Pump (shoe)

It seems more likely that the “pump” shoe owes its name to the humble mechanical “pump.”  The classic “pump” shoe lacks straps or other fasteners, and the key to the shoe staying on one’s foot is its snug fit, rather like the piston of a pump.  In fact, back in the 16th century, such pistons in pumps were known as “pump shoes” from their vaguely shoe-like shape.  It’s likely that the “pump” shoe took its name, in a 16th century pun, from these close-fitting “pump shoe” pistons.

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6 comments on this post.
  1. T.A.Jones:

    The explanation commonly given over here (Britain) is that it refers to a type of flat shoe worn for dancing during the heyday of “taking the waters” at the various spa towns. The room where the spa water was dispensed, and in which, or in adjacent rooms, social events such as dances were held during the season, was commonly called the “pump room(s)” – Hence “pumps” for the shoes which would often have been worn there.

    I myself have “taken the waters” in the pump room at Bath, though not danced therein.

  2. Mary:

    My costumer friends tell me that pump shoes are so called because they were worn by the fashionable folk who took the waters in the famous Pump Room at Bath, England. Originally they were worn as dress shoes by men. I’ll see if I can find you a citation, if this is of interest.

  3. Mary:

    T.A. Jones — you said it better than I did. Sorry I hadn’t seen your comment sooner. Mine went to “moderation purgatory” since it was my first comment on this wonderful site. :-)

  4. cyranorox:

    Robinson Crusoe mentions wearing pumps, clearly low, step-in, strapless [?] shoes for men, and not fancy, but one of the footwear used at sea.

  5. austin:

    interested in “shoes for the dead”; only citation i know is Firesign Theatre:
    “Shoes for industry-shoes for the dead”
    in imitation of a government public service announcement
    circa WWII on radio.

  6. M. janzen:

    Referring to shoes as “pumps” dates back to the 1500s, when men and servants wore shoes without heels known as “pompes.” From there, the pompes evolved from the plain, flat shoes worn by men to embellished, heeled shoes worn by women.

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