Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Opera Pumped

   There are two spheres of thought regarding opera pumps: the punctilious one that holds it up as a whimsical and cherished avatar of formal tradition that proudly dates back to its 18th century antecedent, the court (dancing) shoe, and the anxious other that dismisses it as an feminising exemplar of menswear’s foppish Regency-era foibles that should have been laid to rest with Liberace and his wardrobe

   I’m a traditionalist with an appreciation for the ambiguous effect on the heterosexual psyche perpetrated by the likes of Prince, Michael Jackson, the cult of the bishounen and Jaye Davidson; one could discern my allegiance simply by learning that I possess a purple jacket, a set of bow ties, a number of pink garments and a mumu. Also, in some lost civilisations, the shorthand for “Dorky yet somewhat dashing” is “Barima”

   It’s also worth noting that duels, and therefore death through stab wounds, were something of a habit where fops were concerned. And as that era also happens to precede ours through the power of procreation, I, for one, am not going to be casting any generalised aspersions of a sexual sort

   If asked why my footwear has bows, I usually point to my neck and say, “One can never be too prepared”

   The defensive would feel the need to point out that bareknuckle boxers in the 19th century would don them to spend a few injurious rounds with one another, but this is hardly necessary. Opera pumps only truly stand out  within black and white tie ensembles when attention is drawn to them, and as it is most often women on pediwear-scrutiny duties, viewers tend to be appreciative on some level. Achieving such understatement with such fanciful detailing is a lesson worth heeding, I’d say

   You see, opera pumps also require a fine eye to go with that quiet-but-flashy sensibility. These days, tradition necessitates attitude (pride, not defiance) and that old classic masculinity, where in the past, they were merely mutual complements. The American sartorialists that I know or know of, living on a continent that regards dressing down as a catholicon of masculinity and relaxation, seem to bear a particular brunt for their tastes. All those menswear things that are relatively commonplace in Europe yet almost taboo in their areas tend to result in scrambles for acceptability: no wonder some of them come to regard the affected, peacocking neo-fops of Pitti Uomo as “cool”

   Modern sartorialists should not need affectation or trend hopping to be memorable. Refinement lifts us all up; common language flourishes when the foundations and details receive their due with pride. Without due consideration to why these things even exist, they will get away from us and – quelle surprise! – the terrorists win

   Yes, I’m for the pumps. I appreciate the sleekness; their appealingly aristocratic nature; the idiosyncrasies they impute to a man’s formal silhouette, the added kinetics they lend to my dancing. And they are now as good as deviant; that’s practically the only excuse I need

   If one is interested in stockists and cordwainers, this pictorial is for you. I love the iridescent shine of my Brooks Brothers/Peal & Co. patent model, as seen at top, but I’d be more than partial to the less conspicuous calfskin, particularly the Russian calf that Cleverley is known to offer

   For what it’s worth, I prefer the bows to be no more than lightly pinched:

Edward Green opera pumps rebranded as the Ralph Lauren Purple Label Orsett

 Brooks Brothers

 Moreschi Grant

 An unknown midcentury man in London; the woman's reaction behind him makes this ripe for comedy captioning

 Paolo of the Suitorial blog wears Allen Edmonds Ritz slip-ons. I also own them and neither of us are too fond of them, given their loafer-like last; they are nevertheless recommended as a less "challenging" variant

I think I also used to own that carpet


Alan said...

Very nice article on opera pumps. I love them and surprisingly they work very well w/ khakis or jeans and a polo shirt. Don't worry about looking 'girly.' It takes big stones to wear them.

Broadland slippers in the UK makes a great pair at a very reasonable price.

I have two pair and usually wear the style at least once a week.


Barima said...

I thought this might appeal to you, moreso than others

Christian at Ivy Style once featured an American illustration of young college men; one was wearing his pumps with a sweater and dress slacks in an appealing fashion

My real world opera pumps photograph will be up presently. I'm perfectly at home in them

Thank you for the kind feedback,


WinstonC said...


My favourite of those shown are the Bowhill & Elliots. Such perfect form and such an exquisite pinched bow!

The sexuality points are fascinating, as is the female scrutiny - I think this is actually part of their fear of a pied de chevalier looking as dainty and elegant, possibly more so, as their own.

Broadlands are seconded; excellent value, although they have sneakily increased the price from £90.



Barima said...


The B&Es are indeed quite nice, though I'm ultimately in favour of the Lobbs and the Fosters

I think your observation regarding dainty feet envy may be spot on

Always a pleasure to hear from you,


pve design said...

In the states, many wear "Belgian loafers" that you might like. My husband has a wonderful opera pump that I adore. I must illustrate them!

Barima said...

Madam, I'll look forward to the drawing!

Michael Jackson wore Belgian loafers and as he was a sartorially creative man, I've always been intrigued by them


Garth Vader said...

I know this is an old article, but I am hoping to get some advice on pumps. I have a narrow heel and foot, and I've only tried the BB Peal. The 10 is about the right length but pinches at the small toe. The 10 1/2 has heel slip when trying on at the store, and with the cemented sole construction I wouldn't expect that to improve much.

Perhaps a quilted model would offer a better fit for both heel and forefoot? The troubling thing is that the companies that do quilted only make these shoes to order, so I don't know if I could purchase two sizes and return the less optimal one.