Once upon a time, the only time people wore shoes was when they intended to go out into the cold or walk an exceptionally long distance. Putting shoes on a baby was considered absurd. A century ago, babies were never seen wearing baby shoes unless they were royalty. Today, however, baby shoes are a standard part of baby wardrobes. Seldom are newborns carried out of the hospital by their new, proud parents with nothing on their feet but tiny socks; rather, they are already endowed just hours after birth with their first pair of baby shoes.
Baby shoes are just what they sound like: tiny versions of big-people shoes. Even in the newborn variety, most consumers can find baby shoes in the form of shiny Mary Janes, hip looking athletic sneakers, leather loafers, or even tiny hiking boots. There are beautiful baby shoes that are covered in lace or leather, making the tiny baby look elegant and fancy. There are even baby shoes that can be designed with the baby's name and birth date printed on the bottom, so that when baby is lying in his seat or begins to sit up, everyone nearby can read his statistics on the bottom of his little shoes. Of course, these baby shoes are much lighter than adult shoes because they are only meant for show. Baby shoes don't need to provide real protection until the baby is old enough to begin moving around.
By the time a baby begins to roll, scoot or crawl, he may require a pair of baby shoes to protect his tiny, moving feet. Although being barefoot helps baby with his balance, traction and dexterity, most parents want babies to have socks on their feet for safety and cleanliness as they move about the floor or yard. When a baby is moving around and trying to stand, never let him wear socks alone; he is almost guaranteed to slip and fall. If you want something on his feet, get him a good pair of baby shoes with non-slip traction on the bottoms.
Ultimately, when baby does begin to walk regularly, he will need baby shoes for the same reasons we need shoes: for protection. Chances are he won't spend his days at home on a carpeted floor with no obstructions. Babies like to toddle around outside, supervised of course, but constantly exploring their new surroundings. Walking down the sidewalk or on a path through the woods on soft, bare feet would be ludicrous with all the baby shoes available.
When purchasing baby shoes, the style isn't nearly as important as the fit. Have your baby walk around a bit in the store to see if the shoes rub or irritate his soft feet. Some baby shoes look trim but may be cumbersome for walking. See that there is about a half-inch space between baby's toes and the end of the shoe. And remember, as you choose shoes for your baby, check the fit every month; babies grow so quickly that until the age of three or four, you may be buying new shoes every few months.