Shoes for the Formal Wear

Manolo says, the Manolo he has received the question from one of his many internet friends.

Dearest Manolo, My name is Lady Prisspott, I am the unofficial fashion advisor to the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington DC. Many of these dear boys, while gifted musically are often found lacking when it comes to a thorough knowledge of men’s evening wear. You see, the chorus wears tuxedos for their concert and many of the gentlemen wear shoes other than that which her Ladyship would find acceptable. Some even have simultaneously demonstrated an unassailable confidence and appalling lack of taste and breeding by wearing black sneakers with their tuxedo. Her Ladyship has prepared for the membership a short primer on formal wear however a thorough and authoritative discussion of the history of men’s evening slippers as well as a guide to the most excruciatingly correct choice of evening footwear has been harder to research. Her Ladyship would greatly appreciate the benefit of Manolo’s encyclopedic knowledge on the subject.

Do not the Manolo get started on the disgraceful state of the modern American formal wear! If the Manolo sees one more pastel ruffle shirt, or the brightly-colored plaid cumberbund and matching bowtie set he will hurl. Especially do not mention the shoes! Ayyyyy! The shoes, the shoes! Such horrors.

Ideally, there is only one type of the shoe that the man should wear with the black or the white tie, it is the opera pump: the low black patent leather slipper with the discreet black gros grain bow (pinched or straight).

John Lobb Patent Leather PumpJohn Lobb Patent Leather Pump

This shoe, it is the final, unchanged remenant of the 19th century formal wear, the only item still sometimes worn, that would have been worn by the gentleman who was to be received at the royal court 150 of the years ago.

Such the gentleman he would have appeared in the knee breeches with the silk stockings. Today, the knee breeches they are gone, the cut of the coat it has changed, the neck tie it is different, but the formal shoes, they are the same. And so these they are the original “court shoes”. (The word “pump” for the shoes, it is thus the derivative of the word “pomp”.)

In the general, the American men, when they can be wrestled into the formal wear, do not wear the opera pump, mostly because they believe it to be too sissified for the mucho macho man to wear. In such cases, the plain toe, patent leather or highly shined calf blucher or oxford, it is the most appropriate and suitable substitute.

Any other option, it is ridiculous.

17 Responses to “Shoes for the Formal Wear”

  1. Ed Driscoll December 16, 2005 at 7:54 pm #

    I have a pair of patent leather Brooks Brothers pumps I bought six or seven years ago–and yeah, it does take a certain amount of chutzpah to wear them with a dinner jacket I guess, but they do look great.

    But Flusser goes on and on about how the calf pump, with its duller finish, is the preferred shoe for the tuxedo-clad cognoscenti. Any recommendations as to who makes it these days? (I think Ralph Lauren still does, but I’m not sure.)

  2. Manolo December 16, 2005 at 8:27 pm #

    The Ed he is exactly right, the calf pump it is also suitable for wear with the formal wear. (The Manolo he has amended his post to reflect the correct information.)

    The two places the Manolo would recommend to find the calf pump, they are Ralph Lauren Purple Label and the Paul Stuart.

  3. The Scarlett December 17, 2005 at 2:39 pm #

    I’m not fond of the opera pump. My darling husband had a pair of those (his ex-wife insisted upon them) and they looked way too much like the type of shoes that would have been worn by the late Julia Child. I asked him to try them on and all I could think of was a very masculine female physics professor I had in college … not a good image.

    My husband now has a pair of black patent lace-ups by Ferragamo that he purchased a few years ago. They are extremely comfortable and make his foot look both slim and elegant.

    We are not wearing knee breeches. We need to ditch the shoes that go with them, in my opinion.

  4. toad December 18, 2005 at 12:27 am #

    The men who wore the pump shoe were often stone killers. If you even implied they were “sissy” you would be having grass for breakfast or be given cold shoulder the rest of your life. Some gentlemen were sissy but they would call you out for the disrespect of their honor. I’ve often thought a lot of the life went out of men’s fashion when gentlemen ceased to go armed and dueling became completely forbidden.
    These days I’m back into being a rent-a-cop, and recently had to listen to the Captain explain to a new hire that when wearing a dark navy uniform, and black shoes, one does not wear the white socks. It used to be said “don’t ape your betters” now what are considered our betters are…..apes?

  5. toad December 18, 2005 at 9:35 am #

    Since I digressed in my previous comment I thought I should at least offer a link on the general subject that I digressed to.

    http://www.multcolib.org/homework/costumhc.html#century

  6. Manolo December 18, 2005 at 1:39 pm #

    Many thanks to the Toad for this most useful and entertaining link!

  7. Ric December 18, 2005 at 4:40 pm #

    I find the shown opera pump hideous. I would never wear a shoe with a bow on them. I much prefer a patent shoe with laces for a tuxedo or even a simple stylish design slip on.

  8. markt December 28, 2005 at 11:13 am #

    The other day I heard what I think is a more likely derivation of the term “pump” for these shoes. Early in her reign, Queen Victoria was making a visit to Bath. She and Albert were impressed with the shoes (slippers, really) worn by the attendants at that spa. They decided all their staff should be re-shod in these things — so quiet and elegant! In short order, this “Pump Room” footwear was de rigeur at court for all (gentlemen, that is). Like the later Tuxedo, pumps apparently took their name from the place in which they were “discovered.”

    btw, if we’re tallying votes, I vote for the pump. Masculine doesn’t have to mean coarse or heavy.

  9. triticale January 6, 2006 at 1:15 am #

    The tuxedo, when introduced, was casual wear and not formal enough for the best occasions.

  10. Jeff January 10, 2006 at 9:28 pm #

    Happily, the Army (who’s male members would never be caught dead in an Opera Pump) has a fine solution – the Corafram(sp) low quarter. It’s not quite patent leather – it still has the ability to breathe some.
    Of course, if you are really good at spit-shining, you can always go with the standard low quarter and a bucket of Kiwi…

  11. Ryno January 10, 2006 at 10:27 pm #

    My dress shoes are black leather and made by Caterpillar. I can stand all day in them, they are sturdy and have excellent traction, they are supple and flexible. Reading this column, and having been castigated by my tasseled-loafer wearing business partner, I see now that I am a fashion disaster. And here I was thinking that a new pair of indoor soccer shoes would be a sleek addition to my collection. Dang. Well, think of me as a public service to those who would like to feel fashionable by contrast if nothing else. Damn, I make people look good!

    To be even more helpful, I will list my favorite shoes so everybody can avoid them: Kelme indoor soccer in blue leather; Montrail Torre GTX in Gore-tex and leather; Montrail hikers (I forget the model, but incredible stability & traction; Timberland snowpack boots in Gore-tex, leather with 3/8″ felt lining; Karhu cross-country/telemark boots. They are all terrific.

    On the flip side, the best dancing shoes I ever had were some very supple Dan Post boots. But they died.

  12. Andy January 19, 2006 at 5:42 am #

    My preferred formal shoes available in Australia are designed and produced independently by Vein.

    http://www.camarilla.com.au/?p=14

  13. judy February 5, 2006 at 11:59 pm #

    Where does one purchase opera pumps?

  14. Marmot February 8, 2006 at 4:56 pm #

    L.B.Evans sells opera pumps. Google them and you’ll find that Nordstroms carries them, but you may also be able to deal directly with L.B.Evans.

  15. ron March 24, 2006 at 7:43 pm #

    yuck.

    Too much pomp. Men’s clothing, clothing in general, needs to convey an impression of the concept of the wearer, and the mind of the wearer. Mens clothing in particular needs to indicate strength, and movement. It is ideal if the man can convey a quiet dignity, which indicates patience, focus, and a willingness to ignore trivialities in favor of pursuit of a goal. Naturally, it’s better to HAVE these qualities than present them, but it’s better to do both.

    This shoe does convey strength (good quality) and movement (clean design, not too much nonsense to get tripped up on), but it also indicates that the wearer is arrogant. He is a struting peacock who would be quite happy if he could get away with wearing a multicolored tail of feathers. This shoe, to be fair, would fit in quite well 200 years ago during the age of Mozart, provided one is wearing a poofy wig and a powdered face. Perhaps a flintlock pistol would go well with this too.

    I have similar feelings towards most sneakers I see in footlocker these days.

    A shoe ought to be sleek, functional, clean lines and made of good quality. This indicates that the man is ready to achieve and move, whether to run through a forest or take on a rabid pack of lawyers in a boardroom.

    -ron

  16. Leroy September 11, 2006 at 7:25 am #

    I would not comment that the opera pumps is sissified. It depends on the wearer’s character and body built as well. It wasn’t 200 years ago that men wearing these pumps look good. I have friends who has been able to carry these shoes very well with their overall attire and their character. They are more gentlemanly and speaks with precision and calmness. Their body structure are definitely not one that is mascular or plump but slim and athletic built.

    From all these criteria, watching my friends wear such pumps was not in anyway weird or feel that they are out of place. Rather it would be suited for certain types of men with the right characteristics to carry it with style without projecting any impressionof being feminine.

  17. Leroy September 11, 2006 at 7:48 am #

    I would not comment that the opera pumps is sissified. It depends on the wearer’s character and body built as well. It wasn’t 200 years ago that men wearing these pumps look good. I have friends who has been able to carry these shoes very well with their overall attire and their character. They are more gentlemanly and speaks with precision and calmness. Their body structure are definitely not one that is mascular or plump but slim and athletic built.

    From all these criteria, watching my friends wear such pumps was not in anyway weird or feel that they are out of place. Rather it would be suited for certain types of men with the right characteristics to carry it with style without projecting any impressionof being feminine.