Well Suited: Pump Tips
A snug fit is crucial for formal pumps so if bespoke footwear is
not an option consider ordering ready-made versions in half a size
smaller than normal to account for the extremely thin silk socks
you'll be wearing.
Once you have them keep in mind that they offer very little
protection from inclement weather. (At times like this door-to-door chauffer
service comes in handy.)
The Ultimate Lace-Up
A patent-leather dress shoe with virtually no stitching and
laces made of flat silk ribbon was introduced in 1934.
Designed to convey the swank of the pump while providing the
practicality of the oxford, it remains the benchmark in formal
Classic Black-Tie Footwear
Whether slip-on or lace-up,
the defining characteristic of formal footwear is its aesthetic
slim, and narrow feet give a light, quick, and (and hence) young
lift to the overall silhouette” explains the black-tie treatise
The Aesthetics of the Tuxedo, pointing out that this optical
slight-of-hand was often employed by vintage fashion illustrators.
Consequently, formal shoes have a distinctly slipper-like
leather was the material of choice for evening shoes from the 1850s
through to the 1950s when well-polished calfskin became an
acceptable alternative. In
both cases the high gloss of the shoe is intended to complement the
outfit’s various silk facings as part of black tie’s sophisticated
contrast of textures. Just be sure to avoid inexpensive patent
footwear as it will not only look cheap but will crack and peel as
Formal Pump (Court Shoe)
The formal pump (also known
as an opera pump or, in the UK, men's court shoe) has its origin in
eighteenth century court dress and has changed very little in the
ensuing three hundred years. A vestige of an era of more
effete men’s wear – it was originally worn with knee breeches and
silk stockings – it is often misunderstood by more macho
contemporary dressers. However, sartorial connoisseurs
continue to appreciate its club elegance and the aristocratic nature
of footwear intended to be worn exclusively indoors.
The evening pump is
decorated with a silk bow, either pinched or flat, that complements
the overall outfit in a couple of ways according to The Aesthetics
of the Tuxedo. First, it
coordinates with the necktie to bookend the suit and, secondly, it
tricks the eye into seeing a smaller vamp (the upper portion of the
shoe where the bow sits) thus enhancing the illusion of a smaller
foot. While it would
stand to reason that the bow should be satin or grosgrain to
coordinate with the rest of the outfit’s facings, it is almost
always grosgrain. This is because the
high gloss of the shoe’s leather already complements the luster
of the facings and so the bow fabric is utilized to offset the
pump’s sheen rather than overdo it.
Pumps have traditionally
been associated with dancing which is why they are often quilted for
However their slight build and lack of ties require that they fit
the foot perfectly in order not to slip at the heel.
Formal Lace-Up (Oxford)
Although not as formal as
the pump, the evening lace-up still boasts an impressive heritage
dating back to the turn of the twentieth century. The low-cut
oxford derives its elegance from its “closely cropped soles,
delicately beveled waist, and glovelike fit” as Dressing the Man so
poetically explains. In addition, the ready-to-wear version has an
advantage over its slip-on counterpart because of its ability to fit
a wider variety of foot shapes and subsequent reduced likelihood of
pinching or slipping while dancing.
Laced shoes must be as basic
as possible in order to respect formalwear’s refined minimalism.
Plain-toe models are best due to the absence of decoration.
Of the two types of oxfords, the closed-laced balmoral (considered
the only true oxford by the British and by American traditionalists)
is considered more formal than the open-laced blucher (derby in UK)
because of its shapelier silhouette. Conversely, wingtips and
brogues should be avoided as they are too similar to daily work
shoes and loafers are also much too casual.
With a classic black-tie
ensemble even the hosiery is carefully selected to enhance overall elegance. The traditional choice is black silk
socks, descendants of the hose worn at court with knee breeches.
material's dull luster serves as a an effective
complement to the trouser's silk stripes and an elegant transition
from the matte wool of the trousers to the glossy finish of the
shoes. When wearing a midnight blue dinner
suit hose should be of the same color.
Fine-ribbed cotton-lisle and
even wool have been acceptable alternatives for evening hose since
However, GQ’s Style Guy wisely advises that if a man is wearing
pumps he should make sure the socks are very thin because “If you
wear them with thick black socks you’ll look like a lesbian.”
Regardless of the material or color chosen, formal socks must be calf
height. There is probably no better way to ruin a formal
outfit than by flashing bare shins when you sit or cross your legs.
Calfskin pump with pinched bow.
Patent leather pump with flat bow.
leather plain-toe balmoral (top) and plain-toe blucher.
Leather plain cap-toe balmoral.
Silk over-the-calf socks.