There is a nearly endless variety of shoe styles for both men and women, from the earliest examples of footwear to more modern designs. Different styles are built to serve various purposes, from sleek, professional looks to purpose-built activewear. Here, we go over the different types of shoes to help you decide which style might best suit your needs.
Shoes intended for athletic activity offer support around the foot while also cushioning joints to absorb excess shock. There are athletic shoes designed for just about any strenuous activity, from running to playing team sports.
Running shoes are specially designed to help keep you safe, comfortable, and supported when moving. They are usually padded to absorb shock, with extra cushioning in the heel since it strikes the ground first when running.
Running shoes should have soles with plenty of treading for grip on any surface, from sand to sidewalks. This feature helps to prevent slips and falls when moving.
Sneakers, also known as trainers, are designed for comfort over performance. They don’t offer quite as much support as running shoes, and often have more cushioning around the balls and toes of the foot.
Different sneakers offer different fits depending on both the shape of your foot and your gait, or pronation. Depending on how you walk, you may need a shoe with padding designed to direct your foot in a particular direction.
When golfing, many shoe styles don’t offer the stability, flexibility, and balance that most players need to make a perfect swing.
Golf shoes are specially designed to keep you aligned and in place, even when moving your upper body. They are made of lightweight, breathable material and offer enough support to keep you comfortable on your feet when standing throughout the day.
Chuck Taylors, also known as Converse shoes, were also initially introduced as a basketball shoe in the early 1900s. They can offer support while remaining flexible.
Nowadays, most people wear Chucks as casual, everyday footwear. They are not only stylish but also offer more ankle support than other athletic shoe styles.
As the name suggests, high-top shoes have a collar that extends up above the foot to cover the ankle. This style is similar to the Chuck Taylor, but its higher collar offers more ankle support when walking, running, and jumping.
High-tops are most often worn when playing sports with a lot of lower body movements such as basketball or skateboarding. They can help to limit excessive ankle movement and prevent injuries.
Soccer shoes are made for grip, allowing players to run on grass, dirt, or any other surface with a much lower risk of slipping. They do so using cleats, which are also sometimes referred to as ‘studs.’
Cleats protrude from the sole of the shoe, digging into the ground for added traction. They may be square, conical, or even blade-like in shape. Cleats can be made out of rubber, plastic, or metal depending on how much strength and grip you want.
This style of shoes is specially designed for climbing but isn’t used for much else. Climbing shoes most often have a close fit and offer little padding or support. Instead, they’re designed primarily for grip, with a flexible, sticky sole.
Boots are generally worn as functional footwear, helping to protect your feet from water, weather, and other hazards. They’re often made of heavy-duty material and resistant to wear and tear.
When wandering through rough terrain, sneakers aren’t always enough to protect your feet. Hiking boots offer the same comfort and support as any other everyday shoe, but they’re usually made of more durable materials.
Most hiking boots are weatherproof and waterproof to keep your feet dry even in rough weather conditions. They also have plenty of tread on the sole to give you traction on all terrains.
Most boots that reach the knee or higher are worn as a fashion statement. It’s a versatile look, ideal for anything from a day at the office to date night.
Knee-high boots can help to draw attention to your legs and create the illusion of length, with or without heels. They’re also perfect for keeping both your feet and legs warm, making this style popular during colder winter months.
Combat boots were initially designed as footwear for soldiers during combat and training. They’re heavy-duty, often with plenty of protective padding to prevent injuries.
Nowadays, you can also find combat boots designed with fashion in mind. They follow the same military aesthetic as their predecessors, and often offer plenty of ankle stability thanks to a raised collar.
This boot style was originated in Australia and has been around since the late 1800s. In recent years Uggs have become a worldwide fashion phenomenon. They’re warm, comfortable, and a versatile look.
Uggs are most often made of sheepskin, with soft fleece on the inside. They have a thick sole to make them suitable for all weather conditions.
Wellington boots, or ‘wellies,’ are often used as protective footwear when walking in rain or mud. While they were initially made from leather, nowadays, most wellies are made using rubber.
Wellington boots are not ideal for daily use, as they tend to be large and cumbersome. However, they’re perfect for protecting your feet and socks from getting wet even when wading through water.
As the name suggests, this style of riding boot was initially worn by cowboys. They’re typically made of leather to protect the foot and have a thick Cuban heel for leverage. Most cowboy boots also boast a pointed toe, a high shaft, and no lacing. While some are purely functional, many contain intricate leather designs.
When there’s a risk of impact or injury to the foot, it’s a good idea to wear steel-toe boots. Many workplaces require employees to wear this style of shoe to prevent on-site accidents.
Steel-toe boots, also known as safety boots, have reinforced toes that help to protect against falling objects. A midsole plate protects the foot from injuries coming from below.
Formal shoes for both men and women are generally reserved for the workplace and prestigious occasions. They’re designed to offer a more sophisticated look than other shoes but aren’t always practical for daily wear.
Also known as ballet flats or Dolly shoes, women’s flats have become increasingly popular in recent years. This is thanks to the fact that they offer a professional appearance without sacrificing comfort.
Flats typically have a thin heel at the base of the sole, or they have no heel at all. They also tend to have less support than other shoes and may require the use of an insole or orthotic.
Also known as ‘brogues,’ wingtip shoes have a pointed toe cap that flares out toward the sides of your feet. The design often looks a little bit like wings, which is where it gets its name.
The tip of the toe is often decorated with perforations that run straight through the shoe material. While these are mostly decorative today, they were initially introduced as a way to allow water through the shoe without damaging the leather.
Loafers, unlike many other professional shoe designs, have no laces. Instead, they’re designed to slip on and slip off in a single motion, making them easy to use.
You often see loafers in professional settings, but the shoe has a versatile design that allows it to be worn just about anywhere. What’s more, it’s designed to be comfortable, making it one of the few formal shoes suitable for daily use.
The Oxford shoe has been around since as early as the mid-1600s. However, it wasn’t popularized until the students of Oxford University adopted it in the late 1800s.
Oxfords are a closed-lace shoe, which means that the ‘vamp,’ or midsection, is stitched over the eyelets contained in the ‘facing.’ This design creates a clean, crisp look, but is less flexible than an open-lace shoe.
Derby shoes are a more recent invention that the Oxford, but they’ve still been around since the 19th century.
Unlike Oxford shoes, Derby shoes boast open lacing. This means that the eyelets for lacing are above the vamp. They also tend to have fewer eyelets and be easier to lace than their counterparts.
The Blucher is similar to the Derby in that they both boast open lacing. However, the two styles have vastly different looks to them.
While the Derby design is divided into large upper quarters with a seam down the side, the Bulcher is made with a single cut. These shoes feature eyelets sewn into taps attached to the top.
After noticing his dog’s paws had a better grip on a slippery surface than his own shoes, an American recreational sailor decided to create a new footwear design. Nowadays, it’s known as the boat shoe. The sole can achieve a strong grip on even wet surfaces.
Boat shoes can typically function as both formal and informal fashion thanks to their design. They’re sturdy, lightweight, and attractive. Better yet, they’re designed to withstand just about any weather conditions.
Instead of using laces, the monk strap shoe uses a buckle for closure. You can find both single and double buckle monk strap styles designed for the workplace.
This shoe is a particularly good choice for those who have trouble fitting into more traditional styles. It allows for more leeway when fastening, and won’t cut off circulation in larger feet.
Heels can be worn in both formal and informal situations, from a day at the office to a night out on the town. They’re designed to help create a smooth gait and elongate the legs for a more attractive silhouette.
Depending on where you live, pumps may also be known as court shoes. This is one of the most popular styles of women’s heel, as it’s both comfortable and easy to walk in.
Typically, pumps offer a seamless vamp and no laces, buckles, or straps. They’re cut to expose the top of the foot, and sometimes the toes. Pumps come in many styles, but they tend to be the most basic form of high heel available.
Wedge shoes lift without sacrificing support. They offer a level of stability that most high heels don’t, supporting your arch while taking the strain off of your heel.
Wedge shoes evenly spread your weight to help prevent you from slipping, sliding, or losing your balance as you walk. There’s no separation from heel to toe, allowing for uniform pressure when moving. When it comes to heels, they tend to be more practical as daily footwear.
Platform heels go as far back as the ancient Greeks, with theater productions using cork platform shoes to signify the leading actors.
Nowadays, shoes with a thick sole are known as platform heels, and they can range anywhere from one to four inches in height. Typically, they’re used to create the appearance of longer legs and a substantial posterior.
Mary Janes are often considered a more conservative style of women’s shoes. They tend to be closed-toes and low-cut, making them ideal for most job applications. They also use a buckled strap instead of lacing for a tighter, more comfortable fit.
Stiletto heels haven’t been around for long. They were created by fashion designer Roger Henry Vivier in the mid-20th century, and have remained popular ever since. Instead of the thick wooden heel typical of shoes at the time, he used a thin metal rod.
Nowadays, stilettos are commonplace footwear for women of all professions. They’re typically the highest heel type, sometimes reaching up to eight or more inches.
First introduced as training heels for teenage girls, Kitten heels are similar to Stilettos but offer a much lower boost. Instead of eight-inch heels, Kittens typically have heels of just 1.5 to 1.75 inches.
Nowadays, kitten heels aren’t just for the younger crowd. They offer a safer, more comfortable alternative to stilettos. What’s more, they work both in a professional and a casual setting.
Sandals are perfect for warm weather, allowing for plenty of airflow to keep feet cool and comfortable. There are plenty of different styles available for both men and women.
Also known as thong sandals, flip-flops are typically worn casually. They’re easy to slip on and off and offer minimal foot coverage, but provide little in the way of support.
Flip-flops have a flat sole with a Y-shaped strap that sits in between the first two toes. Some offer additional straps for a more secure fit.
While this style of shoe was originally reserved for gladiators entering the ring, through the ages, it’s become a fashion statement for men and women alike.
Modern gladiator sandals typically boast a flat sole with several straps that hold the foot and ankle in place. Most gladiator sandals are made using leather, though you can find designs made with other materials.
While T-strap sandals are similar to flip-flops, the straps attached to the feet form a T shape instead of a Y. T-strap sandals tend to sit more securely on the foot than flip-flops do, but aren’t as easy to slip on and off.
This shoe style comes from Northern India and is typically handcrafted from locally tanned and dyed leather. Kolhapuri sandals, or chappals, feature an open-toed design secured by both a central strap and a strap around the big toe.
This type of sandal is popular thanks to its incredibly comfortable design. It boasts thick straps that won’t cut into your foot, a layer of upper foam padding, and a contoured cork bottom that adapts to the shape of your feet.
While they aren’t necessarily considered fashionable, Birkenstock style shoes make a great everyday choice during warmer months. They offer more support and more cushioning than most other sandal styles.
Traditionally, clogs were made out of wood and covered the whole foot. They originated in Holland but quickly spread to the rest of Europe as a popular shoe style.
Nowadays, clogs are made from a variety of materials, from leather to rubber. They often cover just the toes, though some also offer a strap to secure the heel.
Mules are similar to clogs but more formal in their design. Instead of having a flat or platform sole, they have a heel at the back. You can find mules appropriate for just about any occasion, whether you’re looking for lounging shoes or something comfortable to wear to work.
While Crocs were initially intended to be a boating shoe, they’ve become popular everyday wear as a cool and comfortable alternative to other sandal styles. They offer near full coverage but have holes to provide ventilation. They’re also made of a rubber-like resin that gives both support and cushioning.
There are countless styles of shoes to choose from, which can make it a challenge to find the design that’s right for you. It takes time and research to pick out the perfect shoe to meet your needs, whether you’re looking to impress at the office or excel at the gym. No matter what you’re looking for, there’s bound to be plenty of types of shoes to improve your performance.