Swing Shoes 101
What IS the difference between:
--a Captoe and a Wingtip?
Everybody asks us about these terms...
On this page:
BASIC SWING SHOE ANATOMY
A simplified explanation of footwear construction:
Did you know?
About re-dyeing shoes
About "Chrome Leather" - Chromium vs. Vegetable Tanned Leather
Vegetable Tanning - used for jackets, pants, and the uppers of shoes:
Chromium Tanning - used for the soles of dance shoes, leather car seats, furniture:
The soles and lining of most leather shoes are made with Vegetable Tanned Leather, but the bottoms of most dance shoes are covered with Chrome Leather Suede. This makes the suede bottoms more durable and allows them to be brushed clean so they grip the floor better (but don't do this for swing dancing!!). Aris Allens are made for the rigors and zippy moves of swing dancing so they are either soled with hard leather or Chrome Leather Suede. The latter functions similar to hard leather because it holds a shine beautifully which makes it easier to spin on and protects your knees in the process. For swing dancing they are not supposed to be brushed (like ballroom dancers do) and should be allowed to build up a mirror-like finish on the bottom.
Shoes that barely grip the floor are part of why the good dancers you watch have that "how do they do that - it looks like they're dancing on clouds" look that we all strive for. You will never get that wearing cross-trainers.
SWING SHOE STYLES AND STYLING
|A Captoe is a shoe that has a cap at the toe that looks like the letter D. See [D] in the photo to the left. Converse All Star (or "Chucks") are also Captoes.
|A Wingtip is a shoe with a toe cap that resembles the letter "W". See [C] in the photo on the left. It is known as a "Flying Wing", hence: "Wing" Tip.
Balmorals and Oxfords
A Balmoral (or "Bal") refers to the way an Oxford style shoe ties up. See the little upside-down T pic? 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 to the right. 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. "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.
Bluchers and Derbys
|A Blucher, also known as a Derby, refers to a shoe with "open lacing". See the little brackets pic? That is a good representation of the way Blucher acts. It is far more adjustable than a Balmoral because the bottom of the fly (where the eyelets are) is not sewn down, so it can be pulled tight or allowed to be more open in the area around the ball of the foot. See [B] in the photo. Because of the greater adjustability of a Blucher, it is much easier to fit people with narrow or wide feet than a Balmoral will be. 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).
|A Saddle Shoe is constructed 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 often darker than the rest of the shoe (black, brown or red).
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.
|Pictured here is a "Moc-Toe" Oxford. This term refers to a walled toe and vamp on any style shoe that is sewn like the front of most Moccasins and Loafers. Casual 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. A "Three-Bar" Mary Jane means it has 3 straps.
|A Flat is a women's shoe with very little or no heel.
Wedges or Wedgies
|Popular in the 1940s and 1950s and revived in the 1970s 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.
|Peep-toe refers to a shoe with an open toe, usually cut out rounded or V-shaped.
|A Platform is a shoe with a thickened sole that is literally a platform under the shoe.
|Women's shoes that slip on. Normally they are dress shoes and have a closed toe and sides.
|A Mule is a slip-on 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.
|A Slingback is a women's shoe with a strap going around the heel.
COMMON SWING SHOE DETAILING AND MATERIALS
|A Medallion is that little doohickey on the toe of many fancy dress shoes and is almost always symmetrical. It is made by punching small holes in the shoe. Usually Medallions are purely ornamental, but they are sometimes will be used to cool the foot by allowing air to flow through the holes that make up the design.
|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.
Cutouts and Cutwork
|Cutouts generally refers to ornamental openings on the uppers of women's shoes. The edges of cutouts are sometimes finished with stitching, binding 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.
|Describes the finish on the top (topline) of a shoe made by sewing a strip of fabric along it. It is often skipped on modern shoe designs.
|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.
|Patent Leather is 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). 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 most patent footwear is actually just shiny plastic.
|Nappa Leather is the smooth, slightly shiny leather found on most dress shoes. Basically it's what one might call "regular" shoe leather.
|Nubuck (or Nubuc) refers to leather that has been "bucked" or brushed to a velvety nap. Similar to suede, but much finer and velvety, so that it feels chamois-like on the surface.
SWING SHOE PARTS AND OTHER TERMS
|An Aglet is the protective tip on the end of a shoelace.
|Like clothing, many 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
|Just like the "Fly" in your pants: the Fly on a shoe is the part that holds the eyelets. You may wonder why your jeans have a zipper but the lace-up part of your shoe is named the same... Well, before zippers, the fly was buttoned or laced. Yay zippers!
|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 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.
|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 still considered stylish today (as it should be!) for dressy and festive occasions for many styles of dress. They are also favored by dancers and musicians wishing to revive the classic styles of the Jazz and Swing Eras.
Another reason for dancers to sport Spectators: Dancers want to both "see and be seen". That's why most swing dances are held with the lights on. White shoes and Spectators are excellent ways to draw attention to your feet.
|Suede is leather that has a rough nap. Nubuc Suede is sanded to a smooth finish.
|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.
|The author of this little shoe terms compendium 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.