Why Do So Many Pumps Slip In The Back?

Many pumps slip off your feet in the back because they were made incorrectly. Learn how to tell the good ones from the bad just by looking at them.

When people talk about a well-fitting pump, the conversation usually centers around the toes. This makes sense because the toes often bear the burnt of a badly fitting shoe. However, this tends to leave the rest of the shoe out of the conversation, which is not helpful because often the toes’ woes are due a problematic heel. For a well-fitting pump, the heel has to follow the anatomy of the foot very closely – and you can tell if it does just by looking at it.

In order to do that, let’s take an uncomfortably close look at the human foot:

human heel anatomy
Who knew there’s so much going on back there?

If you take the part of the heel that goes inside a pump and divide it into four equal quadrants, you can immediately tell just how asymmetrical it really is. The main points to note:

  • The top is MUCH more narrow than the bottom.
  • The top two quadrants (3) and (4) have much less volume than the bottom two (1) and (2).
  • The heel curves inward in the upper quadrants (3) and (4) – points (C) and (D).
  • The outside bottom quadrant (1) has more volume than the inside (2) and
  • The widest point of the outside quadrant (1) – point (A) – is a bit lower than the widest point of the inside quadrant (2) – point (B).

The proportions vary from person to person, but for the most part this is the general shape we’re working with.  This is very important for pumps and structured ballerina flats because in order to stay put and not do damage, those styles have to fit like a bodycon dress. The more closed styles like boots have the leeway to fit more like a coat because they have more material above the foot to distribute the pressure and keep it in place and because the wearer can always put on a thicker sock to pad the difference. On the other hand (foot?), if a pump does not fit like a Hervé Léger dress, it will either slip around, causing blisters, or cut into the foot, resulting in damage. Or, usually, both.

To fill this need, the shoe industry created a special last shape called, imaginatively enough, the pump-specific last. The back of a shoe made on a pump-specific last will look approximately like this:

Correctly made pump heel illustration
All the same curves and bumps in weird places as the foot it’s supposed to fit.

You can see that the shoe’s shape generally follows the anatomy: the upper quadrants curve inward and are much smaller than the lower, the outside widest point is lower than the inside, the top is much smaller than the bottom. Here are some photos of actual pumps that more or less follow these principles. Note that for this post I am covering up all the labels. I am not showing photos of actual shoes to shame particular brands for their wrongdoing, or endorse others for doing what they’re supposed to do. This is strictly for educational purposes and it’s much easier to see the point I’m trying to make in photos than just illustrations.

Correctly made pump heel examples
These pass the visual check and may get tried on.

That red one could use some tweaking, but it’s nowhere near as bad for my blood pressure as some of the gems I’ll show you later on. In general, all of these shoes have different proportions and they will all fit very differently. A pump can do everything right and still not fit your foot’s unique shape. It just gets to be in the running.

Next, let’s look at some shoes from above:

Correctly made heels top view
Do stick to imaginary lines, I hear shoe stores frown on people drawing on their display samples.

The opening for your foot (called the topline) is pretty narrow around the heel area, much more narrow than the part below it that has to accommodate the fullness of the heel. If you draw an imaginary line across the back of the topline and another across the widest part of the heel cup, there will be a substantial difference between the two. You should also be able to see quite a bit of the outside material of the shoe when you look at it from above like that.

(This is where the rant happens)

There is a shocking amount of pumps in the wild that are definitely NOT made on a pump-specific last, especially at the lower price points. It makes sense – lasts are expensive, so using the same set of lasts for both pumps and boots saves a lot of money. When you have to hit a particular price point, you shave the costs wherever you can in order to reach your target. This is not necessarily the brand’s doing. Depending on the agreement they have with their factory (or their licensee), it could very well be the factory that’s paying for the lasts so the factory is the one making those decisions in order to hit the target price the brand negotiated with them. Regardless of the culprit, there are lots of heinous shoes out there.

Here are a few choice options:


Examples of incorrectly made heels back view
I did not have to look hard to find these examples. They are everywhere!

These backs are…special. #6 is the only one that is even trying the whole asymmetry thing, half-heartedly. It’s still much too wide, and too tall (which deserves a whole separate rant). The upper quadrants are not much narrower than the lower ones on all of them. #4 and #5 curve OUTWARD in the upper quadrants, which is the exact opposite of what they should be doing if they were trying to fit an actual member of our species. #4 has a ridiculously wide top and #5 is so perfectly symmetrical, it would fit an egg better than a human foot.

Examples of incorrectly made pumps top view
Maybe they look better from above? Nope. They do not.

The top view is not much better. I don’t think these are meant for people who have Achilles tendons – which is too bad, since we all have them. The toplines are so wide on all of these that you can see just a sliver of the outside material on either side. The imaginary line trick really shows just how wide the supposedly narrowest part of the topline is compared to the overall heel width. In order to fit in these shoes, you would have to have an Achilles tendon that is almost the same width as the widest part of your heel. There is no way an average human woman can wear these without falling out of them.

And yet people still buy shoes like these if they’re “soooo cuuuute!”. This is a problem because not only is that the fastest way to end up with awful blisters, but more structural problems as well. Most importantly, if the back is floppy enough, people will go down half a size to compensate for it, which is all kinds of not good. This is the situation I mentioned in the beginning of this post when I said that often the toes are paying the price for a poorly fitting back.  Most women wear the wrong size and I think this is at least partially to blame. I don’t care how cute the shoes are. They are really, really not worth the long term damage. There are cute, correctly made shoes at every price point and the hunt for them is a worthwhile time investment.

If you wear pumps and flats, I suggest taking a good, critical look at your current shoe closet and at least making note of the shoes you may have to replace eventually in light of this information, if you can’t quite part with them outright.

If you are a shoe developer, check your latest batch of samples – and if you need someone to help you have that little chat with your factory, get in touch.