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.
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.
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.