Anatomy of Shoe

Why do I need to understand shoe anatomy?

Shoe structure can be divided into two different parts, the upper and lower. By better understanding each of these parts, you will be able to select the best fitting shoes for your feet.

What is the upper of the shoe?

The upper is basically all the sections of the shoe above the sole. These parts are usually attached with stitches, or molded, to become a single unit before the insole and outsole are attached. The upper contains the front of the shoe (vamp), the sides and back of the shoe (quarters) and the lining.

A variety of materials, synthetic and natural, are used to make the uppers. Leather is a popular choice, because it allows the skin to breathe and keeps the feet at a constant temperature. Leather can easily crease over surfaces while still allowing the foot to function properly. Synthetics usually display elastic properties. This means that the shoe won’t adjust to the foot shape the same way that leather will. Because of the cheaper cost to mass-produce, this is the most common material choice in shoes today.


A key piece of the upper is the vamp. This piece of material covers the top of the foot, including the tongue piece and the toes. It gives the shoe its shape and protects the toes. A lot of times this part of the shoe will be made of decorative material to add to the design. Vamps come in various forms for the many varieties of shoes.


Quarters are the upper part of the shoe located behind the vamp.  They cover the sides and back of the shoe. The topline of the quarter are the edges of the sides and back of the shoe. In most athletic shoes, the topline is padded and called a collar. The heel section of the quarter is commonly reinforced to support the rear foot.

Toe Cap

These protective pieces are either stitched over, or replace the front of the vamp (toe box). This area of the shoe is the part that covers the toes and retains the shape of the forefoot to allow an adequate amount of room for the toes to function properly. They’re often made into decorative pieces.


If you’re shoes are made properly, the quarters and vamps will be lined for comfort and durability. This material can be made of fabric, synthetics or leathers, and they can cover the full length, three quarters or just the heel section of the shoe. Again, because of the cheap cost of mass-production, synthetics are used the most.

What is the sole of the shoe?

The sole of the shoe contains the insole, outsole and shank. The insole is the layer of material between the outsole and the sole of the foot inside the shoe. It provides a stand so the foot can function. It also separates the upper from the lower. Many times the insole will be treated with certain additives that help stop bacterial growth.

The outsole is the bottom part of the shoe that is exposed to wear and abrasion. Depending on the type of shoe, it is made in different flexibilities and thicknesses. The ideal outsole should be made of waterproof material, be durable and be able to prevent slippage. Leather is not a good choice for gripping, so synthetics are favored. Sometimes two or more materials will be used to give the outsole a hard wearing surface, and a softer midsole for comfort.

The area that bridges the heel and ball tread is the shank. It can be made of wood, fiberglass, metal or plastic. It reinforces the shoe and prevents it from collapsing or distorting due to wear. If the shoe heels are low or wedged, they won’t require this because the shoe is less likely to become distorted.

What type of heel should I look for?

A heel is simply the raised material under the back of the shoe. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, materials and heights. Heels raise the rear of the shoe off of the ground. Look for a lower heel to keep your feet comfortable and functioning properly. If you must wear high heels, limit time in them to avoid foot problems like hammertoes, bunions, metatarsalgia and neuromas.

Do you have any other questions about the anatomy of the shoe? Call Waukesha Foot Specialists at (262) 544-0700, or visit our website. Dr. Amy Miller-Guhl, Dr. David Guhl and the staff at our Wisconsin office are always happy to help. We proudly serve the Waukasha, New Berlin, Brookfield and Milwaukee areas.

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