With assistance from Matthew Harkins and the Columbia Ballroom Shoe Guide as a Reference

Ballroom shoes are damn fine things. Think of them as an automatic, one-time, level-up. Having ballroom shoes will make may things in ballroom much easier, from driving in waltz to be being able to pivot in Latin dances. The biggest difference in ballroom shoes vs. normal shoes is that there is suede on the bottom, which allows you to move more easily.
Buying Them: Biggest recommendation? The shoes must be 100% comfortable. Don’t settle for any less, because shoes are an investment. There are both standard and Latin shoes. We recommend that for newcomers, women first buy a pair of Latin shoes. For men, Standard shoes. This is because rather than have you buy two pairs, you first buy the pair that you can use for both dances. (Not that you can’t dance latin in standard shoes or vic versa, but the recommendations above make it easiest).

Size: The shoes should be a little tight. Not too tight, because you’ll injure your feet. But they should be a little snug because shoes stretch. Also, ballroom shoes are listed as being 1-2 sizes smaller than normal shoes. So if you’re a Size 10, you’ll be a Size 8 in ballroom.

Socks: When you try on your shoes, make sure you're wearing the socks you'll be wearing at competitions. Socks have different thicknesses, from thin argyle to slightly thicker exercise socks to thick wool (just kidding about the wool). The thickness of sock will make quite a difference, so be sure you know what works.

Purchasing: Sales are you friend. Seriously. Shoes can be expensive. I would recommend going to NYC to try on shoes, see their prices, compare them with online sellers. Whichever one is cheaper, go with it! Princeton Ballroom usually does a New York trip sometime early Fall to get shoes for newcomers.

General Maintenance: These are damn fine shoes. Which means, you want to take good care of them. Wear them only for ballroom. (or don’t, but prepared to suffer the consequences of wearing shoes on asphalt, concrete, rocky surfaces, grass, etc.)

Maintenance for Male Shoes: Your shoes will come with paper stuffing and in each shoe, a flexible rod. Keep them and use them. If you don’t, your shoe will eventually deform out of its original shape. After every practice, restuff your shoe with the paper and insert the rod to keep the shoe in as new-condition as possible.

Maintenance2: There’s something called a shoe brush. What it does is clean the suede bottom of the shoe of dust and dirt and debris. Now, when doing so, you’ll increase the amount of traction your shoe has. So as you dance, keep in mind how much traction you want to dance comfortably. In standard for example, less traction is preferred in order to drive in waltz. But in Latin, more traction is preferred in order to have sharp moves and turns. Keep in mind that with a shoe brush, you run the metal bristles so that the teeth do bite into your shoe and cause the suede to have streaks. That's totally fine and that's exactly what you want. Just don't apply too much force; otherwise, you might end up tearing the suede off altogether.

Maintenance3: If you have patent (shiny) leather shoes, Vaseline them often. The reason is twofold. First, Vaseline keeps the leather moist and will prevent cracking. Second, Vaseline allows your shoes to rub by each other without much issue. If say, when dancing, your feet run into each other, Vaseline will allow your feet to continue without much issue. But no Vaseline? Dry patent leather will consequently trip you up, and that’s bad on the floor.