Swing Shoes 101
Footwear Terminology Glossary
Just what IS the difference between:
--a Captoe and a Wingtip?
--a Medallion and a Perforation?
--a Blucher and a Balmoral?
--a Mary Jane and a Pump?
Everybody asks us about these terms...
So we made a page to explain a whole bunch of stuff you'll want to know if you're a shoe lover. Most of these terms are those that would come up in conversation with a swing dancer, therefore you won't find anything about flip-flops or cross-trainers here.
A Wingtip is a shoe that has a kind of W design at the toe that looks like the letter W. See [C] in the photo below. It is called the "Flying Wing", hence, Wing Tip.
A Captoe is a shoe that has a cap at the toe that looks like the letter D. See [D] in the photo below.
It is possible that a Converse All Star (or "Chucks") could be considered a Captoe.
A Medallion is that little doohickey on the toe of many fancy dress shoes and is always symmetrical. It is made by punching small holes in the shoe.
Usually a Medallion is purely ornamental, but is sometimes used to cool the foot by allowing air to flow through the holes that make up the design.
Brogueing (or Perforations)
Brogueing or "Perforations" refers to the holes in shoes that make an ordinary shoe look snazzy.
Legend holds that holes in shoes were put there by the Scottish who had to step in and out of bogs all day (back before malls were built) and they needed a shoe that would allow good drainage. This is sometimes dismissed as bunk since holes would also allow water IN.
As we're no longer living in bogs, today brogueing is used to emphasize the seams that define the design of a shoe.
A Balmoral (or "Bal") refers to the way an Oxford style shoe ties up. See the upside-down T to the right? The horizontal line on the T is a good representation of the way a Balmoral is sewn at the bottom of the lace-up area. See [A] in the photo below. A Bal is far less adjustable than a Blucher because the bottom of the lace-up part of the shoe is sewn down, so the part of the shoe around the ball of the foot can only be one circumference and cannot be adjusted smaller or larger.
Because of the lesser adjustability of a Bal, it is not as easy to fit people with narrow or wide feet.
When properly tied, only the tip of the shoe's tongue can be seen on a Balmoral. (see Oxford below)
"Balmoral" refers to the castle in England of the same name and comes from Prince Albert taking an extended holiday at the castle in the mid 1800's while wearing a pair of boots made for him that had this type of construction for the lacing.
A Blucher refers to the way a Derby style shoe ties up. See the brackets to the right? That is a good representation of the way a Blucher acts. A Blucher is far more adjustable than a Balmoral because the bottom of the lace-up part of the shoe is not sewn down, so it can be pulled tight or left more open in the area around the ball of the foot. See [B] in the photo below.
Because of the greater adjustability of a Blucher, it is much easier to fit people with narrow or wide feet than a Balmoral.
The tongue on a Blucher is usually just an extension of the vamp of the shoe. The vamp is the part of the shoe directly over the ball of the foot. (see Derby below)
Named after Prussian field marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Duke of Wahlstadt (1742-1819) who ordered these for his soldiers (he fought against Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo).
Oxfords & Derbys
These are two terms that signify the construction of a shoe:
--The Oxford is constructed by laying the toe over the vamp (the vamp is the part of the shoe over the ball of the foot) and then laying the vamp over the middle of the shoe. This will result in a Balmoral style shoe.
--The Derby is constructed by laying both the toe cap or wing and the "Quarter" (the middle part of the shoe that holds the facing with the eyelets for the shoelaces) over the vamp. This will result in a Blucher style shoe.
Spectator refers to two contrasting tones being used in the design of the shoe. Two-tone wingtips and captoes are refered to as being Spectators. Spectator shoes were associated with Jazz musicians during the 1920's and 1930's and are used today for dressy and festive occasions in Latino and African American communities and by dancers and musicians reviving the classic styles of the Jazz and Swing eras.
A Saddle Shoe is usually made in a lighter tone (white or tan) with a piece of leather sewn across the middle top of the shoe down to the sole that is reminiscent of the saddle on a horse. The "Saddle" part is traditionally darker than the rest of the shoe (black, brown or red).
Wedges or Wedgies
Popular in the 1940's and revived in the 1970's these are women's shoes, often open toed and open backed, that have a one-piece sole that is shaped like a wedge. They can be slip on, lace up or buckled. Click here to see how to properly size your heel on a Wedge.
Loafers and Moccasins
Loafers and Moccasins are slip-on shoes usually with rounded fronts that are built more for comfort than style. Often the entire shoe is constructed from just 2 pieces of leather which form a bag-like shoe that consists of a bowl shaped piece of leather that has an "apron" of leather sewn to the top front.
A loafer that has no ornamentation across the middle (nothing to put a penny in).
Laced shoes that have construction on the vamp and toe similar to moccasins - but are not slip-ons. Dress shoes and work boots often have this construction.
Women's shoes that have a strap across the middle to hold the shoe on the foot.
Women's shoes that slip on. Normally they are dress shoes and have a closed toe and sides.
Nappa, Patent, Suede & Nubuck
--Nappa Leather is the smooth, slightly shiny leather found on most dress shoes.
--Patent Leather is Nappa Leather that has been coated with a resin varnish and heated to form a shiny mirror-like finish (modern patent is often plastic or plastic-coated leather).
--Suede is leather that has been sanded to a nappy finish.
--Nubuck (or Nubuc) refers to leather that has been "bucked" or brushed to a velvety nap. Similar to suede, but finer, so that it feels chamois-like on the surface.
A Flat is a women's shoe with no heel.
A Platform refers to a shoe with a thickened sole that is literally a platform under the shoe.
Slingbacks, Mules & Slides
A Slingback is a women's shoe with a strap going around the heel.
A Mule is a women's shoe with no back.
A Slide is a Mule that is constructed with just one piece of fabric going over the foot - open toed.
Parts and Processes
Peep-toes, Cutouts & Cutwork
Peep-toe refers to a shoe with an open toe, usually cut out rounded or V-shaped.
Cutouts generally refers to any large openings on the sides of women's footwear and the edges of cutouts are often finished with stitching or a "bead" of material.
Cutwork generally refers to stencil-like designs cut into women's footwear, usually on the front or top side of the shoe.
Suede vs. Chrome Leather Soles
Leather for shoes can be preserved through vegetable tanning (often oak, spruce, mimosa, mangrove or acorns), or can be tanned with Mineral Salts. Vegetable tanned leather is yellowish or beige in color, while salt tanned leather is greyish-blue.
The soles and lining of most leather shoes are made with vegetable tanned leather, but the bottoms of many dance shoes are finished with Suede that has been tanned with Chromium Salts, hence the term "Chrome Leather". This is thought to make the suede bottoms more durable.
It is the opinion of the folks at Aris Allen (from years of in-the-field testing) that there isn't a whole lot of difference, except that regular suede can pick up and retain more dirt from the floor and will get almost mirror-like on the bottom, making it easier to slide and spin while dancing! (we agree).
Suede, Nubuck, Nappa, Patent
All finishes used on leather. Suede is vegetable tanned leather that has a rough nap. Nubuck is similar to suede, but much finer and velvety. A Nappa finish is shiny, but not too shiny, what one might call regular shoe leather. Patent is see-your-face-in-it shiny; a process that originally involved applying a linseed oil based dressing (we have also heard of using a resin coating and baking it to a high-gloss finish). Nowadays patent is often achieved by coating the leather with plastic. Most patent footwear is actually just plastic.
Like clothing, most shoes are hand made. Bespoke refers to custom-made one-at-a-time footwear - often the shoe maker will keep the last that was custom made for the customer in their shop, expecting that they will order another pair. The term Bespoke is also used to describe custom made clothing.
The zig-zag crocodile teeth style of cutting on the edge of some shoes is called Gimping. It is machine cut, much like a sewing machine and serves not only as a decoration, but to make weakly cut edges more palatable. Also called pinking or saw-toothed.
The Welt is a strip of leather that is sewn to the outside of the bottom part of the uppers and then bent outward and sewn onto the top outside of the sole. If the shoe is sewn directly to the sole, the part of the sole that sticks out around the shoe can be referred to as the Welt.
It is very difficult to dance in shoes with a thick or strong welt, as going up on the toes or leaning to either side will cause a "dancing on snow shoes" effect that minimizes your ability to feel the floor. Men's ballroom shoes traditionally are made with no sole sticking out at all and because of this can have a rather feminine look.
Describes the finish on the top (topline) of a shoe made by sewing a strip of fabric along it. Aris Allen Women's Oxfords have this finish. It is rarely used on modern shoes.
A steel Spring or Shank is inserted between the insole and the sole of the shoe and gives the shoe support and keeps the heel from wobbling. It is not spiral, rather it is flat and has a ridge in it to give it extra stability.
An Aglet is the protective tip on the end of a shoelace.
A shape or form, usually made of wood (often oak or hornbeam), that represents the space inside a shoe. It is used (upside down - heel up) to construct the shoe and give it shape.
A simplified explanation of footwear construction:
After the upper has been sewn (it often looks like a hat worn by poker dealers - with a bill & a strap in the back) the shoe is finished by placing the upper around the last, pulling it with pliers until it's tight, hammering tacks into the last to hold it in place (that's why lasts are wood) and then hammering the upper until it conforms to the shape of the last. The bottom edges of the shoe are then trimmed (and for welted footwear, the welt is sewn on) and the sole is glued and sewn to the upper. After the glue dries, the last is then pulled out so the footbed (or insole) can be inserted. No matter what fancy designs you make on the upper, the last determines how good or bad a shoe will look, much the same way clothes fit... if they fit funny, it doesn't matter what color or material your shirt or pants are, they will still just look terrible. And if you have an ugly last, the shoe can be made of the finest materials and fanciest design and still be ugly!
Before the Middle Ages, shoemakers made individual lasts for the left and right foot. During the Middle Ages, this practice was lost and most shoes weren't even made on a last. If a last was used it was usually the same one for both the left and right shoes. At the beginning of the 1800's the asymmetrical last regained favor and shoes fit much better than before.
Your local cobbler can dye existing shoes any color you wish. The process that's used when done properly is to strip the existing color off with acid - right down to the grey leather, then apply the color you want. After shining, it is virtually impossible to tell that the new color wasn't the original. We have seen this done to a black pair of captoes that the owner wanted white. Improperly done is when you buy a bottle of shoe dye and apply it to your shoes and it cracks after it dries when you walk in them.
Shoes can be stretched by a cobbler who inserts a shoe stretcher into the shoe, moistens the upper and turns a screw which opens the stretcher to widen the shoe. It is stretched for a period between a few minutes to overnight.
Why doesn't everybody know their exact shoe size? First, because there is no standard global system - you can wear one size in Europe, a different one in Australia, also different number sizes in Asia, the U.S. and in England. Second, because of a practice as old as the village shoemaker and his own personal size numbering system, big companies today (mostly athletic footwear manufacturers) will inspire customer loyalty by making sure their sizing system doesn't exactly match anyone else's sizing. Aris Allen is not so proprietary! They strive to make sure their sizing matches closely to the big dress shoe manufacturer's system of making sure you fit the same size in any brand.
Shoemakers & Cobblers
Shoemakers make shoes, Cobblers fix them.
The author of this little shoe terms compendium has only been in the shoemaking business since the mid-1990's and is not an expert in the field and has simplified most of the terms for brevity and simplicity's sake. It is not meant to be the last word on the subject.