What Are Opera Pumps? History & How To WearPaul Anthony2022-01-06T20:44:04-05:00
The opera pump is rare yet stylish type of formal footwear that’s also known as the court shoe. A loafer made from either velvet or patent leather, it’s mostly recognisable by its silk bow across the throat.
In this guide, you’ll discover the best opera pumps to buy online as well as how the wear them:
A classic patented loafer by To Boot New York, the Broadway unfortunately doesn’t have a silk bow across the throat. Nevertheless, it does offer the desired formality and style of a classic opera pump.
2. Paul Parkman Woven Leather Loafer [Unique Style]
While technically a tassel loafer, we couldn’t help but include Paul Parkman’s woven leather shoe. Despite its ornate use of woven leather, it’s a stylish loafer that could potentially be worn formally in the right circumstances.
In some circumstances, it’s possible to wear velvet loafers in colours other than black. If this takes your fancy, we highly recommend the Magnanni Dorio, which comes in either a subtle dark burgundy or blue velvet.
Opera Pumps Defined
Opera pumps are an evening dress slipper with sometimes a silk or grosgrain bow across the vamp. They’re typically available in black patent leather or calfskin.
Pumps are one of the three commonly accepted shoes to be worn for black- or white-tie occasions, the other two being a black patent Venetian loafer and black oxford shoes in either patent or calfskin.
Opera Pump History: They Look Like Women’s Shoes?
Usually when we hear the word “pump” as it relates to footwear, we think of women’s high-heeled shoes. The funny thing is that the opera pump, while it resembles a women’s ballet flat, it does not resemble a pump in that sense.
Regardless, it has a distinctly feminine feel, but that’s only if you don’t understand the history behind the shoe.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries (known as the Regency era n England), rich European men would wear these shoes in the evenings. They originally had a silver buckle across the vamp, but Beau Brummel’s minimalist influence saw them removed and replaced with the bow we see today.
As the Victorian era approached, these shoes were adopted for evening events where music or dancing was a focal point (hence the term “opera pump”). They are still the standard for white-tie events and are acceptable wear for black-tie ensembles.
To this day, opera pumps are still worn with English court dress. This is why they’re also referred to as “court shoes” in the U.K.
Opera Pumps Today
Opera pumps, as Alan Flusser states, are the only men’s shoes to enter the 21st century pretty much exactly as they left the 19th. It’s the last vestige of a men’s court shoe, something worn in the presence of royalty at high society events. When you don a pair, you are literally walking around in history.
This was a time when men wore shoes with heels that we would consider to be pretty feminine nowadays.
Interestingly, this shoe never caught on with the masses the way other styles of the rich and royal did. If you think about it, it’s a bit of a miracle that they’re still around.
As such, they’re particularly rare in the ready-to-wear market. As you’ll have seen in the list above, most formal patent loafers tend to omit the bow entirely. However, if you’re looking specifically for authentic opera pumps, we recommending premium shoemakers such as Gaziano Girling.
How To Wear Opera Pumps
While they’re not at all versatile, pumps are stylish as all get-out.
Technically, pumps are standard footwear for white-tie affairs (tailcoat) and an acceptable option for black-tie ones (tuxedo). Therefore, they’re only appropriate with formal or semi-formal attire.
With that said, rules were meant to be broken. If you’re going to wear these shoes outside of the guidelines above, knock yourself out. You’d just better bring your dandy A-game, otherwise your look will fall flat.
Pumps can be worn any time of year so long as the sun has gone down for the day.
Should You Wear An Opera Pump?
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something, right?
Yes, you should wear opera pumps if you feel so inclined. It’s a very bold move, so you must be prepared to stand out from the crowd, who will surely be wearing black patent oxfords or loafers.
You may come off as eccentric or peculiar, and the less sophisticated among us may wonder about your sexual orientation.
You’ve got to have style, and sometimes having style is synonymous with having balls.
None of these are reasons to not wear an opera pump, to be clear. We are firmly in the camp that anyone can pull anything off with some know-how and a little je ne sais quois, but you should know that it’s a bit of a risk.
Generally, men who fancy themselves shoe or clothes enthusiasts or who simply don’t give a damn will be drawn to the opera pump.
Final Thoughts On Court Shoes
We are all for men expanding their sartorial vocabularies and doing what they can to develop their personal style. If you attend more than four formal events per year (one per season), we suggest that you pick up a pair of opera pumps in addition to a regular black patent leather oxford or loafer.
Now that you have learned about opera pumps, check out some our related footwear guides for men: