The upper is the part of the shoe that goes around your foot covering your toes, the side of your foot, the top of your foot, and your heel. The upper is one of the most important parts of a shoe because it’s what keeps your foot latched to the bottom. Without the upper, you would literally walk right out of your shoes, which would defeat the purpose of wearing shoes at all.
Luckily, all sneakers these days have uppers. But not all uppers are equal. Some uppers—like those made out of real leather—last longer and fit the foot more comfortable. What’s the best bonus of the upper? It’s the part of the shoe that is stylish and helps you rock the look you want. We think this makes the upper one of our favorite parts of a shoe. Don’t tell the insole.
While flip flops didn’t get the memo, the heel is actually one of the crucial parts of a shoe. The heel is the back part of the sneaker, like you probably guessed. It can be made out of the same material as the upper, or it could be its own material. Suede accents, anyone? The heel is the part of the shoe that can really make or break how comfortable a pair of sneakers is. You know what we’re talking about if you’ve ever worn shoes that dig into your heels, maybe even making you bleed. But a well-made heel keeps your foot nice and comfortable and can extend the lifespan of your shoes. Solid heels will stay upright and firm over years of usage.
Curveball: the toebox actually doesn’t have to be box-shaped. Sometimes the toebox is round or pointed. The toebox is the part of the shoe that surrounds your toes and provides support up front. A quality toebox can provide extra protection (definitely a necessity for crowds).
The toebox provides some key support for the upper, and it can help the upper last longer and withstand more wear and tear. Plus you can get sneakers with stylish toeboxes that enhance your favorite look.
Don’t worry, this tongue won’t lick you. It’s not that kind of tongue. The shoe parts tongue is what sits between your foot and the laces. The tongue should be snug but not too tight or loose, so you have a comfortable fit.
Also, the tongue is the only part of a shoe that should move. You’ll move the tongue around to adjust your laces and get the right fit. If you can move any other shoe parts around, it might be time to start looking into new sneakers.
The insole is the part of the shoe where your foot actually sits. The goal of the insole is to give you, the wearer, optimal comfort, stability, and support. Not all insoles are created equal though. Some are pretty basic, while some provide advanced cushioning and support. But one of the best things about the insole is you can take it out. So if you don’t like the support you’re getting, you can trade it out for a new one. We wish everything worked like that.
Sole of a shoe or the soul of a shoe? We think it’s probably both. All of the parts of a sneaker come together in one place: the sole. The sole is what provides the most stability and is key in the lifespan of the shoe. You can walk right through low-quality soles and the bottom of sneakers and be out a pair of sneakers in no time. But with a quality sole, you can keep rocking those sneakers for years.
The outsole is the very bottom of the sole, and that’s the part that will touch the ground. The best sneakers have a fun pattern or at least some traction on the outsole. High-quality soles will be both durable and practical. You may want to sing some soul music to express your feelings about the sole of a shoe.
The Bottom Line
So there’s the guide to the essential anatomy of a shoe. For sneaker aficionados, there are many tiny details you can learn more about (see: aglet). But once you know the essential shoe parts, you know more about what you’re putting on your feet to make more informed sneaker decisions. Now you know to look out for high-quality uppers, durable soles, and strong heels. Happy sneaker-wearing!