A properly fitted pair of pointe shoes will help strengthen your feet, encourage proper technique, protect you against injury, and create beautiful lines while dancing. Choosing the best pointe shoes for your feet requires careful measurements, time and patience. You will first need to determine your foot shape, then try various shoes until you find a pair that fits and provides proper support. Other features should be considered too, like shank type and any accessories, such as cushions, that you may need.
There are three main types of foot shapes, known as Grecian, Egyptian and Giselle. A Grecian foot has a second toe that is longer than the first toe, or big toe. The Egyptian foot — the most common foot type among ballet dancers — is tapered, with the first toe being longest and subsequent toes shorter. Some dancers have Giselle-shaped feet, where the first three or four toes are approximately the same length. A pointe shoe specialist will be able to direct you to shoes designed to fit each of these foot shapes.
Especially when buying your first pair of pointe shoes, you should go for a fitting in the afternoon or early evening. It is best to go after a moderate amount of dancing. Feet tend to swell slightly during the day, especially after dancing or exercising, so this will provide a good average fit.
Unlike with most shoes, pointe shoes should not be fitted with room to grow. When standing flat, your toes should lightly graze the toe box, but should not be crammed against it. The shoe should fit snugly, but not tightly.
Also of great importance is the shank, the pointe shoes' stiff insole that helps hold the foot straight while en pointe. The shank is generally the first part of the shoe to wear out, so a more durable shank often leads to a more durable shoe. A stiffer shank, sometimes made of plastic, provides additional support, though some instructors feel that too much support keeps the beginning dancer's foot from strengthening properly. It may also cause the dancer to "pop" into pointe position rather than rolling gracefully through demi-pointe. You should check with your instructor to see what type of shank is preferred in your studio.
Once you have determined your foot shape and shoe size, you need to determine what other features you need. For instance, if you have long toes, you may need a shoe with a longer vamp — the part that covers the toe — to keep your toes from buckling or popping out of the shoe while en pointe. If you have particularly high or low arches, bunions or any other problems with your feet, you may consider buying custom pointe shoes designed specifically for your foot type.