How the toe is designed is perhaps the most important aesthetic part on a shoe. With its position at the front, it is the most visible, and much of how the rest of the shoe’s shape is perceived by the viewer is determined by the toe. Of course there are lots of different types of toe shapes, but this is an attempt to categorise and explain some traditionally used toe shapes, and some overviewing categories. I also explained often misinterpreted expressions like chiseled.
A large and very spacious toe box. As the name suggests it originates from the Austro/Hungarian shoe tradition, and today especially popular in Germany and from there eastward in Europe. Seen from above, the toe is very round, from the side, it has a shape which continues fairly horizontally until the sharp edge at the toe. All toe sides have this sharp edges, and can therefore completely accurately also be called chiseled (see explanation below). This type of toe can be quite short between the largest toe and the shoe’s front part.
The most neutral of all shoe shapes, which works on virtually any shoe model anytime and anywhere in the world. There is no fuzziness, the toe is soft, rounded but quite roomy. Also the edges have a softly rounded shape.
Actually, just like a classic round toe, only slightly more pointed shape. The name, of course, that it resembles the shape of an almond. From the side, an almond shaped toe usually shaped so that it flattens out and becomes very low towards the end, just like an almond, but even a toe that retains its height and has a rounded edge higher until is often called almond shaped.
The narrowest and most acute toe shape. The toe tapers sharply towards the end and has a round, narrow toe. They doesn’t have to be as extreme as winklepickers (a type I do not take up here) that is extremely narrow and long. A pointy toe is always also relatively elongated since to make room for the toes you must drag out the narrowest part. In this kind of shoes you need to have longer distance between the longest toe and the shoe’s front.
Now we go over to the angular types of toe shapes. This is the softest one of them (surprise..), which when seen from above has two slightly sharped edges and a tip between those who are still rounded but straighter than the round toe shapes. Overall, when talking square toes, if you look at them from the side they are low in the front, this since it’s both harder and in most people’s eyes it looks quite strange if you also have a high toe box.
Here we have a sharper square shape, also with a straighter front. Exactly where to add the distinction between soft square and square is nothing that’s set in stone, it can differ between manufacturers and individuals. But it doesn’t have to be a super sharp square toe box á la Paolo Scafora to be classified as square.
The epithets we go into now are those which may be additional to the various toe shapes above to closer explain a toe’s shape. Chiseled is an often misunderstood expression that many confuse with square toe. But a toe can be square without being chiseled. To complicate things further, the expression chiseled describes two different things that do not necessarily have to be be on the same toe. I’ll try to explain. Firstly the concept chiseled describes when the toe have angular shaped sides, which looks like someone has “carved out” the toe (the adjective chiseled is described by a dictionary as “having a clean and clear outline, as if it is been accurately cut out along the edges”), like one has hammered out the shape with a chisel. But also when a toe seen from the side in profile has a sharp edge, then a straight part down towards the toe where another sharp edge is (see picture below for a clearer explanation).
This refers to when the last and toe are so to say draged out and elongated. Both toe shapes that are round or square can be elongated. Sometimes non-native English tongue mix this up with chiseled, but a last can be only elongated, just chiseled, or both elongated and chiseled.
A symmetrical last have a toe that has an inward shape on both sides, and where the toe is located near the relative middle. Given the shape of the foot what we call symmetrical toe is always a bit asymmetrical, so it’s in this context a relative concept. It was only on the really old, not-so-good days when you could not afford to manufacture shoes for each foot as you did absolutely symmetrical shoes. All such shoes then looked exactly the same and it made no difference for the right and left foot, and these were obviously not very comfortable for any of the feet.
A last with an asymmetric toe is positioned far inwards, where the front of the shoe’s inner part runs fairly straight forward from the inner ankle, while the outer is more heavily angled. Again, it’s hard to say where to draw the distinction between symmetric and asymmetric shoe, since it is relative concept which is interpreted differently.