Opera pumps are shoes worn with formal wear, more commonly known as – white tie. In the UK (United Kingdom), opera pumps are known as court shoes. Sometimes, they are referred to as opera slippers.
Traditionally, opera pumps were worn by men. Nowadays, opera pumps are favoured more by women, who wear:
- glitter pumps
- high heel pumps
- platform pumps
- black pumps
- patent leather pumps….
The wiki entry in Wikipedia claims that opera pumps have been largely displaced by oxfords – a laced shoe.
Is this really true in the world of opera and classical music?
Women’s and Men’s Opera Pumps
For formal occasions, opera pumps were the only shoes worn by men up to the 1930s.
Today, opera pumps are worn almost exclusively by women.
Classical opera pumps have a bow on the low cut front of the shoe.
Originally, opera pumps were introduced as men’s court shoes some time in the 18th century. They were an alternative to boots, to make it easier for men to dance to music.
Some “experts” compare the opera pump to the extravagant shoes worn by men in the 17th century at the French royal court.
Bullfighters wear shoes that are almost identical to opera pumps.
The Opera Pump
The opera pump is a basic shoe with a low vamp and a bow at the throat.
The vamp is the part of the shoe that covers the sides of the foot. In addition to a vamp, the shoe has a heel and toe.
Just above the toe of the shoe, there is the throat. Traditionally, this is where the opera pump has a bow.
Today, women wear shoes that are similar and even exactly like opera pumps originally designed for men. A glance at the feet of women at any semi-formal occasion will confirm this.
In the video clip above the Lviv Opera House Orchestra is performing Symphony №8, part 3 by Dmitri Shostakovich. Myron Yusypovych conducts (without opera pumps).
Opera pumps are the traditional footwear for men and women in formal situations.
Next time you attend a symphony orchestra performance with an orchestra that prides itself on tradition, take a look at their feet! Are the male members of the orchestra dressed in
Or, do they have all the trappings of traditional formal wear, but no opera pumps.
Interesting! Take a look! Chances are they are wearing plain black oxfords. They keep to tradition, but not with their feet.
What about the male opera singer? Is he also dressed formally in tails and a white tie? What does he have on his feet? Opera pumps or something else?
And what about the orchestra conductor? What is he wearing?
Of course, you might not be able to see his shoes until he turns around for his bow. After all, most of the time, the conductor’s back is to the audience. But try and see.
Certainly, Myron Yusypovych has always worn formal oxfords. Patent leather – yes. Opera pumps – no. Maybe someday, now that the truth is out!