Anatomy of a Sneaker

Tuesday Bote - April 7, 2021

Oliver Cabell’s 3D-printed Phoenix sneaker 

The average sneaker is something that we would consider greater than the sum of its parts. Many sneaker buyers, particularly those who are fashion-forward, only tend to look at the big picture: the shoe as a whole. But savvy consumers know that it’s best to look at the details before making a purchase. And - as good sneakers can cost you a pretty penny, this is a prudent thing to do.

Each part of a sneaker has its role to play in ensuring you both look good and walk comfortably in your kicks. Most people know that any shoe has a heel, a sole, and a tongue – but they aren’t sure what the other parts are called.

In this guide, we define each part of your favorite footwear and discuss why each is integral to the shoe’s overall design, fit, and functionality.

What are the parts of a sneaker?

Each part of an Oliver Cabell sneaker is built with both style and comfort in mind, using high-quality materials and crafted to age-old standards of expert craftsmanship

The average shoe is made up of at least seven parts. These parts ensure maximum comfort for the wearer, regardless of what fashion is currently en vogue.

These are the:

  • Upper;
  • Heel;
  • Sole;
  • Outsole;
  • Insole;
  • Tongue; and 
  • Toebox.

Anything else is an embellishment. However, some parts like inflatable soles are actually functional, particularly for athletes and sportspeople.

The Upper: Where Style Matters

Nine times out of ten, the upper – the top portion of the shoe – is what grabs the eye of a potential shoe buyer; after all, it’s the part that many designers spend most of their time on. 

Oliver Cabell’s German Army Trainers


On the practical side, however, the upper is what covers the foot and protects it from the elements and impact (especially true in the case of athletic shoes.)

In the case of mass-marketed or commercial sneakers, the upper is made of sailcloth, canvas, or a padded synthetic material. Premium kicks such as those by Oliver Cabell and other high-end cobblers sport uppers made with leather. Using leather ensures that the sneaker fits better on the wearer’s foot, making it more comfortable; leather also adds to the overall durability of the shoe, enabling you to enjoy wearing them for years.

The Heel: The Art of Comfort

If the upper takes care of the front side of your foot, the heel is what protects and supports the back of it. 

Most of the time, it is made of the same material as the upper, though some shoemakers add aesthetic embellishments such as suede patches. In well-crafted sneakers, the heel is usually built with a leather counter that enables it to keep its shape and provides additional supports.

The Sole: More than Just a Protective Barrier

Both the upper and heel are stitched onto a sole. It serves as the overall base of the shoe and protects the underside of the foot from the ground, floor, or pavement. 

In most cases, the sole is a key indicator of a shoe’s quality. In cheaper mass-market kicks, it is usually the first part to go. Constant movement and contact with rough surfaces can easily wear out thin rubber or plastic soles. The soles on premium sneakers are usually made of thicker rubber or a highly durable synthetic. 

Oliver Cabell’s Low 1 Belmont Sneaker


Even the construction of the sole has bearing when it comes to its durability and longevity. Oliver Cabell sneaks, for example, have a layered construction which ensures optimal comfort: the sole of the foot is cushioned from impact by a layer of compressed cardboard on top of a Margom leather cup sole. Cup soles are much better than the standard vulcanized sole used by commercial shoe makers when it comes to protecting the feet: they provide a thicker layer of protection between the foot and the ground while serving as ample support for the arch of the foot and the heel.

Another thing to consider when it comes to constructing a solid sneaker sole: putting in a metal shank. While this is something that would be more common in harder-wearing footwear like boots, a shank is what keeps the soles of your feet safe from getting punctured by nails, tacks, jagged concrete, and stones. It’s usually put between the inner and outer soles of the sneaker and, in terms of aesthetics, it’s an element that allows your shoes to keep their shape regardless of how much wear and tear you put them through. 

The Insole: Keeping Things Comfortable

Comfort, ample arch and heel support, and stability are what savvy shoe buyers are looking for in a sneaker insole. Ironically, though, most low- and mid-range kicks tend to dispense with properly made insoles, opting to line the interiors of their shoes with thin layers of cloth-covered polyurethane foam.

Oliver Cabell Insoles


With premium sneakers, this is never a problem. The insoles are always well-cushioned, so wearing the kicks even over a prolonged period is always a comfortable experience. In an Oliver Cabell sneaker, the interior of the shoe is pre-lined with soft, supple calfskin that overlays a well-made leather and foam insert on top of a sturdy fiberboard insole. This way, the sole of the foot is well-padded when walking or running and there is no danger of falling arches or soreness at the end of a long day.

Incidentally, consider removable insoles if you are more comfortable with broken-sized (also called half-sized) shoes: inserting them into a shoe that’s a half-size bigger than your actual size ensures that they fit you properly and you can walk more comfortably and steadily in them.

The Outsole: A Buffer Against Injuries and Accidents

The outsole is the external portion of the sole, the part that comes into actual contact with the ground or pavement. Its appearance is characterized by deep grooves and ridges that give you good traction against skidding and tripping over.

Outsole molds of Oliver Cabell sneakers


Some kicks, particularly athletic trainers, have outsoles that are grooved in a particularly way to suit the rigors of a particular sport like football, soccer, and athletics.

The Toebox: Ample Protection for the Most Sensitive Part of the Foot

We’ve all stubbed our toes or had someone step on them at one time or another – and it always hurts a great deal. That’s what toeboxes – also known as toe caps – were made for: to prevent injuries to the forefoot.

Located at the very front of the shoe, the toebox should fit in such a way that they are neither too loose nor too tight around your toes. An ill-fitting toebox can lead to a variety of foot problems, including bunions, deformed toes, hammertoes, blisters, and even ingrown toenails.

In the case of sneakers, most toeboxes are placed 5cm from the tip of the shoe and are normally 44mm deep to ensure that the toes can splay comfortably.

The Tongue: Adjusting for Comfort

While some sneaker brands offer removable insoles for a more comfortable fit, there really should be only one part of the shoe that can move: the tongue.

Located just under the apex of the upper, the tongue sits between the wearer’s foot and the laces. The flexible tongue needs to fit snugly to ensure optimal comfort, but you can shift it as you tie the laces to adjust it to your desired comfort level.

Caring for Your Sneaks is Essential

Just because you now know what are the different parts of your sneaker doesn’t mean that you can take your kicks for granted. Ensuring that your shoes will last you a long time is also a matter of good maintenance – and that calls for a proper shoe care kit. In which case, Oliver Cabell offers a number of options to help you keep your kicks in pristine condition. 

Ultimate Cleaning Kit by Oliver Cabell

Investing in the Premium Leather Kit, for example, is a surefire way of keeping your shoes in shape. Featuring a proprietary shoe cleaner formula paired with a highly-effective leather conditioner, it is a great way to keep leather sneakers (and other leather shoes, for that matter) clean and well-tended. The inclusion of a stiff-bristled brush makes clean-up easier.

Plus, mounting your sneakers on a set of shoe trees should also be part of your shoe care regimen. Not only do these keep your kicks from getting out of shape, but the cedar wood used to make them is a natural deodorant that also keeps them fresh and prevents harmful bacteria from gathering within.

Why You Should Choose Oliver Cabell

Characterized by an emphasis on quality, Oliver Cabell leather sneakers, boots, and driving shoes for both men and women are rapidly becoming a favorite among style-forward people who appreciate the expert handiwork and fine materials that go into making each pair. 

Crafted by master cobblers in Marche, Italy, each pair is made with fine-grained and sustainably sourced Italian leather paired with an elegant calfskin lining, sturdy rubber soles, and cotton laces. This makes them more than just another shoe, but an experience worth investing in.