The world of classic shoes contains many different terms, and in some cases they are mixed together. Especially for those who have recently started to be interested in the subject, it can be complicated to understand the difference, or not mix up things. Here are explanations of some of the different terms that are often mixed up.


Split suede – Reversed calf

Suede initially meant only the leather type where you sand the flesh side of the skin and achieve a velvet-like surface. When mass production came into the picture and the capitalistic system made the pursuit of efficiency rather than quality more enhanced than before, one began to split the skin into two (or sometimes even three) parts, and grind the bottom of both parts. It actually looks like a whole suede, but it’s thinner and, in many cases, a bit more sensitive. The split suede should really be called split suede, while full grain suede is called reversed calf. Nowadays, however, it’s all called suede, which makes it difficult to know what is what, and when you are not informed it’s difficult to understand the differences. As a rule of thumb rule, shoes usually cost less than 4,000-5,000 crowns (exceptions are clear), while shoes above the price level usually use reversed calf.

British Charles F Stead is one of the world’s premier tanneries in the field of suede. The above is Repello Calf, which is a very popular split suede.

F Stead also has a reversed calf in his range, known as Janus calf suede. A very tight and nice suede.



Cuban Heel / Cuban Heel – Tapered heel / Inner Closed Heel

On fully handmade shoes, a tapered heel is not seldom done. You want a more neat impression, and a smoother line at the back with the transformation to the heel. Quite often, such a heel is referred to as Cuban heel, but that term actually refers to a type where it does tapper but also is rounded in a concave form. On men’s shoes, the Cuban heel is most commonly used heavier work boots.

A Cuban heel on a boot from the Swedish-Italian brand Project TWLV.

Here slightly tapered heels on my latest pair from Yohei Fukuda. The top image shows how it looks in profile.

Much is about history and aesthetics, but also practical premises in production. When you build heels by hand and also make it very tightly cut, it’s easier and often perceived nicely when you make it tapering inwards, especially at the back. It may even be harder to build a straight heel. On factory-made shoes, pre-built heels are always used, and even if it is possible to make a taper later (which sometimes also is done), it’s easier to simply put on a straight side heel and smooth that out instead of shaping each heel. On the heavier work boots there are also pre-made heels that are used, but on that type of shoes the heel edge is far out and it can be easier to form a concave shape without risking damaging the boot’s upper.



Welt stitch – Sole stitch

When you’re completely new and hear about welted shoes, you often learn that you can look at the seam on the bottom the sole, which should also be seen underneath, to state if it’s a welted shoe. As you ge more familiar with things, you will learn that this is not the case, but for some reason it’s still quite often so that the stitch that goes from the top of the welt under the sole is called a welt stitch. This is not the case, this stitch is called sole stitch. The welt stich is never visible, it’s inside the shoe and holds the insole, upper leather and welt together, and can then be done with both a Goodyear sewing machine (although in these cases the stitch is made onto a canvas rib glued to the insole) or by hand.

The welt stitch is visible here on a Crockett & Jones shoe. The next step in the production is that the outer sole is put on and sewn with a sole stitch.

The solestitch looks like this seen from above. Photo: Short of Shoes



Oak bark tanned sole – Vegetable tanned sole

Sole leather is always made from vegetable tanned skins, often from older cows’ hides who may have calved (the skin gets tougher then) and most preferably from its shoulders. It’s basically quite the opposite of the upper leather, where you want it to come from young calves and preferably from parts near the backbone towards the bottom, and it is almost always chrome tanned. However, cheaper leather soles are tanned for a shorter time, even if it’s done through an organic process. The finest leather soles are called oak bark tanned, and the main difference is that these soles are tanned for a much longer period. Even soles that are tanned with, for example, chestnut bark and do it for a long time will be really nice soles, it’s the time that’s essential here.

Oak bark tanned leather sole from the most famous tannery specialised in these, German Joh. Rendenbach.

Vegetable tanned hides that will become standard leather soles. These are then made in different grades, with an official rating that most more reputable tanneries follow, where Super Prime is the finest.



Blake – Blake/Rapid

The simplest stitch construction is Blake, when you stitch a seam straight through the shoe and attach insoles, upper leather and outsole with it. A developed variant of this construction is Blake/Rapid, then insole and upper leather instead are attached to a midsole that extends to the outside of the shoe where a sole stitch then attaches to the midsole and outsole. Blake/Rapid looks just like a welted shoe, if you don’t look inside and see the Blake stitch, and can also be re-soled in the same way. Nevertheless, it is more frequent, not least when used only in writing, that Blake and Blake/Rapid are mixed together, usually people believes that the latter is the former, so to speak.

A Blake stitched shoe in a cross section, where the seam go all the way inside and out.

A shoe from Swedish-Italian brand Italigente who is Blake/Rapid constructed, here the Blake stitch has been attaching he midsole, which is covered in cement before the outsole is pressed in place and sewed with a sole stich along the outer edge.