What are Character Shoes?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Character shoes are so named because they tend to be worn by actors and actresses performing in or auditioning for theater productions. They can be fitted with metal taps, in which case, they are tap shoes. In some cases, they’re also called dance shoes, especially as they can be worn for extended periods of dancing in musicals or in dance classes. Some people make the distinction between “dance” or “jazz” shoes and character shoes, and assert that the character types tend to be sturdier than dance types.

A pair of women's character shoes.
A pair of women's character shoes.

Women’s character shoes are simple in construction, and most often come in the colors black or light tan or taupe. They resemble a heeled Mary Jane, with a strap over the ankle, and a pump front. Alternately, the pump can have a top t-strap.

A pair of men's tap shoes.
A pair of men's tap shoes.

Heel height and width vary, though most shoes have a chunky rather than stiletto type heel. The crucial feature of the shoe is its leather sole, which is perfect for standing, walking, or dancing on stages. In recent years, though, a number of manmade alternatives for the shoe’s upper and its leather sole have been developed so that people who are committed to not wearing leather have shoe choices too.

Men’s character shoes look like a typical, undecorated, lace up oxford. They also are most commonly available with leather soles, and may be purchased with taps. Women can also use shoes of this type, especially in jazz dance or tap classes. Most shoes that offer taps come with them unattached, so wearers need only attach them if they want tap shoes.

Such shoes are good to wear on stage, but ill suited to use outdoors. Leather soles are not particularly durable, and they will degrade quickly. Given the expense of these shoes, most actors bring the shoes along with them to theaters or classes and change into them when they are needed. It’s also best for individuals to buy at least their first pair of shoes at a retail store, like a dance store, so that they can try out various heel heights and fits to see which is most comfortable. Someone who is wearing these shoes for long rehearsals will quickly find that comfort is something to aim for.

One difficulty with many character shoe brands is the relative limitation in sizes available, especially in retail stores. It’s often hard to find anything at dance stores above a size 10 for women and harder still to find anything on the Internet in size 12 or over. Similarly, it may be difficult to get wide widths in most stores, though these are more commonly available on the Internet. If an actor must order shoes to get an appropriate size, he or she should choose stores that have generous return policies, like free return shipping. Individuals should also try wearing the shoes indoors for an hour or two to make sure they really will be comfortable and fit well before committing to wearing them for a day’s long rehearsal.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


So, I'm performing in a musical and I am wearing high heels. Unfortunately they are not the most comfortable, so my director recommended character shoes. is there a way I can buy or borrow them from online and have them delivered to me in wyoming in three days.


I only have one pair of character shoes, with taps on them. I'm auditioning for a musical and there will be a short dance audition as well. Should I remove my taps, or cover them with something? Any ideas on how I might do that? And if I do remove them, will they be easy to attach again, and not be ruined? I appreciate any advice. Thank you.


When you're buying women's character shoes, be sure to take your height into consideration.

A lot of character shoes for women come with heels on them, which is great if you're shorter, but if you're tall already, then you're going to end up towering over everybody else on the stage if you get ones with a pronounced heel.

So just keep that in the back of your mind -- and if you are tall and must have a heel, then make it a low heel or a kitten heel. That way you get the same look with way less height. Trust me, your director will thank you for it.


I am looking into getting a pair of character dance shoes, and I was wondering what brand I should go for.

I've narrowed it down to Capezio and Bloch character shoes -- so which ones should I get? Do any theater people out there have any advice for me?

Is one brand better in particular than the other, or should I try them on and then decide? Any input is welcome!


If you're just getting into theater and don't want to shell out for the super-fancy character shoes, a lot of times theaters keep a few pairs around.

So as long as you don't mind sharing your leather character shoes with other people, you may be able to use them for a production, at least until you decide whether you want to buy your own or not.

You can also find a lot of discount character shoes online, though the sizing issues do still occur.

If you get really desperate, there are companies that actually tailor-make both mens and ladies character shoes, which can be a lifesaver if you have very wide or narrow feet.

Another good tip for long-term theater junkies is to keep a pair of white character shoes as well. Though black character shoes are the absolute necessity, and you'll end up using them the most, white character shoes will also definitely come in handy.

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