Vintage Evening Footwear
According to the Handbook of English Costume in the Eighteenth
Century, pumps in the 1700s had thin pliable soles, low heels and
were buckled or occasionally tied over the tongue. They were
originally worn by acrobats and running footmen (attendants who ran
beside or behind the carriages of aristocrats) owing to their
pliability and were also sported by dandies for the elegant manner
in which they made feet look smaller.
Having fallen out of style by the 1760s their popularity was
revived at the turn of the nineteenth century when they became a
distinctive part of evening dress in contrast to the riding boots
then associated with daytime attire. They featured very short vamps
(the part that covers the top of the foot) and initially had broad
ribbon or buckles but the latter option became relegated to Court
and military wear over the years.
The 1830 British book The Whole Art of Dress provides a very
detailed description of the pump later in the Regency period:
Shoes can only be divided into two classes, long quarters and
short quarters, that is dress and undress ; the dress being
generally termed pumps, and are always adopted in full evening
costume, as being absolutely indispensable to etiquette. These
should always be made of Spanish leather. In the present
fashion, which is very well contrived for showing off the feet, the
sides of the shoe should not be above an inch and a half high, and
the leather not proceed above the same height over the toe ; only,
in fact, just sufficient to keep firmly on the foot. The tie
should be of a broad ribbon, made into a small double bow.
Buckles are only used in the army, navy, and marines, and should be
set with brilliants.
Pump, circa 1810-1829.
||1830 "dress shoe" (pump) from The
Whole Art of Dress.
||1830 "dress boot" from The Whole Art
The Whole Art of Dress also describes a recently introduced
alternative to the pump called a “dress boot-shoe” which was
acceptable for dinner dress but not the more formal ballroom dress.
It was in the shape of a Wellington boot with the upper portion
constructed of black cloth or India rubber (natural rubber). Once covered by
trousers the overall effect was that of a dress shoe and stockings
but without the bother of wearing silk hose or tying bows.
According to a British menswear periodical published six years
later “varnished boots (i.e. half boots)” were by then in equal
favor with “dancing pumps” (“varnished” being a synonym for patent
leather). However, this trend apparently did not meet with
everyone’s approval: an American etiquette book published the same
year sternly warned that “Those persons who dance in boots,--and
many fools of fashion do it—degrade themselves and insult society”.
Whether worn with breeches or pantaloons, evening dress stockings
were white or natural colored silk. By the 1820s black silk was
becoming a popular alternative.
Despite the protestations, boots became increasingly popular
except at the most formal of occasions. “Boot” could refer to either high-buttoning shoes with cloth tops or
to gaiters which
in turn referred to either spats or what we call Chelsea boots today. (The
latter was also often referred to specifically as a “congress
gaiter”). Whatever the style, boots were constructed of patent leather with
thin, elegant soles. It was also expected that they be kept in
immaculate condition as explained in the 1897 British etiquette manual,
Manners for Men:
[With evening dress,] patent leather shoes or boots must be worn.
It would be unpardonable to appear in thick walking-boots or shoes;
and the necessity for immaculately polished footgear has cost the
young man of the present day many a cab. His varnished shoes
must show no trace of mud or dust. To tell the truth, he often
carries a silk handkerchief in his pocket wherewith to obliterate
the traces of the latter.
1895 British "patent calf court shoes" (a common
English term for "pump".
||"Cloth top patent leather congress" from
Montgomery Ward, 1895.
||English dress boots circa 1871.
Towards the end of the century pumps began to feature bows of a
corded material called petersham.
Throughout the era evening stockings were generally black silk.
During the Edwardian era patent-leather shoes eventually replaced dress boots
with white tie and black tie and even began to
encroach on the popularity of pumps. Dark coloured socks were of
mixed acceptance although midnight-blue hose were kosher with evening
suits of the same hue. Lisle was permitted as were self clocks;
with the dinner jacket white clocks were also often permitted.
From 1913 to the present white tie and black tie have called for
either pumps or laced shoes (despite occasional advice that the
former are no longer worn). Both were typically patent leather
until the 1950s when allowances began to be made for highly polished
calfskin. Period illustrations show that pump bows were always
ribbed and could either have a pinched or flat knot.
In 1934 a novel laced-shoe was introduced for men who wanted the
swank of the pump without its practical shortcomings. “Exact
fit is essential in the wearing of the pump,” explained an
Apparel Arts article debuting the style, “and even then the tendency to catch
at the instep uncomfortably and the looseness at the heel have
discouraged the otherwise strong in heart.” The answer was a
dress shoe of patent leather with minimal stitching and flat silk
ribbon for laces. Despite the fact that it disappeared by the
end of the decade it remains the benchmark in formal lace-ups to
1924 "patent leather dancing shoe" imported from England to
Formal sock ad by illustratior J.C. Leyendecker, best known
for his Arrow shirt ads.
Wholecut formal oxford introduced in 1934. Worn with
ribbed silk hose.
Photos from a
1934 US haberdasher ad for shoes imported from English custom
shoemaker Johnston & Murphy.||
1939 Esquire pictorial showing pumps and ribbed
hose with dinner jacket. Other options are blue or
white clocked socks.
Dress oxfords and midnight-blue plain silk hose with
tailcoat of same color. Alternate hose are black plain
or with clock.
In formal hose, ribbed silk socks debuted in the 1930s. Wool was
introduced as alternative in the 1940s and then nylon in the 1950s.
The previous allowance for self or white clocks faded away around
the 1960s. What remained constant throughout was the strict
limitation of colors to either black or midnight blue.
The codifying of warm-weather formal wear in the 1930s encouraged
a number of informal innovations in black tie. A 1939 Esquire
pictorial on tropical formal attire suggested “patent leather monk
front dress shoe, patent leather pumps, blue velvet formal house
slipper with gold monogram, worn by well-dressed men at house
parties in Palm Beach and other Southern resorts.” The monk
shoe trend didn’t last long but formal slippers have remained acceptable
for hosts of less formal home-based black-tie affairs.
Beyond that, the rules for footwear remained quite
conservative until the peacock revolution of the 1960s introduced
numerous novel incarnations.