secures it on the outer side with one or two buckles. The style of the shoe is generally Oxford, derby, or blucher with the addition of the strap. They can be worn with a suit or as part of a casual ensemble.
Motorcycle boots are designed to increase safety while riding a motorcycle. Many of these boots are tall enough to protect the lower leg from hot exhaust pipes on the bike and road debris. They also have a low heel, which helps with controlling the motorcycle and changing gears. Motorcycle boots are made from thick leather but may also contain plastic or metal for further protection.
Oxfords are dress shoes with closed lacing. This means that the eyelet tabs are attached under the vamp rather than on the top of the vamp. Oxfords can be made from calf leather, patent leather, suede, canvas, and synthetic materials. Dress oxfords are usually black or brown, but more casual oxfords can be in any number of colors and patterns.
Open-toe Shoes / Peep-toe Heels
Open-toe shoes are shoes that have an open toe box. This is often a feature in sandals and some high-heeled shoes. A smaller opening that only displays the first two toes is called a peep-toe. A newer trend in open-toe shoes is the big-toe shoe, in which an opening in the toe box only displays the big toe.
Orthopedic shoes provide support to individuals who suffer from foot and ankle disorders. These shoes have lower heels that are firm to offer the utmost stability. They offer additional padding that may extend to the insole. They have wider toe boxes than is typical with shoes. Orthopedic shoes are often used by people who suffer from bunions, corns, hammertoes, and plantar fasciitis.
Platform shoes are any shoe that has a very thick sole and heel. The height of the sole is, at minimum, one inch but is usually in the three- to the four-inch range. Unlike elevator shoes, whose purpose is to hide the increase in inches, the purpose of platform shoes is to add obvious height. Platform soles can appear on clogs, mules, mary janes, high heels, boots, and even sneakers.
Pumps have the same basic design as court shoes. They are formal shoes with low-cut vamps. However, pumps do not necessarily have a bow or buckle on the vamp. In addition, pumps usually have a taller heel than a traditional court shoe. Pumps are worn in a professional environment, for formal affairs, or in semi-formal settings. They are usually made from leather or manmade, leather-like material.
Penny loafers are loafers that are designed with a diamond-shaped slit over the top of the shoe. Those who wear the shoes usually place a coin, heads up, through the slit. The coin wasn’t always necessarily a penny. See also, Loafer.
Pointe shoes are ballet shoes that are made for dancing en pointe. They differ from standard ballet slippers with an extended box that supports the dancers’ toes and enables them to spend more time en pointe. They also have a shank that supports the arch of the foot while the dancer is en pointe. Pointe shoes are available in multiple styles to enable the best fit. Most professional dancers have pointe shoes custom-made.
Running shoes are athletic shoes designed for running. There are a number of styles of running shoes depending on the type of running and the type of runner. There are different shoes for sprinters, trail racers, road racers, triathletes, and casual joggers. Different styles of running shoes focus on the way the foot hits the ground and provides adequate padding to support the foot strike. In some places, all generic athletic shoes are referred to as running shoes.
Riding boots are designed for horse riding. They are tall, usually reaching past the calf and stopping just below the knee. The shoes have sturdy toes and low heels that are slightly sloped to maintain a better grip on the stirrup. Riding boots are usually black or brown. They are made from leather or synthetic leather material with a hard rubber sole.
Roller skates are shoes or boots that have four wheels attached to the outsole. Traditional roller skates have two sets of two wheels. Inline skates place the four wheels in a straight line like ice skates. Some roller skates are simply a frame with four wheels that attaches to athletic shoes with a strap. These skates can be removed and placed on other shoes as the wearer sees fit. Roller skates have a rubber stopper at the toe for quick stops.
Sandal is a generic term for a shoe with a flat sole held to the bottom of the foot with straps. Sandals are very casual items that come in a wide variety of styles. Some of the types of sandals available include Roman sandals, clogs, flip-flops, huarache sandals, and zoris. They can be made with practically any material, including jute, leather, cork, rubber, and plastic.
A saddle shoe is an Oxford shoe with a distinctly noticeable style. The mid-foot decorative panel is shaped like a saddle. It is usually a different color than the rest of the shoe. The most common choice is a white oxford with a black saddle and white lacing. Saddle shoes were very popular in the 1940s and 1950s, but they can still be seen today.
Skating shoes should not be confused with roller skates. Whereas roller skates have wheels attached to the outsoles, skating shoes have no wheels at all. They are designed for wear by skateboarders. They have vulcanized rubber soles with no grips for better maneuvering on a skateboard. They are very flat-soled with canvas or leather uppers. Most skating shoes resemble athletic shoes in style.
A slide is a sandal that is backless and open-toed. The shoe is held on with one or more straps that run horizontally across the foot. A slide is made from rubber, plastic, or leather with a sole made from any of those materials as well as cork and wood. It is named a “slide” because it is simple to slide on and off of the foot.
Those who use the term “sneakers” may be speaking of any athletic shoes. Sneakers can also refer to non-athletic canvas shoes with light or soft soles, though this is a rare use of the term. See also: Athletic shoes, Trainers.
Swim fins are shoes that are made for swimming. They are made from plastic or rubber. These shoes wrap around the base of the heel with an adjustable strap. The toe box extends outward into a large, fin-like protrusion. The purpose of swim fins is to aid with swimming. They can be worn in swimming pools as well as natural bodies of water.
Steel-toe boots are work boots that have a reinforced steel toe. The steel casing may be inside the toe box or attached to the outside. Steel-toe boots are important in certain lines of work that risk a danger of items being dropped on feet. People who work in construction and industrial areas may be required to wear steel-toe boots. These boots are usually made of very sturdy material to protect the entire foot in case of an accident.
Ski Boots / Skiing Shoes
Ski boots are boots that are made to be attached to snow skis. They are very rigid boots that can be somewhat difficult to take off and put on. Front-entry ski boots, also known as top-entry, are arguably the most common type of ski boot. They have four buckles and a strap to ensure a tight fit. Ski boots are difficult to walk in because they are very heavy and restrict movement. However, they are the perfect choice for an afternoon on the slopes.
Slippers are a type of shoe that has very light soles and can easily be slipped on and off. They can be made from virtually any type of material but are usually made from cloth, felt, or leather. These shoes are almost exclusively thought of as shoes to be worn at home rather than out in public. Some notable exceptions are mocassins and ballet slippers. The word “slipper” once referred to high-heeled shoes, but that is no longer common.
Stiletto heels are very thin heels that are attached to the base of a sandal, pump, or boot. Stiletto heels are often very high. They may be as high as three or four inches for typical wear. There are much higher stilettos, but these are usually for display rather than actual wardrobe staples. Stilettos are a bit controversial because they have been shown to cause physical distress to those who wear these shoes for extended periods.
A spectator shoe is an Oxford shoe with distinct color markings. The spectator shoe has two contrasting colors. The main shoe is usually a light color or white. The toe and heel cap are a darker color. The spectator shoe is almost always a full brogue with the wingtips in the darker shade. Semi-brogue spectator shoes are sometimes worn as well.
Spool heels refer to heels on shoes or boots that resemble an hourglass. The heels are wide at the top and bottom while being thinner in the middle. Shorter heeled spool heels have a distinct hourglass shape. Higher heeled spool heels have only a slight flair at the bottom, but they are still considered to be considerably more comfortable than stilettos.
Safety shoes are similar to steel-toe boots because they provide a solid toe box that protects the foot in case of an accident. However, safety shoes may have toe boxes made with carbon fiber or aluminum alloy. In addition to protecting the toes, safety shoes might help to prevent electrical shock, puncturing, and/or slippage. Technically, any shoe that is built with safety in mind can be considered a safety shoe.
Trainers can be a term that refers to athletic shoes of any style. In most cases, individuals use the term “trainer” to refer to the shoe they are wearing to train for the sport they engage in. For example, a runner might refer to a lightweight pair of running shoes like trainers, while a soccer player may consider a shoe with a thick sole to be a trainer. However, trainers are usually simply cross-training shoes with multiple uses.
Toe shoes are shoes with a toe box that is divided into areas for each toe. The shoe then resembles a foot. They are usually extremely lightweight with flexible soles. Toe shoes are popular with runners who want the feel of barefoot running while also being protected against the dangers of the road. They are also sometimes used in yoga in place of yoga socks. See also: Barefoot Shoes.
Tennis shoes are athletic shoes made specifically for the sport of tennis. Tennis shoes provide stability for quick sprints and rapid turns. Tennis shoes are slightly heavy with thick soles that provide a quick bounce when needed. These shoes are also good for a number of other sports, which is one of the reasons many people refer to all generic athletic shoes as “tennis shoes.” It should be noted. However, that true tennis shoes are beneficial when playing a match.
Tap shoes are dance shoes that are worn when tapping. They are usually Oxford style with laces. Sometimes, tap shoes are mary jane style with a strap that ends in a button rather than a buckle. All tap shoes have two taps on each shoe: one is at the toe, and one is at the heel. When struck in certain fashions, the taps make clicking or scooting noises.
A track shoe is a type of athletic shoe that is made only to run track. These shoes are extremely lightweight and often have a slight curve in the heel to help runners run their fastest times. Track shoes usually have cleats on the toe. The spikes help track runners to grip the racetrack while running. A track shoe is sometimes referred to as a racing flat.
Trail shoes are running or walking shoes that are made for those people who enjoy exercising in nature. They are more rugged than racing flats. They have a thicker sole with heavy grips that help runners stay steady when on uneven terrain. Like other running shoes, trail shoes may cater to different types of foot strikes. Strategic padding and outsole design can help those who pronate or supinate. Trail shoes are also great for hiking.
Valenki / Russian Boots
The valenki is a knee-length, flat-heeled Russian boot with a wide top. They were originally worn by Russian soldiers. The first valenkis were made from thick felt to provide warmth, but they are also made from leather. The valenki is credited with inspiring fashionable boots that adopted the wide top, low heel, and wrinkled ankles.
Volleyball shoes are athletic shoes that are made specifically for the sport of volleyball. These shoes are lightweight, which is important when jumping and diving for the ball. They also have padding on each side to keep the foot stable throughout the game. Lastly, a volleyball shoe is shock-absorbing, which helps your joints to stay strong throughout a rigorous workout. These outsoles of volleyball shoes are very delicate, and therefore the shoes should not be worn outside or in environments other than the volleyball court.
Wedge shoes have very thick heels that extend all the way to the sole. Unlike platform shoes, wedge shoes do not have a break between the heel and sole. Wedges may be short or tall, with a common height of about two to three inches. They can appear on flip-flops, sandals, and even with dressier pumps. Wedge shoes are typically thought of as casual, particularly when the wedge is made from jute.
Work boots are boots that are worn in industrial working conditions. They are made from very strong leather, often have a hard leather or rubber covering on the outside, and generally have a steel-toe interior. Work boots also have thick rubber soles with strong grips. They can be worn for hiking and are sometimes worn as fashion statements. Many work boots are waterproof and shock absorbing.
Wellington Boots / Gumboots / Rain Boots
Wellington boots are waterproof boots made from rubber. They range in height from mid-calf to just below the knee. Wellington boots protect the wearer from wet conditions on the ground, making them popular among boat and construction workers. Boots that are made for frigid conditions may include a warm lining. Wellington boots are sometimes called wellies, rubber boots, rain boots, galoshes, or gumboots.
Waders are waterproof boots that are most often worn for fishing. These extra-tall boots reach to the thigh of the wearer, allowing them to wade through high waters. Some waders have overalls attached, which act as a full-body waterproofing system. The bottom portion of waders is typical wellington-style boots. They sometimes have porous soles, which can cause invasive species to be spread from one body of water to another. Therefore, many states have banned the wear of porous soled boots while fly fishing.
A wingtip shoe is a type of brogue known as a full brogue. The wingtip is distinctive for its pointed toe cap with wings that follow both sides of the toe. It creates the shape of a bird with wings or a “W” shape. Perforations that are hallmarks of brogues follow the edges of the wings. There are wingtips that do not have broguing. These wingtips are called austerity brogues.
Water Shoes / Waterproof Shoes
Water shoes have a hard sole and a mesh upper. They are usually made of synthetic materials that maintain their shape even when wet. They are particularly useful when snorkeling. Water shoes can be worn for swimming, kayaking, jet-skiing, and other activities that would cause the feet to get wet. Other waterproof shoes include water socks and water sandals. See also: Beach Shoes.
Walking shoes are athletic shoes that are made for walking. A walking shoe has a stable upper, an achilles tendon protector, and a spacious toe box. These shoes also have significantly padded midsoles and insoles. A rubber outsole absorbs any shock and improves traction while walking. These shoes are versatile and can be used for everyday activities along with walking.
Weightlifting shoes are athletic shoes that are designed to aid weightlifters. These shoes have elevated heels, which help weightlifters keep a straighter, more upright stance when squatting. They also have a firm sole for stabilizing the body when lifting heavyweights. The cushioning of weightlifting shoes helps to prevent injury when weightlifters are maxing.
Zoris are Japanese sandals that are easily removed and donned when entering and exiting a home. They consist of a simple, flat sole and a Y-shaped strap that is held by the first and second toes. Most of these sandals are made from synthetic materials. They can also be made of rice straw, wood, leather, rubber, or cloth. It is thought that the zoris influenced the modern flip-flop sandal in the United States.
Do you think you know everything there is to know about every type of shoe after reading this chapter? Think again! When you continue reading chapter three, you will learn even more about some of the special shoes we touched on in chapter two.
Chunky loafers are called specialty shoes for a couple of reasons. First, a chunky loafer is a dress shoe that offers comfort and extra support. The counterparts of a chunky loafer might have uncomfortable heels or a lack of flexibility. A chunky loafer has a strong, sturdy base that is wearable in many environments.
Another reason a chunky loafer might be considered a specialty shoe is that it can be an orthopedic shoe. It is easy to disguise the extra padding and wide toe box in a stylish and trendy shoe. Unlike some specialty shoes, the chunky loafer may end up being a mainstay in a wardrobe as it can easily shift from day to evening.
Clogs are comfortable and stylish. They can be worn with casual clothing or with business casual styles. Many people find clogs to be preferable to dress shoes in environments that are not overly formal.
Orthopedic clogs are durable and made with comfort in mind. They can be worn by people who are on their feet all day, like retail workers, nurses, doctors, and restaurant staff. They support common foot ailments, like corns, bunions, or foot injuries.
Another type of clog that is a specialty shoe is the clog that is used for dancing. This clog makes a unique sound that is somewhat similar to a tap shoe. Clog dancers train for years to perfect their craft, which cannot be carried out without the right shoes.
Technical trainers, sometimes referred to as technical sneakers, are specialty athletic shoes. These shoes are not made for performing in specific sports but for training in various fields. They use rubber to allow for sudden stops, jumping, and rapid changes of direction. They absorb shock while also cradling the foot during exercise.
Technical trainers are flatter than other athletic shoes. Whereas many athletic shoes offer a slight curvature, technical trainers have a lower heel drop. They also offer flexibility in both the upper and midsole while remaining stable during side-to-side movement. Technical trainers look similar to running shoes, but they are heavier to provide the most support.
Mary Janes are low-cut shoes with closed toes that have a strap across the instep. Without the straps, they may be referred to as court shoes or pumps. However, it is the thick strap that makes this specialty shoe a Mary Jane.
Traditional Mary Janes are black patent leather. They have a round-toe box and a strap that is fastened with a buckle. They also have low heels. These traditional shoes have been largely replaced by Mary Janes in varying colors, materials, and heel sizes. Mary Janes now commonly fasten with a button.
Orthopedic Mary Janes are less common than some other styles but can be found, especially for children or those with diabetes. They have material that offers stretch and an adjustable strap.
A Chelsea boot is a boot that reaches the ankle and uses an elastic panel for a tight fit. These specialty shoes have a long history of being used by both men and women. This is arguably because they are comfortable for walking but could also be used as work boots or as riding boots.
Chelsea boots are excellent choices for professional and casual environments. They are offered with heels, as flat shoes, or with a chunky sole. Most Chelsea boots are black, but they can be found in neutral brown or grey and even occasionally in brighter shades and patterns.
Ballet Flats / Ballerina Flats
Ballerina flats are shoes that mimic ballerina slippers in style but have a function that goes beyond dancing. They are simple, flat, and have flexible soles. These specialty shoes are worn in both casual and professional environments. They can even be worn in dressier affairs by those who have difficulty wearing heels. These shoes are also popular for travel because they fold easily and take up very little space.
A ballerina flat may be made of any material. Like the dancing shoes, it is most common to find these shoes in leather. Unlike the common ballet slipper, which is usually only offered in black or pink, ballet flats are seen in various shades.
Cowboy boots were originally made to be used in a working environment. They were common on ranches, where workers needed boots to protect their legs while working and riding. The heel on the cowboy boot provided excellent safety for use with stirrups. These boots were modeled after riding boots, but they are hardier and able to withstand a great deal of wear.
Cowboy boots are still worn for ranching, but they have also become a fashion accessory for those who wish to pay homage to the old west. It is not uncommon to find cowboy boots being worn on farms or at a local country and western dance club.
Kitten heels were created to provide a more comfortable alternative to the classic high heel shoe. They were originally worn by younger girls who weren’t yet old enough for high heels, which is why they were sometimes called “training heels.” Those kitten heels were usually no taller than two inches.
Kitten heels are easy to spot due to their design. Shaped with a slight curve, kitten heels are easier on ankles and knees than their stiletto counterparts that end in a sharp point. They can be any height, though it is most common for kitten heels to be somewhat short.
Mules are shoes that do not have a heel counter. The upper covers the toes top of the foot, while the heel is left open. These shoes are popular because they are simple to slip off and on. They are particularly useful for people who have mobility issues and may not be able to bend to wear a different type of shoe.
Mules are available in a wide variety of styles. They may be formal, professional, or casual. It is not uncommon to find slipper mules that are worn around the house. It is also not uncommon to find orthopedic mules that are designed for people with foot injuries and ailments.
Square Toe Boots
Square toe boots are specialty shoes that are worn by individuals who need the usability of cowboy boots but prefer the roomy toe box provided by the square toe. These boots are sometimes referred to as ropers because they are used more by those who work with cows than those who ride horses. However, many people who wear square toe boots do so because they prefer the look and feel.
Square toe boots may be slid on like standard cowboy boots, or they might lace up. A lacing system is popular with those who take part in rodeos because they allow for a tighter and more secure fit.
Combat boots are specialty shoes that are worn by members of the military. These boots are hardy, long-lasting, and provide a great deal of support. They are made to be worn in the toughest conditions, which means they are usually waterproof and difficult to damage.
Combat boots are sometimes worn by non-military individuals who enjoy the fashion. They were particularly popular in the 1990s grunge scene. They are still seen in punk fashion or as statement pieces. They are also sometimes used for hiking. Though they may not be the most comfortable shoe, they do provide a steady grip, which makes them desirable for those who are traversing rugged terrain.
The term “sneakers” is used as a general description for a casual athletic shoe. However, sneakers usually refer to shoes that are lightweight with thin outsoles. They have a lace-up system and an insole that provides little support. Sneakers may be offered in any material, but canvas is a popular choice for these shoes.
In many places, sneakers is used interchangeably with trainers, running shoes, walking shoes, or tennis shoes. However, the term is more accurate when describing those shoes that are made for light activity rather than specific sports. People who are on their feet throughout the day for work might opt for sneakers because they tend to be less rigid than typical athletic shoes.
Sandals are simple shoes that are usually open-toe and often slide on. They may use buckles, ties, or even zippers, but this is rare. Sandals are meant for casual environments. Those dressier sandals are sometimes worn with dresses.
Platform shoes are those shoes with stacked heels and outsoles. They usually add at least three inches onto the height of the wearer. Platform heels are arguably most often seen with sandals. These sandals have the benefit of being comfortable and trendy at the same time. The chunky heels are popular for both day and evening wear. Most platform sandals have an additional strap at the ankle for security.
Sandals are casual shoes that are regularly worn in low-stress environments. These shoes are often made from inexpensive material, which causes them not to last long. One way to ensure a sandal is long-lasting is to use high-quality materials like leather.
Leather sandals offer the ease and comfort of a casual slide while remaining sturdy and long-lasting. They are also dressier than sandals made from man-made materials, making them more appropriate for some less-than-casual environments. Leather materials may also provide more ease and comfort for people with foot issues like plantar fasciitis.
These sandals are available in all of the typical styles you would expect to see in a sandal. They can come in mule, two-strap, flip-flop, and gladiator styles, just to name a few.
Two Strap Sandals
Two strap sandals are sandals that have two straps across the top of the foot. These straps may have buckles, but they are often slides that don’t require buckling. Some two strap sandals have straps that are made from elastic for a tighter fit.
Two strap sandals with buckles are often referred to by the brand name Birkenstock. But this is simply the name of a shoe designer and not the name of the shoe style. Many people think these shoes are only available in brown leather with chunky soles. However, two-strap sandals may be any color, material, and a wide number of styles.
Suede sandals are a type of leather sandal with a softer finish. The suede material, like leather, is made from animal hides. The difference is that suede is made from the underside of the animal’s skin, so the material is softer and more pliable. Unfortunately, this also makes the material less durable and usually very delicate.
Suede sandals are offered in all of the styles you would typically find in any leather sandal. However, most people would be reluctant to wear suede sandals in environments where they may become wet or soiled. Suede-like sandals may sometimes be made from synthetic fibers, which give the same appearance and feel of suede while also being less expensive and able to withstand moisture.
Specialty shoes may help you in multiple areas of your life. You may find the need for a number of these shoes as you navigate through life, while others may simply be a shoe you are aware of but never use. Next, we’ll talk about traditional shoes. You can learn about culture and fashion at the same time!
Lotus Shoes (China)
Lotus shoes were traditional shoes of China worn by women whose feet were bound. These shoes were cone-shaped in order to look like a lotus bud. Most lotus shoes were made from silk, but there were some made from cotton. They were embroidered in floral designs on bright color cloth. The most common color was red, but lotus shoes could be found in black, blue, grey, brown, orange, or pink. They sometimes had heels, though this was not always the case.
Foot binding is thought to have begun in the 10th century. It involved breaking a young woman’s foot and then binding it tightly so that it would reach a point. These bound feet were called lotus feet. There is some scholarly debate over the reason for foot binding. Some believe it was a practice meant to keep women from being overly mobile so that they would properly sit still. Others think it was originally fashionable but became a tradition that took centuries to break.
The binding of feet is no longer practiced. Therefore lotus shoes are no longer worn. They can be found in antique shops and museums. Shoes that replicate the intricate embroidery of lotus shoes are available, but they do not repeat the original design.
Kabkab Shoes (the Ottoman Empire)
Kabkab shoes, or Kabkaks, were also referred to as women’s bathing shoes in the Middle East. They were particularly popular in what is now modern-day Turkey. These shoes were used to protect women’s feet from mud and dirt, especially in bathhouses. They were also commonly worn in weddings when young girls would be wed to older men. This was in order to give the girls more height.
Kabkabs had flat soles made from wood with leather straps that crossed the upper foot. The outer sole is two wooden stilts that could be several inches tall or up to two feet high. The stilts were sometimes inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The leather straps might have had gold, silver, or pewter embroidery.
The name “kabkab” comes from the sound the shoes made as women walked on the stilts. The shoes were mostly worn from the 14th to 17th centuries, but there have been examples of kabkabs seen as late as the 1800s.
Mexican Pointy Boots (Mexico)
Mexican Pointy Boots have become a new tradition in Mexico. They were introduced in Mexican culture in 2009. They are most often worn by those in the tribal music subculture for dancing, especially by those in all-male dance troops. The boots are meant to be humorous versions of traditional cowboy boots.
The boots originated in Monterrey, Mexico. They are mainly seen in Mexico and the southern United States of Oklahoma, Texas, and Mississippi. They are rarely worn outside of a performance or dance club atmosphere.
Mexican pointy boots are standard boots in basic design. They usually have a low heel and rise to the mid-shin. The primary difference between Mexican pointy boots and cowboy boots is the toe. It is elongated by several inches, curls upward, and usually comes to a sharp point. Some versions of these boots use snakeheads in place of the point. The boots can be decorated with rhinestones, glitter, beading, or LED lights.
Tsarouhi are the traditional shoe worn by the Evzones, an elite infantry, of the Greek Presidential Guard. Though the shoes are more often associated with the military, they were the most common form of footwear for men and some women through the early 1800s.
Tsarouhi may be compared to mocassins in their basic design. They are traditionally hand-sewn from stiff leather but with an upturned toe. The outer toe is then decorated with a pompom made from wool. However, the purpose of the pompom is more than decorative. It helps to absorb water from the outside, keeping toes from becoming wet while walking.
The shoes are now rarely worn except in ceremonies, festivals, or traditional Greek dances.
The jutti is a traditional North Indian shoe that remains popular today. The shoe may be worn by both men and women in ceremonies or day-to-day activities. They are thought to date to about 200 BC.
The shoe is a type of slipper with a flat sole and no heel. It is made from leather adorned with sequins, beads, rhinestones, or pieces of glass. They may also be embroidered in bright colors or a thread made from precious metals. The embroidery usually has a floral motif. It is possible, though rare, to find jutti that are undecorated.
Traditionally, jutti have no distinction between right and left shoes. Over time, the shoes will mold to the feet so that they have a perfect fit. The comfort of the shoes is arguably the primary reason the popularity of jutti has remained steady over the course of centuries.
Bast Shoes (Northern Europe)
Bast shoes are basket-style shoes that are made from woven fibers crafted from the bark of trees. They were often worn by people with low means as they were easy and inexpensive to make. However, they also lacked durability. This meant that they needed to be remade or mended often.
Bast shoes hail from the Baltic region, Russia and Ukraine. They were worn from prehistoric times through as recent as the early 20th century. Bast shoes are no longer worn in daily life, but they can sometimes be seen in festivals or as part of traditional dance. Bast shoes are also popular souvenir items.
Khussa/Mojari (Pakistan, India)
Multani Khussa, commonly called khussa, is a type of shoe worn in India and Pakistan. They resemble the arguably more common jutti in both style and design. Khussa are made with one piece of leather that is then highly decorated with shells, mirrors, beads, and even bells. Embroidery using bright threads is also a common decorative technique with khussa.
The mojari is almost identical to the khussa. The primary difference is that khussa have a blunt toe while the toe of the mojari comes to a point. Many artisans use the terms “khussa” and “mojari” interchangeably. Others use the term “khussa” to refer to a woman’s shoe and “mojari” to refer to shoes intended for men.
Like the jutti, the history of these shoes date to about 200 BC. They are still worn today in both casual and formal settings.
Jika-tabi/Tabi Boots (Japan)
Jika-tabi, also known as tabi boots, are boots with divided toes. They were the precursor to the modern-day tabi, which is a type of sock worn with thonged footwear. These boots were made to allow wearers to grasp external soles to reinforce the boots. Those external soles were usually made of straw but could also be made of leather or heavy cloth.
In the early 20th century, the founders of the Bridgestone tire company began producing a rubber sole for tabi boots. These rubbers soles helped to make the boots more durable while remaining flexible. They are still preferred by laborers, such as construction workers and farmers, over tabis for the protection they provide against the elements.
Tabi boots are also used in martial arts. They are specifically worn by those who practice Bujinkan budo taijutsu. They have a practical purpose for runners, walkers, and hikers. Though the jika-tabi can trace its roots to the 15th century, it is still a popular boot in Japan and many places around the globe.
Geta are traditional Japanese flip-flops. The geta-style flip-flops have a thong strap made from fabric that is attached to a flat, wooden base. The outer sole is equipped with one to three wooden teeth that elevate the shoe by two to eight inches. The shoe dates to as late as 3400 BCE. It is thought that they originated in China.
The tall geta were primarily used by fish merchants who wished to keep their feet high above the dirty floors of the fish shops. The shorter geta were typically worn simply to keep feet dry in wet weather. They were seldom worn in snow, but those that were worn in icy conditions might have had blades attached to the teeth.
Though they have a long history, geta are still popular today. They are worn throughout Japan and have found a following in other places around the world by those who desire both comfort and fashion brought by this traditional Japanese footwear.
Babouche Slippers (Morocco)
The babouche is a flat, slipper-like shoe with pointed toes. The traditional babouche has no heel and a toe that curves upward toward the wearer. They are made of soft material that is either bright in color, highly decorated or both.
It is thought that the babouche has its roots in Vietnam rather than Morocco. The lore associated with the shoe was that they were created out of comfortable material that could not withstand rocky terrain. Some believe they were designed to keep women from running away from their husbands. Others state they were designed to keep slaves from running away to freedom.
Regardless of history, the babouche has become a symbolic, traditional symbol of Morocco. They are comfortable, easy-to-wear, and beautiful choices for lounging around the house. Some designers have added hard soles to the babouche so that it can be worn in public with ease.
Birch Bark Shoes (Finland)
Birch bark shoes are basket-woven shoes made from the bark of the birch tree. They were mostly seen in Finland and other northern nations, where birch trees are more prevalent than the fissured bark of the linden tree. Birch bark shoes were made to protect the feet, but they were a short-term solution as they were easily damaged. Still, they were preferred by poorer individuals because they were both easy and cheap to make.
Birch bark shoes are sometimes worn today as house slippers, but they are rarely used outside of the house due to their delicate nature.
(See also: Bast Shoes)
Lapti are the Russian form of bast shoes. They are shoes that have been woven from fibers made from the bark of trees. Lapti were made with a wooden hook called a kodechik that allowed the particular plaited pattern.
Like other bast shoes, Lapti were traditionally worn by those who couldn’t afford sturdy types of footwear. They were so easy to make that there are Russian idioms stating, “Doing business is not like making lapti” and “the man is so drunk he cannot weave bark.” Along with being easy to make, they were very inexpensive. All one needed to form lapti was the kodechik, fibers, and time. Unfortunately, this also meant that the shoes would not last long. Most lapti would begin to fall apart within about two weeks of wear.
These shoes are rarely seen now that leather and synthetic materials are more commonplace. However, some rural Russians may still occasionally wear handwoven Lapti.
(see also: Bast Shoes)
Cowboy Boots (USA)
Cowboy boots are traditional footwear worn to work on ranches and to ride horses. They are often worn by laborers to keep feet protected and secure. The heel of the cowboy boot is cut at an angle to ensure a secure fit in the stirrups of the saddle, while the treadless outer sole creates a surface that is easy for sliding in and out. They are almost exclusively made from hard leather, which ensures they are waterproof and long-lasting.
Though cowboy boots are originally working boots, they have become fashionable to wear in multiple settings. They are comfortable and durable, making them a good choice for those who don’t have the means for multiple styles of shoes. They are also worn to display a love of the western style.
Moccasins (North America)
Moccasins are the traditional footwear of some of the Native American tribes of North America. The earliest functional moccasins were simply pieces of soft leather that were sewn or tied together to cover the foot. The traditional moccasin is soft-soled, which allows for protection against the elements but does not provide the support of modern-day shoes. Some of these shoes had fur lining to help keep feet warm.
Most Native Americans who wore moccasins did not wear them year-round. They were typically only worn during cold weather or in particularly harsh environments. Once moccasins became more popular across North America, some Plains Indians wore hard-soled moccasins to help them travel across the rough terrains. Moccasins were sometimes decorated with beads in intricate patterns.
Moccasins are still worn today, but few of the modern-day moccasins that are seen resemble the traditional, soft-soled shoes. They often have a hard yet flexible sole that is ideal for light walks and driving.
An espadrille is a rope-soled shoe that dates as far back as the 14th century. Espadrilles were worn in some regions of France but are more often associated with Spain as they were popular throughout the country. Espadrilles were mostly worn by peasants because they were simply made using dried grass. Espadrilles are non-gendered shoes that were worn by most workers in the region.
Espadrilles consist of cloth uppers that are seamed into a rope sole. The traditional shoes have a tie, also made from rope, that wraps around the ankle for a secure fit. Though these shoes are made from rope, they tend to be long-lasting due to the special care taken during the manufacturing process.
Today’s espadrilles are worn by people throughout the world. They often have flat soles, but they can sometimes be wedge style with significant height. Some modern espadrilles do not have a tie but have the shape of a canvas loafer with the traditional rope sole.
A klomp, or klompen when using the plural form, is the traditional wooden shoe of the Netherlands. Klompen are whole-foot clogs that are carved out of wood. They have a full toe box, counter and sole. They are slightly curved to mimic the shape of the foot. They have a slight turn at the toe and a small heel.
Klompen date to about the 13th century. They were worn by both men and women for warmth and for foot protection. Indeed, some Dutch people can still be seen wearing klompen for yard work and other types of labor. They are strong, durable, and surprisingly comfortable.
Most klompen that are purchased today are bought as souvenir items. However, they are also used in traditional dress costumes for festivals, parades, and celebrations. They are regularly used for folk dancing as well.
Sami reindeer boots (Finland, Norway, Sweden)
Sami reindeer boots are traditional boots made from reindeer hide. They are primarily worn in Norway, Finland, and Sweden, where temperatures can become very cold and where reindeer are prevalent. Sami boots are also known as finnesko or nutukas.
Sami boots are made with the soft hide of a reindeer, with the fur facing the outside rather than the inside. The outer sole was historically constructed of pieces of reindeer hide sewn in different directions to aid in traction on snow and ice. A pad of grass was used to help keep feet dry.
Today’s sami boots are still made to protect feet and provide warmth. However, most sami boots that are worn today have rubber soles. It is common to wear a felt sock with modern sami boots to aid warm and dry feet.
Beaded boots (Africa)
Beaded boots from Africa are as varied in style and decor as the continent is varied in landscape and culture. When people think of beaded boots, they most often think of those boots from the Yoruba culture. These boots are elaborately beaded in multiple colors. Some of the decoration is geometric, some is floral, and some displays a scene.
Beaded footwear was a part of the ceremonial costuming worn by the Yoruba king during public appearances in the 18th century. Laws prohibited commoners from wearing such intricate designs at the time. Therefore they were seen only on royalty. The beads, which were mostly made from imported glass, also appeared on loafers.
Today, beaded sandals are much more popular than beaded boots. They are fashionable items that are worn in Nigeria and Benin, but they are also popular to the fashion-conscious around the world.
A sabot is a clog that was traditionally worn in France. They may be fully wooden clogs, or they may be clogs made with heavy leather attached to a wooden sole. The word sabotage is derived from the sabot as a reference to the loud noise the shoe makes when worn.
Sabots were common in the 16th through 19th centuries. They were mostly worn by lower-class laborers. Sabots continued to be worn through the 20th century but slowly became less often made entirely from wood and more often covered in leather. Modern-day sabots are almost all made from leather and have very thin wooden soles.
Sabots are wooden shoes similar to Dutch klompen in design, though the decoration is quite different. While klompen are typically brown or yellow with a flag or banner design. The French sabot is usually painted with a landscape scene, a floral pattern, or left blank.
Now that you know everything there is to know about these traditional shoes, you can call yourself a footwear expert. However, there is still one topic that has not been covered: shoes worn for special occasions. Keep reading to learn about the shoes typically worn in specific environments and for special events.
Formal shoes can refer to any shoes that are worn in formal atmospheres. These are sometimes referred to as “dress shoes.” They may refer to those shoes that are worn in business environments, celebrations, or even a night out on the town. The different type of event determines the type of formal shoe that is worn.
Formal shoes may be available in any color. However, it is standard to wear neutral tones in dress shoes. This is especially true when worn in an office environment. The typical colors for dress shoes are black, brown, grey, navy, or burgundy.
Leather is the most popular material for formal shoes, but man-made synthetics are becoming more common. Many formal shoes are slipped on the foot, but some have ties, buckles, or, rarely, snaps.
The opposite of a formal shoe is usually an athletic shoe. Sneakers, running shoes, and trainers would not be considered formal shoes. The same is true for most slippers and sandals. Still, there are some of these shoes that are made to be more formal and would be more appropriate at a party than on the beach.
Examples of formal shoes include but are not limited to brogues, buck shoes, court shoes, high heels, pumps, penny loafers, and wingtips.
Casual shoes are those shoes that are not worn in business or dressier environments. These are the most common shoe that people wear when they are not working. Casual shoes may refer to a large number of styles. Some of these are athletic shoes, sandals, flip-flops, slippers, and certain types of loafers.
Casual shoes are popular because they provide protection to the foot while also remaining comfortable. Some casual shoes offer other benefits, like arch support or foot correction. For the most part, casual shoes offer a barrier between the foot and the ground but don’t necessarily provide any further defense.
Athletic shoes are among the most popular casual shoes. These shoes may be general trainers or sneakers, or they can be specialized for a given sport. Tennis shoes, basketball shoes, football cleats, golf cleats, and running shoes are examples of those shoes that would only be worn while the sport is being played.
Sneakers are worn in casual office settings, around the house, for a casual day out, or for yard work. They are all-purpose casual shoes that are appropriate in almost any non-formal environment.
Sandals and flip-flops are usually worn during warm weather. They are popular choices in places where shoes might be unnecessary, like at the beach or when having a casual backyard picnic.
Similarly, shoes like Crocs can be worn in these casual environments because they offer protection from the elements and some light support. However, they would be inappropriate in dressier settings.
Casual shoes may be made from any type of material. Leather, synthetics, fabric, and rubber are all very popular choices for casual shoes. Some casual shoes may be made of suede, have fur or plastic.
Business / Work Shoes
Business shoes and work shoes are those shoes that are worn primarily in work environments. These shoes can vary based on the type of work being performed. For instance, a shoe that would be appropriate for an accountant would not be the best option for someone who is working construction.
Workers in environments such as factories, construction, and other forms of labor might need steel-toed shoes. These shoes offer extra protection in case a heavy item is dropped on the foot. Just as these workers might need to wear hard hats for their heads, they need to make sure their toes are protected. Steel-toed shoes are often boots, but they can be found in some loafers and sneakers too.
Those individuals who are on their feet much of the day need shoes that offer a great deal of sole support. Nurses, teachers, retail clerks, restaurant workers, and factory line workers all need shoes that keep their arches from falling and provide adequate cushion for long days.
Office workers are often encouraged to wear formal shoes or dress shoes. Many offices have somewhat strict dress codes, which require a type of formal shoe that compliments the clothing but doesn’t always provide function. Pumps, heels, loafers, Oxfords, and wingtips are among the most common.
College shoes may refer to shoes that celebrate a specific college. Usually, these shoes are athletic shoes, trainers, or sandals that are offered in school colors. Many companies specialize in making shoes that are available in the most popular college colors. Most colleges and universities have an option for students to purchase shoes through their athletic department or school store.
In most cases, when people talk about college shoes, they are referring to those shoes that are worn while at college. Believe it or not, there are specific shoes that are needed for college use.
Shoes that are comfortable, versatile, and durable are needed for daily wear. Students don’t have time to think about which shoes they are going to wear with their clothes when they head to class. They also don’t have much room for multiple pairs of shoes in their small residence hall closets. A comfortable loafer or sneaker is the right choice for most college students.
Other shoes needed by all college students who live in a residence hall are flip-flops. These shoes, often called shower shoes by those in the know, are specifically for wearing while in the shower. They protect feet against any fungus that could be present while showering.
Lastly, college students should make sure they have one pair of athletic shoes and one pair of dress shoes. Having all of these shoes available ensures that the college student is ready regardless of the special occasion that arises.
Party / Evening Shoes
Party and evening shoes are those shoes worn to celebrations, clubs, parties, and other events that are dressier than casual nights out but not necessarily as formal as office wear. Party and evening shoes range widely depending on the kind of clothing worn and the event itself.
Those who want to wear shoes that are comfortable for dancing or walking through what is likely going to be a long night might consider dressy loafers or slippers to wear with their clothes.
Depending on the event, shoes can be understated or daring. Loafers and slippers may be available with sequins, studs, jeweled pieces, and vibrant colors. Some may even have LED lights, which are great for wearing to clubs.
Those who don’t mind a bit of discomfort or who will be sitting much of the night might opt for party and evening shoes that value fashion over function. High heels, like stilettos, are not known for providing comfort to the wearer. However, they are known for being beautiful accessories that add a wow factor to any ensemble.
In order to take advantage of the fashion of high heels while retaining some comfort, evening shoes with thicker or even wedge heels might be preferred. Kitten heels are also a good alternative to stilettos.
Party and evening shoes may be made from any materials. Leather, textiles, synthetics, and fabric are all common for evening shoes. Some even use irregular materials like plastic and hemp.
Sports shoes are athletic shoes that are worn for specific sports. These are casual shoes that are only worn when participating in said sport. They are designed to provide the right amount of function and support for the athlete.
Sports shoes are as varied as they are specialized. For example, a runner would not be able to perform their best in golf cleats, though both shoes are made for sports. That said, sports shoes do have some things in common.
Most sports shoes are made from leather. They can be found in synthetic, man-made materials for those who prefer not to wear items derived from animals. Unfortunately, man-made materials do not have the same strength or durability as leather shoes. Most sports shoes also have soles that are made from rubber.
Sports shoes do not always lace-up, but that is a common feature. They also provide the right amount of padding to the soles and sides of the foot for the sport being performed. Sports shoes cover the toes completely and have full heels. The majority of sports shoes do not cover the ankle.
There are many specific, key differences between sports shoes. A running shoe is light so that racers can have the edge they need while running. As a running shoe, wrestling shoes are very light but also flexible.
Football, baseball, and golf shoes all have cleats on their outer soles for better traction while performing outdoors. These cleats are usually rubber but can also be metal spikes.
Basketball and football shoes may have high tops to give the ankle the best protection. Both basketball and tennis shoes have outer soles that focus on shock absorption for quick stops and starts.
What occasion could be more special than a wedding? These happy events require special shoes whether the wearer is a bride, a groom, a celebrant, another member of the bridal party, or an attendee.
The bride typically, though not always, wears a dress for the wedding. The most common shoes that accompany the wedding dress are white, satin pumps. These are popular choices, but they are not the only choice. Some brides prefer kitten heels, stilettos, sandals, or slings. Some brides even prefer to be married in boots or sneakers! It is truly up to the bride to decide.
The most common shoe for the groom is an Oxford, loafer, or monk strap. It is traditional at weddings in the United States for the shoe to be understated and match the tuxedo’s color. However, as with brides, grooms should not feel as though they must adhere to cultural norms. It is rarer, though not wildly uncommon, to see grooms wearing boots with their tuxedos.
Other members of the wedding party generally wear some version of the shoe worn by the celebrants. Satin pumps in neutral colors or in shades that are dyed to match the wedding colors are traditional choices. Loafers and monk straps are also generally expected.
Wedding attendees should plan to wear formal or dress shoes unless the wedding is a non-traditional or themed event. In general, any dress shoe that is appropriate for a business environment is also appropriate for a wedding.
Shoes are a part of who we are. They affect the way we walk, work, and exercise. The right shoe can make or break an outfit or even an entire day.
Now that you know everything there is to know about what makes a shoe, the different types of shoes, when certain shoes are worn, and why others were developed, we want to hear your feedback. Do you have any questions about shoes that weren’t answered here? Do you have more information about shoes that you would like to share? Ask your questions or leave your comments here!