A pump is a style of women’s formal shoe that is strapless with a low cut front and has some degree of medium to high heel. While this is the basic definition for the pump there are many questionable derivations that can include straps, omit heels, be made for men and even be more of a slipper.
A common derivation of the standard pump is the ankle pump which has a small strap designed to secure the heel to the wearer’s ankle. It is also common to hear the term pump used to describe some dance shoes, including ballroom slippers.
In the UK what Americans call pumps are commonly referred to as court shoes and the term pump is used to describe a flat or low heeled shoe. The first incidence of the word pump referring a shoe occurred in the 1500’s as a name for flat strapless shoes worn by men. Around this time it was also common for lower class workers and servants to wear this style of shoe due to the quickness with which it could be put on as well as the low cost to manufacture.
It was not until the early 19th century that pumps became a fashionable shoe exclusively for women. There was still some male crossover at this time, however for the most part male pumps were replaced with oxford shoes. While today it is most common to see women wearing pumps there are still some men that wear this style of shoe; most notably British high court judges, and fashion forward men attending highly formal white tie events.