Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Footwear Lasts
Shoe Last Function and Fashion
The shoe last is the starting point of every shoe design and has been called “the heart of the shoe.” The last is the center of the entire shoemaking process, in which the shoemaker starts with the last and then builds the shoe out from there.
The shape of the last determines the fit, performance, ergonomics, and style of a shoe, and is also what makes a shoe suitable for playing basketball, climbing mountains, or running a marathon. Great looking shoe design is nothing if the last is not appropriate for the shoe’s function.
The Shoe Last
The last is a roughly foot-shaped form made of molded plastic, carved wood, cast aluminum, or 3D printed plastic. Why is the last called the last? The word ‘last’ comes from the old English word ‘laest,’ which means ‘footprint.’ The first shoe lasts were used by the Greeks and Romans all the way back to 400 BCE!
Throughout all of this time, the last has been critical to the shape and fit of a shoe. The last is used in all phases of the shoemaking process and sets the size, silhouette, and outline of the shoe. The last plays a central role for the entire production of the shoe all the way from the design phase, through the development process, and onto the production assembly line.
How the Shoe Last is Used in the Design Phase
The shoe designer will often draw a new design directly onto the surface of a last or draw the design on paper using the 2D last silhouette as a guide. The shoe designer must follow the outline shape of the last bottom to draw an accurate outsole design.
The modern shoe last is not a replica of the human foot. The shoe last is a generalization of the human foot with care taken to account for natural articulation and volumetric changes as the foot moves and flexes. A high quality running or walking shoe will have a thoughtfully developed last. A large shoe brand will have the help of shoemakers, podiatrists, and kinesiologists to develop biomechanically ideal shapes.
How is the Last Different from the Human Foot?
The last surface is smooth and firm with graceful transitions, whereas the human foot has an irregular shape with a variety of soft and wrinkled surfaces.
Most shoe lasts do not have individual toes. The sandal last will have a slot for the toe-post location. The new toe shoe trend requires lasts with toes, but these are rare and the vast majority of shoe lasts do not have toes.
The heel pitch that lifts your heel off the floor does not exist in the human foot. The toe spring of the last also does not exist in human anatomy, but aids in walking and helps the shoe flex with the foot without wrinkling. The girth measurements around the foot are larger in a shoe last than the foot to account for the volumetric changes as the foot flexes when walking under load.
Shoe lasts are also slightly longer than the foot. This extra length allows the foot to move inside the shoe when walking or running. The general outline shape of the last, and its extended length, allow it to account for many possible foot types. The last length ahead of the toe tip gives the designer a chance to sculpt the shoe according to fashion trends.
The shoe last is the unseen structure for the sculptural art of today’s high fashion footwear designers. When “style is king,” the consideration for human anatomy is sometimes set aside.
Shoes, shoe patterns, and shoe lasts transform the human foot into an instrument for sports, a tool for work, a mode of transportation, and even an object of desire.