Pumps, low-cut, slip-on shoes, developed from the shoes worn at royal courts in Europe in the 1870s and have been popular in a variety of versions ever since. The earliest varieties had thick one-to two-inch heels. But after World War II (1939–45) women embraced ultrafeminine styles and wore pumps with higher, slimmer heels. By the 1950s women teetered on pointy-toed pumps with four-inch-high stiletto heels. But throughout the 1960s and 1970s pumps became more practical for walking, with lower, thicker heels and rounded or squared toes.

The 1980s version of the pump was sleek, featuring a U-shaped throat (the opening for the foot), a pointed toe, and a stiletto heel, resembling the style first popularized in the 1950s. The feminine styling and high heel of the pump contrasted with the masculine styling of the tailored suits women wore to work. The combination came to symbolize women's newfound power on the job. The only problem was that these pumps were terribly uncomfortable. Working women soon began seeking lower-heeled pumps for work. The more casual styles of the 1990s brought thicker heels and squared or rounded toes to pumps made in a variety of fabrics, from stiff leather to elasticized cloth. By the twenty-first century the pointed-toe, stiletto heeled pump had returned to favor.

A brown alligator-skin pump. Pumps have been an essential style of footwear for more than one hundred years. Reproduced by permission of © .


Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.

Lawlor, Laurie. Where Will This Shoe Take You?: A Walk Through the History of Footwear. New York: Walker and Co., 1996.

Pratt, Lucy, and Linda Woolley. Shoes. London, England: V&A Publications, 1999.

[ See also Volume 5, 1946–60: Stiletto Heel ]

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