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Glossary of Shoe Terms



Aglet - A metal or plastic tag at the end of a shoelace. The aglet makes lacing easier and it protects the lace from unraveling. Historically, the aglet took a more ornamental form than it does today.

Algonquin Toe - Named after the Algonquin Indian tribe for having designed it in the eighteenth century, the 'Algonquin Toe' (also referred to as the Split Toe) is constructed by joining two pieces of leather together at the 'vamp' and 'welt' of the shoe.

Alligator Skin - A reptile hide featuring a wide, boxed print, coming from the Alligator. Alligator skin has long been the most prestigious type of exotic leather. Known for its range of size and clean scales, alligator skin can be used for anything from small leather goods to furniture, and is most commonly found on shoes, belts, handbags and watchstraps.

Anaconda Skins - Anaconda skin was commercialized when the State of California stopped permitting the trade of python skin products. Over time, the fuller body and the larger scale pattern of the anaconda skin relative to python skin, generated a market for them in their own right. Anaconda skin is now commonly used for handbags, men's belts and small leather goods.

Antiquing - A type of leather finish that creates a contrasting, rubbed-off appearance.

Apron Toe - Unlike many shoe terms, an Apron toe is actually what it sounds like. It can be recognized by the visible edges or stitching that finishes off the toe and forms a sort of apron along the shoe’s front.

Arch - The high, curved part of the sole of the foot, located between the ball of the foot and the heel. This term can also refer to the raised area of the insole of the shoe, which is meant to pad and provide support for the arch of the foot.

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Back Seam - The vertical seam at the center of the back of a shoe or boot.

Ball - The padded area of the foot between the big toe and the arch of the foot.

Balmorals - Also Known as Oxfords

Balmorals (or 'Bals') are typically ankle-high, front-laced shoes, wherein the bottom of the shoe's lacing is sewn to the front of the shoes throat, creating a closed 'V' shape at the bottom of the lacing. When tied, the Balmoral's tongue is completely concealed, except for its tip. It is said that this style received its name and popularity after Prince Albert was seen wearing such a shoe during an extended holiday at the Balmoral castle.

Bespoke - A truly bespoke shoe is made on a last that has been custom-made for an individual, rather than one of the standard lasts that used for 99.999% of the shoes in the world. In addition, a bespoke shoe customer gets to choose most every detail of construction, from major choices like the leather to details like heel type.

Bicycle Toe - A type of toe characterized by two stitched straight line accents, so named because of their similarity to professional bicycling shoe detailing.

Blake Stitched - In a shoe that is Blake stitched, the sole is attached directly to the upper of the shoe, rather than to an intermediary welt. This makes for a lightweight shoe with the sole thinner and more flexible, but by definition less robust.

Blucher - A shoe with two side panels or "quarters" which are laced together over the tongue. The lacing is 'open-throat' (not stitched together at the bottom) and allows for more adjustment or 'give' around the instep than 'closed-throat' 'Oxford 'V'-shaped lacing. Also known as Derby or Gibson.

Boat Shoe - A type of shoe originally meant to be worn aboard a boat, usually with a siped, non-slip outsole, often with side lacing details, almost always a casual shoe you can wear with or without socks.

Bologna Construction - In Bologna construction, the upper is folded back upon itself and sewn into a sort of tube before it it put onto the last. After lasting, a soft insole is inserted, and the upper construction is stitched to the outsole in a manner similar to Blake construction (ie, the stitching will appear on the inside of the shoe). The resulting shoe, if it is done well, is slim and very flexible.

Boot - Any shoe that comes above the ankle. Boots can be formal or casual, and are often quite utilitarian in their design and are associated with certain trades or leisure activites -- such as steel-toe construction boots, or motorcycle boots.

Break - The natural crease created across the vamp of the shoe from everyday wear.

Brogue - Also Known as Wingtips - A 'heavy' balmoral, or oxford-style shoe that flaunts ample 'pinking' (perforations or zig-zag detailing) and 'perforations' in order to accentuate the look of the shoe's seams.

Brogueing - A term that refers to the perforations or small punches that can be used to decorate a shoe. All those holes on a wingtip? That's brogueing. Also known as Decorative perforations.

Full Brogue

Semi Brogue or Half Brogue

Buckle - A clasp at the end of a length of fabric or leather that joins one end of the material to the other.

Burnish - The process of buffing a shoe surface to acheive an antiquing effect of the leather.

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Caiman Skin - Caiman skins have been widely touted in the handbag sections of department stores and on cowboy boots in Western wear stores. The bellies, hornbacks, flanks and tails of caiman skins are all available on the market for a variety of uses.

Calf Leather - The skin of very young cattle which offers fine grain, suppleness and exceptional durability. A versatile leather that can be used for virtually every type of shoe.

Cap Toe - A type of toe style with a full toe overlay and a straight stitching line across the top part of the toe, often seen in dress shoes

Cemented Construction - A construction using specialised adhesives, in place of stitched welts, to bond the upper parts and soles, thus achieving lightness and flexibility.

Chelsea Boot - Type of boot, usually ankle height, in a pull on style with elastic side panels, or double-gore construction. Popularized in England.

Chukka Boot - A boot style with laces, usually with a plain toe, and is the height of the ankle.

Circumference - The measurement around the shaft of a boot taken at the widest part near the top of the boot shaft.

Clog - A footwear style featuring a closed toe, open back and a platform sole traditionally fashioned from wood.

Collar - The material sewn into the opening, or the topline, of the shoe. The collar can be padded to provide increased support or comfort.

Combination Last - A footwear last in which the heel is two sizes smaller in width than the widest part of the shoe, producing a shoe with a narrow heel and a wide toebox.

Contoured Footbed - An insole that easily molds to the shape of the foot.

Cordovan Leather - Known for its non-porosity, density, and good wearing characteristics, Cordovan leather is used in the manufacture of fine shoes. The name derives from Cordoba, Spain, where the leather was first produced.

A soft, fine-grained, coloured leather produced mainly from the shell of a horse butt. The most non-porous leather known, shell cordovan is distinguished by its lustrous waxy finish, superior durability, and suppleness that readily conforms to the shape of the wearer’s foot.

Covered Heel - A heel covered in the same material as the upper construction.

Crepe Rubber - A crude natural rubber with a crinkled texture, used in shoe soles.

Crocodile Leather - A reptile hide featuring a wide, boxed print, coming from the Crocodile. Crocodile skin has long been one of the most prestigious types of exotic leather. Known for its range of size and clean scales, Crocodile skin can be used for anything from small leather goods to furniture, and is most commonly found on shoes, belts, handbags and watchstraps.

Croc Embossed - Leather that has been embossed or stamped in a pattern simulating crocodile skin

Curing - The application of chemicals to animal hides in preparation for the tanning process.

Cushioning - Padding on the insole or outsole of a shoe for added comfort and stabilization.

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Demi Boot - A style of boot whose shaft is generally no taller than the anklebone.

Derby - Also Known as Blucher or Gibson - A shoe with two side panels or "quarters" which are laced together over the tongue. The lacing is 'open-throat' (not stitched together at the bottom) and allows for more adjustment or 'give' around the instep than 'closed-throat' 'Oxford' 'V'-shaped lacing.

Distressed Leather - Leather that has been rubbed, scratched or treated for a stylish effect.

Dressing - The application of polish or gloss to a shoe to maintain its finish and appearance.

Driving Moc - A type of casual moccasin or slip on ideal for driving, with a flexible, pedal-gripping sole and a wraparound protected heel.

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Elastic Gore - An elastic fabric panel inserted into shoes to provide stretch.

Embossed Leather - A design that is imprinted onto leather and often simulated exotic skin - i.e., croco or snake. May also be a random pattern.

Engineer Boot - Originally worn by the Army Corps of Engineers, it is a work style pull on boot characterized by instep and top straps

Espadrille - A shoe or sandal style that has a woven rope or similar material covering the wedge or sole.

Eyelet - A hole through which a lace is threaded; may be reinforced with a metal ring or grommet.

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Faux Lace - Also called Fake Lace. When a shoe has the appearance of laces, but they are for decoration only, they do not function to open or close the shoe.

Faux Leather - Man-made, non-animal material, usually polyurethane, used to simulate real leather

Faux Alligator - Alligator embossed leather, not genuine Alligator

Finish - The process by which the final appearance of a shoe is created. The finish can include the application of polish to create a high-gloss finish, or a contrasting polish to create a rub-off finish like "antiquing".

Fisherman Sandal - Type of sandal with woven or stitched vertical and horizontal straps, often with a closed toe.

Flat Foot - A condition in which the arch of the foot is collapsed and the entire foot rests on the ground.

Flip-Flop - A thong sandal with a lightweight foam outsole that makes a flip-flop sound as you walk

Footbed - The insole of the shoe, where the foot rests. Another term for insole.

Forefoot - The area of foot between the ball and the toes.

Foxing - A strip of rubber joining the upper and sole of a shoe. Typically found on canvas sneakers.

Full Grain Leather - Leather that has been tanned so that the natural texture, or grain, of the animal skin is visible.

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Gait - An individual's style of walking.

Galoshes - Waterproof (typically rubber) overshoes or boots meant to protect the foot and footwear from inclement weather.

Ghillie - Pronounced "gil-ee", this is a style of footwear in which the laces pass through fabric or leather rings or loops attached to the front opening of the shoe, rather than eyelets.

Gibson - A shoe with two side panels or "quarters" which are laced together over the tongue. The lacing is 'open-throat' (not stitched together at the bottom) and allows for more adjustment or 'give' around the instep than 'closed-throat' 'Oxford' 'V'-shaped lacing. Also known as Derby or Blucher

Girth - The circumference of a shoe last measured around the ball of the foot.

Goatskin - Leather made from the hide of a goat.

Goodyear Welt - A shoe construction in which the upper and sole of the shoe are stitched together, resulting in greater durability. The resulting seam is visible and runs around the outside of the shoe, where the upper and outsole meet.

Gore - An elastic panel stitched into either side of a shoe's vamp in order to make it more comfortable and easier to put on and take off.

Grain - The inherent surface pattern of leather, differentiated by the animal from which it came.

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Harness Boot - A type of boot characterized by straps across the instep and heel, usually joined by a ring detail.

Heel - "Heel" can refer to both the rear, padded area of the underside of the foot, as well as the solid part of a shoe that supports the heel cup. The standard measure for heel heights is as follows: an 8/8 (low heel) is 1" high; a 16/8 (medium heel) is 2" high; and a 24/8 (high heel) is 3" high.

Types of shoe heels include:

  • Baby Louis - The same shape as a Louis heel but a 12/8 or shorter.
  • Built Heel - Created from layers of leather or fiber with contrasting tones.
  • Continental - A higher heel with a slightly curved back and flat front.
  • Cuban - A thick, stacked heel with little or no curvature and tapered at the bottom; usually medium in height.
  • Louis Heel -Developed in the seventeenth century, it is a heel fashioned from an extension of the shoe's sole.
  • Louis or French - Features a curved back and ranges in height from 16/8 to 24/8.
  • Stacked - Similar to the built heel but typically can be created from synthetic and leather materials. Often found on spectator shoes.
  • Wedge - A heel of any height that is as wide as the shoe itself and follows the shoes contour from toe to heel.

Heel Breast - The forward-facing side of the heel.

Heel Height - Heel height is measured on a vertical line at the breast of the heel, and goes from the bottom surface of the sole (where it meets the heel) to the floor. Heel height is traditionally measured in increments of 1/8th inches, so for example an 8/8 heel is 1" high.

Heel Seat - The part of the shoe directly below where the heel of the foot rests, and where the sole and the heel are joined together.

Heel Spurs - Soft deposits of calcium that grow on the "plantar fascia", a band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot, and are typically very painful.

Hidden Gore - An elastic panel at the front of a shoe that is covered by the shoe's tongue and provides added comfort.

Hide - The skin of a large animal that is treated, tanned or finished for use in boots, shoes, handbags, and clothing.

Huarache - A flat sandal or shoe with a woven leather upper.

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Imitation Leather - Any man-made material with a matte or textured finish as to resemble leather.

Insole - The part of the shoe that the foot rests upon, usually cushioned

Instep - The area of the foot between the toes and the ankle, or the top front part of a shoe

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Jodhpur Boots - A low-cut boot used primarily for equestrian activities. May be laced or a twin gore pull-on style.

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Kidskin - A soft, porous leather created from the hide of young goats

Kiltie - A decorative, fringed tongue over the vamp of a shoe.

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Laces - A strip of material strung through the eyelets of a shoe in order to pull the shoe closed and adjust its girth.

Lambskin - Leather created from the skin of young sheep.

Lapped Seam - Created when two pieces of material are attached by being sewn together, one on top of the other.

Last - The wooden block around which the shoe is formed. The last represents the shape and size of the intended wearer's foot. Last's can be standard sizes or bespoke.

Lasting - The process of pulling and shaping a shoe on a last.

Leather - The skin of an animal, typically with the hair removed and tanned for use.

Lift - One of the several layers of leather or leather-board used make a heel.

Lining - The inside material of a shoe. May be composed of leather, fabric or synthetic material.

Lizard - Leather made from the skin of a lizard, typically with a specked, grainy appearance.

Loafers - Also referred to as Moccasins, they are slip-on shoes noted for their comfort. The shoe's construction tends to be simple and 'roomy', and are constructed completely without fasteners.

Lug Sole - A sole with a heavy three dimensional traction pattern

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Medallion - The ornamental details that are created by 'perforating,' or brogueing, the toes of dress shoes in varied, but always symmetrical designs.

Mersey Boot - Similar to the Chelsea or Jodhpur boot, but zipped along the side (instead of elasticated) and often fitted with a slightly raised heel.

Microfiber - An extremely fine synthetic fiber that can be woven into textiles with the texture and drape of natural fiber cloth.

Midsole - The part of the shoe between the outsole and where the foot rests, usually cushioned

Moc Toe - A type of toe design with a seam and stitching details, originally seen in moccasins.

Moccasin - This construction was developed from the methods used by North American Indians. A moccasin construction produces a very light, flexible and comfortable shoe with a distinctive appearance.

A 'bag' of leather is formed by hand stitching an apron to a vamp. This bag is dampened and then forced on to the last to form the shape of the shoe. The sole is then stitched or glued to the formed upper part. Because the soft leather goes round the foot, forming a flexible and adaptable 'bag' a moccasin is a exceptionally comfortable.

Monk Shoe, Also known as Monkstrap Shoe - The monk shoe is one of the main categories of traditional men's shoes. It is considered less formal than an oxford but more formal than the derby.

The monk shoe is characterized by a buckle closing mechanism rather than laces.

Monk Strap - A type of shoe designed like an oxford, but with a strap closure across the instep rather than a lace up front closure.

Motorcycle Boot - Boots ideal for riding a motorcycle, often with thick, durable soles.

Mule - A closed toe shoe with no back.

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Napa or Nappa Leather - A supple version of sheepskin leather. A type of leather characterized by its stretchy, soft, smooth texture

Nailed Construction - Refers to shoes that have their pieces nailed together, instead of sewn.

Nile Lizard Skin - These African lizard skins are bigger than most other lizard skins making them an ideal exotic leather for clutches and evening bags.

Nubuck - A grain leather that has been slightly brushed on the surface to create a very fine velvet-like appearance.

A superior brushing technique than that which is used for suede, the texture of Nubuck is finer than suede because the natural grain pattern is left intact.

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Orthotic - An orthopedic insole designed to cushion and stabilize the foot.

Ostrich Skin - The large quills of the ostrich skin offer a very unique aesthetic that is popular for Western wear as well as luxury accessories, like belts, handbags and wallets.

Outsole - The very bottom of the shoe that contacts the ground

Overlay - Detailing on a shoe made by layering material on top of other material.

Oxford - A style of shoe where the two flaps of leather with the piercings for the laces ("quarters") are stitched together at the bottom underneath the vamp. The laced area opens in a closed-throat v-shape and does not allow as much adjustment or 'give' around the instep as the alternative open-throat Derby style. Also known as a Balmoral.

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Patent Leather - Fine grain leather is specially treated with polyurethane to create an exceptionally glossy finish, especially suitable for evening wear. Patent leather can also be used in conjunction with other leather to produce eye catching results.

Peau de soie - A soft satin weave of silk or rayon, with a grainy and dull luster.

Pebbled Grain - An embossed-leather grain finish that resembles a pebble surface.

Peccary - The skin of the Peccary, a species of wild pig found in North and South America.

Penny Loafer - A slip-on style shoe with a slit over the instep where a penny traditionally was placed for good luck.

Perforation - A pattern of small holes punched or bored into the trim of a shoe, for the purpose of decoration or ventilation.

Pigskin Leather - Leather made from the skin of pigs.

Pinking - This term refers to the zig-zag, saw-toothed finish found the edge (or seams) of some shoes' components (particularly the toe). Also known as Gimping.

Piping - A decorative, narrow strip of leather that typically follows the seam of a shoe.

Pitch - The angle of the back part of the heel where it meets the sole, compared to the front part of the heel where it meets the sole. On a high-heeled shoe the pitch should be at a larger angle, in order to stabilize the heel.

Platform Shoe - A style of shoe featuring a thicker sole at the front; the heel is typically high to accommodate the higher height of the sole.

Pull Grain Leather - A natural process to temper the hide using river stones. The result is a leather with an irregular grain that's soft to the touch and flexible.

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Quarter - The rear portion of a shoe, covering the heel and sides and often joined at the back seam.

Quarter Lining - The lining of the rear part of a shoe, typically made from leather or fabric.

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Riding Boot - A tall, low-heeled or flat boot without laces. Technical equestrian riding boot styles feature rigid toes and protect the rider from the saddle. Fashion-oriented riding boot styles may feature embellishment and varying boot shaft heights

Rim - The part of the shoe where the foot enters. Another term for collar or top line.

Ruched - More common in women's footwear, it is a kind of finishing detail created by gathering and stitching together material in a pleated, or bunched manner.

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Saddle Shoes - Shoes with a contrast colored instep overlay or "saddle," usually found on golf shoes or retro styles.

Sandal - A form of footwear, with an open toe and open back, that is held to the foot by strips of leather or fabric.

Scalloped, Scalloping - Like pinking, but a wavy cut instead of a jagged, saw-toothed cut, characterized by round, wavy edges.

Scotch Grain - The embossing of leather to create a heavy, pebbled look.

Shaft Height - Shaft height of boots are measured from middle of the arch up the inside of the boot to the top of the boot shaft.

Shank - A metal strip extending from the heel to the ball of the foot to strengthen shoe and add support.

Shearling - Sheepskin or lambskin with the wool still attached. Used often as a lining for shoes and boots.

Sheepskin - Skin from sheep, either with or without the wool attached.

Shoe Horn - A curved metal or synthetic device used to aid in slipping the foot into a shoe.

Shoe Sizes - A variation between full sizes is one-third of an inch, while the difference between half sizes is one-sixth of an inch.

Shoe Width - The width of a shoe is typically measured in letters (AAA, AA, A, B, C, D, E, EE, EEE, EEEE) and refers to the width of the shoe last as measured at the ball of the foot. Widths are defined in increments of an eighth (1/8) of an inch.

Side Leather - Leather from the sides of cattle, divided by the backbone.

Silicone - A slippery polymer material used to waterproof shoes. Silicones are also used as sealants, lubricants and insulation

Siped - A type of outsole with narrow grooves or channels, often found in boat shoesthat help to disperse water and prevent slipping.

Slide - A shoe featuring an open toe and open back with a band across the toe. Can be flat, mid-heel or high-heeled.

Sling-back - A shoe held on the foot with a strap at the back of heel. The strap is typically elasticized or buckled for adjustment.

Slip Last - A simple way to make shoes in which the last is forced into the upper and then stitched to the sole.

Slip-On - A style of footwear which is simply slipped on to the foot with no further adjustment.

Slipper - A flat shoe that is easily slipped on, usually meant for indoor wear and lined for comfort and warmth.

Smooth Leather - Any leather that is smooth on the surface, without pebbling, or noticeable grain.

Snakeskin - Leather made from the skin of snakes, with a rough, scaly texture.

Sneaker - An athletic shoe, typically made of canvas with a rubber sole. The term "sneaker" comes from the wearer's ability to walk in the shoe without making noise.

Snip Toe - A type of toe that is tapered, with a squared front as if "snipped.”

Sock Lining - The lining that comes in contact with the sole of the foot.

Sole - Another word for outsole, the bottom part of the shoe

Sole Leather - Any heavy leather (usually cattle-hide), used for the soles of shoes.

Spectator - A shoe design that is characterized by 2 materials, often of different colors or materials, with an edge of the dominant color having a pinking edge exposed, and a perforated design on the toe.

Split Leather - A type of leather used in shoes that is made from the lower layers of a hide that have been split away from the upper or grain.

Stacked Heel - A heel that has horizontal lines, indicating that it is made up of stacked layers of leather, or a heel with that appearance.

Stingray Skin - Stingray skin offers a very unique, modern look with a white stripe down the center of the skin. Stingray skin is a versatile exotic leather, used for everything from small handbags and small accessories to cowboy boots and furniture.

Suede - Leather that has been sanded or roughed to produce a surface with a soft texture or "nap.” Suede leather is made from the underside of the skin, primarily lamb, although goat, pig, calf,and deer are commonly used.

Synthetic Materials - Materials other than genuine leather, but which are designed to look or function like leather. Also known as man-made materials.

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Tailored - Characterized by a fitted, precise design that follows the contours of the foot

Tannage - The process of converting raw hides or skins into finished leather.

Tap - The attachment of a leather or metal partial sole over the existing sole of a shoe.

Tassel - A rope and knot ornament typically found on the vamp of a loafer or moccasin.

Thong Sandal - Any sandal that has material that fits between the toes, especially the big and second toes.

Throat - The main opening of a shoe extending from the vamp to the ankle.

Tip - An additional piece of leather covering the toe of a shoe. May be in several different shapes or patterns. Also known as a Cap.

Toe-box - A stiff piece of material placed inside the vamp to retain the dome-like shape over the toes. It can take many shapes, flat, high, wide, etc.

Toe Ridge - A horizontal molded ridge found along the top of the footbed in certain sandals, to anchor and provide support and cushioning for the toes.

Toe Thong Post - The part of a thong sandal that actually fits between the toes.

Tongue - A strip of leather or other material sewn into the vamp of a laced shoe and extending to the throat of the shoe.

Topline - The shape of the opening of the shoe that is close to the toe box.

Tread - May refer to the design of a shoe's sole or the way in which a shoe's sole is worn.

Tru-Moc - A shoe in which the bottom is a single piece of leather stitched around a last. The vamp is usually attatched by whip stitching to the bottom of the shoe so it encloses the foot. Also known as a moccasin.

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Upper - The upper part of the shoe, not including the sole. May be made from leather, fabric or synthetics.

Upper Leather - Any leather used for making shoe uppers. The principal leathers used for shoe uppers are calf, kid, horsehide, goat, sheep and leathers made from the skin of reptiles. All of these may be made in a wide variety of finishes, such as smooth, suede, patent, embossed and glossy.

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Vachetta Leather - A type of soft cow leather

Vamp - The front part of a shoe upper that covers the toes and part of the foot.

Vegetable Tanned - Leather that has been tanned using a vegetable process, ideal for those with allergies to chromium or other tanning chemicals.

Venetian Loafers - Loafers that lack the ornamentation often found across the middle, or as one source stated 'loafers with nothing to put a penny in'. Also known as Venetian Construction.

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Waterproof Leather - Shoes that have been specifically treated to prevent the entry of water.

Welt - A strip of leather sewn between the insole and the outsole to create greater durability. The welt can be made to ‘stick out’ from the sole and further ornament the shoe.

Western Boot - A type of Western boot characterized by a lower shaft, flared top and medium round toe.

Wholecut - The Wholecut is a variant of the Oxford style in which the upper is one single piece of leather.

Width - Width is measured at the ball of the foot, in 1/6-inch increments and is often expressed in letters (AA=narrow, B=medium, D=wide)

Wing Tip - A type of shoe with overlays and stitched, perforated trim, usually a dress style. A wing-shaped toe-cap. Also known as Brogue.

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