It has to be one of the first questions that runs through the minds of someone when they see those "shoes that look like feet" or "toe shoes" for the first time. And no, I'm not talking about ballet shoes and certainly not "steel toe shoes," but the latest iteration of footwear, complete with articulated toe pockets. I'm talking about the pioneers of toe shoes — Vibram FiveFingers which first showed up around 2006 and could be said to have spawned the whole "barefoot running shoes" minimalist shoes market single-handedlyfootedly.
And what's the primary purpose of a shoe but to support the function of the foot and the movement of the human body?
Enter the world of "barefoot shoes" or "minimalist footwear," of which "toe shoes" are perhaps the most popular iteration. The defining characteristic of these types of shoes is that they fundamentally get out of the way of the foot's natural or innate functions. They let feet be feet in all their dynamic, sensational glory. Why? Because that's what God/Mother Nature/Evolution intended and allowing for this "design" means we have healthy feet, more efficient movement, and less injury or pain.
Since "toe shoes" are to "barefoot shoes" like a square is a rectangle, let's take a step back and talk about the bigger picture.
The bare foot state is the default human condition and shoes are a technology created by humans to adapt to different surfaces.
If barefoot is the default state of our feet, it follows that the default design of footwear should be to provide some benefit to the foot (protection, insulation, or even style) while still allowing for the default (bare) function of the foot.