When you're buying ballet shoes, its best to buy them brand new. Second hand ballet shoes will have moulded to the dancers feet and there's also a risk of picking up infections such as athletes foot. Besides, who wants a dirty pair of sweaty shoes! They're not as expensive as you think, so do go brand new.
There are 2 types of ballet shoes, satin & leather. The pretty satin shoes (usually come in white, cream & pink) are genereally used for shows due to their aesthetics, they won't stand the hammering of practice for long before they get dirty and worn. Leather shoes are for practise. They are made of soft leather and usually come in pink, black & I've even seen red! Satin will give a little but leather are much more head-wearing and mould to the dancers feet better. When you think of the wearing time it makes sense to chose leather, especially when it comes to the delicate bones in childrens feet.
So, you know which shoes you need. So what about sizing? Well, you could well go up 3 sizes in some ballet shoes depending on the shape of your feet. I have very wide feet and I am in a size 7 1/2 in a wide fitting. My shoe size is a 5. The general ruling is a size to a size and a half, but each brand is different. If in doubt and you're buying online, contact the seller and you should be able to work out the sizes by measuring the childs feet and working it out from there. A good seller will assist you in this. he shoe should fit snug like a sock but the toes shouldn't be squashed. There should be no room for growth as this creates excess at the toes and can cause the dancer to trip and fall. It also interferes when articulating to pointe. Size should be checked by slipping the shoe onto the foot with either tights, bare feet or ballet socks (depending on what the dancer will wear during class) and the dancer standing on the floor. Don't pull the cord tight (this is called the vamp), if the shoe is too big and you tighten the cord, it can give a false impression that it fits. What it actually does is pull the shoe up & over the toes and cramps them. The vamp should only be used to pull the sides in once the elastic is sewn in.
Once you're sure the shoe fits, you can then sew in the elastic. The diagram below shows you how. The ballet shoes are usually pre-folded to guide you.
Attach one side of the elastic at a 45 degree angle to the inside of the shoe where the fold sits (as shown above). Put the shoe on the dancers foot - the elastic should then sit around the BOTTOM OF THE DANCERS ANKLE, not follow straight over the bridge of the foot or instep. It defeats the object of the elastic! Pull the elastic so it's comfortable for the dancer bt holds the shoe to the foot sufficiently. You can use a pin to fasten the elastic to the outside of the vamp on the material so the dancer can move, do this with care so the dancer doesn't stab themselves. Mark off the elastic where you'd like to sew it then sew & cut as appropriate. You can use this technique with ribbon, just lay the ribbon over the foot for the correct angle.
I felt like I had to bring this up. We get many people coming in & asking for a pair of pointe shoes (blocks) for their little ones to 'run around' in. Pointe shoes are PROFESSIONAL shoes that are to be worn only by trained dancers. They need to be fitted perfectly to the feet or they can cause blisters, sores, broken bones. deformation of the feet & can cause permanant and painful problems. In short, they can easily cripple. Most people don't know this. By all means use a pair of well fitted plain satin shoes so little Millie can be a fairy, but please don't crush her delicate feet in pointes. DO NOT STUFF THE TOES OUT so they look square, there is NO support in that whatsoever & will result in injury if the child tries to stand on the tips of her toes. No pointe dancing (standing on tiptoes) shoud be attempted without properly fitted pointe shoes.
Pointe shoes are only 'awarded' to dancers of a certain grade and AGE by their teachers. You need experience, balance & stregnth in the right places to dance on pointe. Dancers are usually approaching their teens when they get their first pair, this is due to bone density & development. Go to a reputable pointe fitter - it should take around an hour to fit them.
I can't express that information enough - there are so many pointe shoes on E-Bay & I find it irresponsible that anybody can buy a pair of potentially crippling shoes without knowing the consequences. Please be the responsible one & get them fitted properly.
I hope the guide has been useful - I've tried to be as detailed as possible to help those who are beginning. It can be a minefield! Please do rate me if it's helped!