The toe box is the part of the pointe shoe that holds the toes. Along with the shank, the box provides the support dancers need to balance on their toes while dancing.
When dancers first rose to full pointe, the only support they had was stiffening (originally from a type of sewing called “darning”) around the toes of their slippers.
Modern toe boxes are much more supportive! The box, firm yet malleable, is made of layers of fabric and glue, molded carefully and precisely by a skilled cobbler to be supportive and smooth, without lumps that could be felt on the inside or seen on the outside.
At the end of the box is the platform, the surface on which the dancer stands on pointe. Here, too, precise molding is needed so that there aren’t any bumps that could throw the dancer off balance.
Toe boxes are made in different shapes, to fit differently shaped feet, and different amounts of coverage of the feet. When they rise higher around the sides of the forefoot, they are said to have “wings.”
As the pointe shoe is worn, the warmth and moisture from the dancer’s feet cause the glue to soften so that the box molds to the shape of her toes. When the box has softened enough to lose its supportive qualities, it’s time for a new pair of pointe shoes.