I’m not an expert on the feet but follow advice from bio mechanist Katy Bowman (of Katy Says) when judging whether a shoe is barefoot or not:
Heel – best when negative or flat
Toe box – best when toes can move freely
Sole – best when thin and flexible
Upper – best when well attached
When purchasing shoes from any of the self-proclaimed barefoot brands you should be guaranteed to get minimalist footwear that ticks all four boxes. However, if (like me) you don’t want to be limited to these brands and are on the hunt for alternative options, there will be times when you find shoes that are pretty close but might not completely line up to this profile. You might find a pair that have a super-thin, flexible sole, a flat heel and a well-attached upper but your toes don’t have quite as much room as they probably should have – and this is something flagged in reviews on the blog, particularly of styles that aren’t ‘officially’ barefoot.
As a general rule, if a pair of shoes tick most boxes and look awesome then I’d say go for it. At least it’ll always be better than wearing platform flip-flops.