Ballet slippers are shoes which are specially designed for ballet dancers, although they are used as casual wear by non-dancers as well. A typical ballet slipper is snug with a split sole and soft leather uppers, allowing it to conform closely to the shape of the foot. The ballet slippers are held on with elastic or ribbons, which are usually placed on the shoe by the dancer. Ballet slippers are widely worn in practice and in some dance performances, depending on the style of dance.
Another type of ballet shoe, the toe or pointe shoe, is sometimes confused with ballet slippers by non-dancers. Pointe shoes, however, are rigid, with a very strong, supportive arch. They allow a dancer to perform en pointe, meaning that all of his or her weight is concentrated on the tip of the toe. Dancing en pointe began in the 1800s, and it is extremely physically demanding. Not all ballet dancers graduate from ballet slippers to pointe shoes, and many styles of dance, including some modern ballet, do not require the use of pointe shoes.
Because disciplined dancers have very rigorous practice schedules, ballet slippers tend to be short lived. Young dancers, especially, may go through one or more pairs of ballet slippers every month as their feet grow. It is time to replace ballet slippers if the soles have started to become deeply worn, if the shoes feel uncomfortable, or any part of the shoe has a hole or frayed area. Shoes in different colors or styles may be required for specific performances, so that the dance company appears uniform, and most dancers have several pairs of ballet slippers for this purpose.
When worn for casual purposes, the fit of ballet slippers is not as crucial. Dancers, however, should take care to purchase the correct shoe size, and should ideally have both feet measured to ensure that they do not need two different sizes. When trying on ballet slippers, they should feel snug but not restrictively tight, and the toes should not be curled in the front of the shoe. There are several different styles of ballet slippers available, so if a shoe is not entirely comfortable, different types should be tried on until the dancer finds a shoe that works.