Introduction to the Fundamental of Shoe Styles

Throughout the history of footwear, shoes have evolved in many ways. As a species, we’ve gone from dipping our feet directly into melted rubber to teetering along on gravity defying pure architecture. Footwear has long since moved on from the days where its sole goal was to prevent you from stepping on anything sharp – though that is certainly a bonus! 

So let’s say you want to design a shoe. Or perhaps you’re branching out into stilettos from sneakers. How do you make that leap? Before starting with tech packs, you’ll want to better understand the specifics of your category. For that, you’ll need a bit of history and context based on these eight foundational shoe styles:


The Oxford

A lace-up dress shoe where the eyelets facings are stitched under the vamp of the shoe. This is in contrast to the derby, which has eyelet facings that are stitched on top of the vamp. Variants of this style include balmorals, cap-toes, brogues and wingtips. 

The Boot

Boots generally cover the foot and the ankle, with some styles reaching the calf, knee or even thigh. Traditionally, boots were quite popular for their functionality, particularly when working in harsh environments. While many people still wear boots primarily for function (wearing of boots is even required by law in certain professions) this shoe category has also been known as a fashion staple and a stylistic marker of more than one subculture.

The Monk

This moderately formal shoe is characterized by a strap and buckle closure, known as a monk strap. Some would classify it as less formal than an oxford, yet more so than a derby. If you can’t keep all the styles straight yet, don’t worry - the monk strap will stand out!

The Moccasin

Originated by the native peoples of North America, the moccasin is a soft leather shoe with the sole reaching toward the upper on all sides and joined with a simple gathered seam. This is differentiated from the loafer and other slip on styles by the fact that it is strictly lacking a heel.

The Pump

Once upon a time, the pump (or court shoe, as it was then known) graced the foot of many a well dressed man. These days, that’s a rare sight! Now, primarily considered a more feminine shoe, the pump features a heel of varying heights, a low-cut vamp and generally no fastening, though they may occasionally have an ankle strap.

The Sandal

Sandals can be one of the most basic forms of footwear, as with a flip flop, or incredibly complex and flashy, as with some heeled versions. This style can be identified by its openness, with the sole held against the foot by straps. The sandal can be distinguished from other open styles by the fact that it leaves most of the upper part of the foot exposed. 

The Mule

A style of shoe that is backless and generally closed-toed. These can be of any heel height. To add some confusion, there is debate over whether slides and clogs qualify as mules. Slides generally sport open toes, and clogs usually have a stiff, sometimes wooden sole. For our purposes, we’ll classify them both as mules!

The Athletic Shoe

Whether you call them sneakers, tennis shoes, kicks or trainers, athletic shoes originally emerged for the purpose of sport. The athletic shoe has evolved over time to be worn for everyday activities, from errands to the office (if you’re lucky). Now that sneakers aren’t designed strictly to meet the performance requirements of specific sports, this style is generally categorized more by the makeup of the shoe’s bottom than the aesthetics of the top.That said, the athletic shoe can be defined as footwear with a flexible sole featuring appropriate traction, shock absorption and an upper constructed of leather or synthetic materials. The standard types of sneakers are low, mid and high tops. Lows do not cover the ankles and do not always have laces. High tops are laced, coming up over the ankles and mids fall in between.


As one can see just by taking a look at the category of athletic shoes alone, there has been a lot of growth and variation. While understanding these core styles is essential to your ability to communicate as a designer, this is by no means a steadfast list. Categories can overlap, as in the recent popularity of sneaker heels. This constant evolution is one of the most exciting aspects of footwear design. 

While this has been going on since man first thought to put hides on his feet, we on the other hand are just getting started. Watch this blog for more insight on footwear design and development!