We are all guilty of eyeing the shoe candy during fashion week but have you ever stopped to wonder how shoes are actually made? There is more to it than meets the eye! Let us save you the trouble and give you a quick breakdown of the shoemaking process and the shoe lingo that goes with it. Believe us when we say the next time you splurge on a pair of Manolos, you’ll be even more appreciative of their beauty.
Shoemaking is a work of art with ancient origins and even today, in the age of automation, it remains a painstakingly manual process. In history, one cordwainer would create shoes for the whole village. This refined the level of craftsmanship but it also took extremely long to complete the work of just one pair of shoes. After shoemaking became somewhat standardized in the 18th century, the public was spoilt for choice. The style and fashion of shoes started to take centre stage in the early 1900’s, which is the same century that produced the renowned Manolo Blahnik Hangisi pumps- immortalized by Carrie Bradshaw in SATC – and the circle of our never ending shoe obsession was complete!
Although shoes come in a variety of materials, high quality shoes are always made out of carefully sourced and tanned premium leather or quality fabrics like satin and tweed. There are many different compartments to a shoe and the production of a single pair of shoes generally requires over 200 actions from design to finish. While machine made shoes might beat even the highest skilled cordwainer in terms of speed, beautifully handmade and bespoke shoes can keep artisans busy for weeks on end.
The perfect shoe should fit like a glove and eventually mould to the shape of your feet; allowing for more comfort over time. Equally, the durability of a good shoe depends on the material, craftsmanship, manufacturing process and maybe most importantly, the aftercare. The creation of shoes involves specialised methods in numerous stages. The first step is the shoe design followed by the preparation of the shoe lasts (pictured below). Then, skilled artisans carefully cut and stamp the pieces of leather needed to create the shoe. During the next step, the pieces are sewn together and assembled before the finishing touches are added in the shoe room. Finally, quality checks are conducted to make sure the end product is of the highest standard and ready to adorn your feet. Good shoes deserve the best treatment and following purchase, the longevity of any shoe is very much in the hands of its owner. The better you take care of them, the longer you will be able to enjoy them; it’s a win-win really!
And for when you feel like impressing the most seasoned cobbler out there by dropping some shoe jargon, here’s our little shoe dictionary:
Sole - Any part of the shoe below your feet such as the inner and outer sole as well as the heel. While the inner sole should be made out of supple material for increased comfort, the outer sole is the first point of contact with the ground. The best example is the signature red sole of Christian Louboutin shoes. Sadly, this is also the part of the shoe that faces the most wear and tear so your best option is to add a protective sole -as means of precaution- and to resole/re-heel regularly to keep your shoes in pristine condition.
Upper - The first part you would gaze upon when looking at a shoe and the section that covers the upside of your foot. This is the part where a shoe designer’s creativity comes to life and where for instance the jewelled buckles on a pair of Manolo’s rests.
Vamp - The vamp is the front half between your toes and ankle that can cover your foot or show toe cleavage. For example, the barely there vamp of a strappy sandal and the high vamp of a brogue.
Toe box - Officially the covered area your toes fit into, and it is also to first indicate whether a shoe is ill fitting or not. If the first thing that comes to your mind when trying on shoes is ‘ouch!’ – then abort mission immediately! And if you did make a little mistake of buying pumps a size too small, depending on the type of material, the toe box can be stretched to allow a bit more room to wiggle your toes.
Insole - The insole is the layer inside the shoe that is (usually) made out of a cushioned bit of soft leather. It is also the part that can come unglued and slide around under the pressure of hot, sweaty feet. Not to worry, it’s less dramatic than it looks and easily fixed!
Shank - Just below the insole, the shank is the support that runs inside the bottom of the shoe to help keep its structure. Often made of metal - particularly in high heels or stilettos – it’s also the part of the shoe that bears the most weight.
Heel - To quote Charlotte Olympia: “the higher the heel the better you feel.” It’s the part of the shoe that can lift you higher, quite literally. Heaven forbid that the heel of your favourite designer shoe snaps in two, but if doomsday strikes then don’t rush to throw them away. We can create new heels and you’ll forget it ever happened in the first place.
Heel Breast - The Heel Breast is the inner length of the heel that is facing forward – like the classically gold painted side of a Rupert Sanderson heel.
Top piece - Also known as a ‘heel cap’ or ‘top lift’, this is the last part at the bottom of the heel that is in direct contact with the ground. This part of the shoe weathers the worst of the wear, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to have these replaced regularly.
Counter and quarter - An inseparable duo that make up the very back of your high heels, the counter is a stiff piece of material in the lining while the quarter is the back of the shoe that touches your foot. Unfortunately, it’s also the spot that causes most blisters. Again, this can usually be solved with a bit of expert shoe stretching.
While you’ve just had a little peek into the life of a cordwainer and now master the correct shoe lingo, The Restory is also here to answer all your shoe queries. Don’t wait to contact our Client Services team for advice on the aftercare of your shoes or to book a collection for that broken heel. Prevention is often better than cure!