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What are Court Shoes?

Grayson Millar
Grayson Millar

Court shoes are slip-on shoes that have low-cut tops and traditionally do not have any fastening devices or laces. However, some varieties do feature ankle straps or bows. In American English they are known as "pumps," whereas the name "court shoes" remains common in British English. They most often are worn by women, but they sometimes are worn by men, mostly in combination with formal wear.

Women's court shoes are generally heeled, but there is not a standard height for the heels. The height of the shoes that are available will vary depending on current fashion and can range from a short-heeled ballerina style to long, thin stiletto heels. The term "ballerina style" is indicative of the historical association of court shoes with dancing; various types are worn for ballroom dancing and ballet. Especially in the United States, low-heeled ballerina pumps are worn as a flexible shoe that can be paired with a wide variety of styles and outfits, from jeans with a T-shirt to dresses or other more formal attire. The shoes traditionally are associated with formal dress, but low to mid-height women's varieties also are flexible in terms of style, can be worn for informal occasions and can even be worn with a pair of jeans or shorts.

A black court shoe.
A black court shoe.

Women's court shoes do not have a standard toe length and are manufactured with toes that are both open and closed. Like the height of the heels, whether the toes are open or closed will vary depending on current fashion. Court shoes are made from a variety of materials, but black patent leather traditionally been common for formal wear. Satin is common for ballroom dancing shoes. Some are manufactured with ankle straps or bows, but these items generally are decorous and serve no real function.

In America, court shoes are more typically known as pumps.
In America, court shoes are more typically known as pumps.

Men's court shoes are almost exclusively worn as an accompaniment to formal wear, and they traditionally have been paired with a black or white tie. They often are known as "patent pumps," because they frequently are composed of black patent leather, or "opera slippers," again referring to their association with formal events. Both varieties have been produced with a bow just beneath the opening on the top of the foot. In general, men's court shoes have been replaced by the oxford style shoe and rarely are worn, though they are still fashionable in the realm of high style.

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Discussion Comments


I like slingback pumps. My heels tend to blister easily, so slingbacks allow me to wear pumps (or court shoes) without worrying about killing my heels.

For warm weather, I also like open-toed pumps because they are a little cooler and look more dressy than sandals.

I have some suede pumps I really like because they are more flexible than leather and seem to fit my feet more naturally. I usually wear pumps more in cooler weather, since my feet do get very warm in the summer.


I'll admit it: when I saw the title of the article, I thought they were probably talking about basketball shoes, which are often referred to as "court shoes" -- because they are used on a basketball court. I didn't know "court shoes" was the term for pumps in the UK. I'd never heard the term referring to anything but basketball shoes.

The origins of the term court shoe is obvious, which makes me wonder where we found the word "pumps" for shoes. I've wondered before, but knowing there's a more descriptive term around, makes me think again about the etymology of "pumps."

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    • A black court shoe.
      By: lloyd fudge
      A black court shoe.
    • In America, court shoes are more typically known as pumps.
      By: cecile02
      In America, court shoes are more typically known as pumps.