Saturday, July 18, 2009

Boots Beatle Boots to Bovver Boys the 1960s

The Sixties saw the return of the elegant boot for men and with a difference for these had Cuban heels. Made popular by the Beatles who wore both leather and suede Chelsea (slip-on) boots with pointed toes. Much less aggressive than brothel creepers and winkle pickers Beatle Boots resembled streamlined Congress Boots from Victorian times. French seams (a central stitch running from ankle to toe on the upper) were symbolic of an invagination (i.e. female genitalia).

The Sixties saw the beginning of the Sexual Revolution gone were the phallic inspired winklepicker toes of the late 50s to be replaced by the broader toed (chisel toe) Chelsea boots. In terms of zeitgeist this may suggest a time of gender equality or more likely sexual promiscuity. The Rolling Stones became the epitome of anarchy and dressed accordingly.

As the Beatles were the neatly suited Fab Four, the Stones were five individuals and dressed to celebrate the difference. For a short time, they wore suede hi-top ankle boots called Chukka Boots. These were the shoes of choice for Mods who rode scooters. The high boot protected the ankles from heat given from the exhaust pipe.

As the sixties progressed the fashion for leather boots dwindled whilst youngest males wore hi-top trainers for preference.

By the end of the decade the sub culture of ‘skin heads’ (suede heads) saw the introduction of unisex clothing which included Dr. Marten boots. Dr Klause Maertens of Munich invented air soles in 1945 and was inspired when recovering from a skiing accident. He wanted to wear a comfortable shoe and developed Airware boots. They began to sell in 1947 but it took until 1960s when Bill Griggs persuaded the German parent company to let him manufacture workman’s protective boots with the air cushioned sole at his factory in Northampton. The once ultra-conservative Dr Martens shoes became the trademark of urban youth excited by violence in Doc Martens. Urban warriors are not the invention of the sixties but were in evidence much earlier on in history.

Boot boys were common place in the seventeenth century and used to terrorise the highways of the time. DMs became the uniform of rebellious youth and skinheads made it their own. In the seventies DMs or Bovver Boots threatened the complacency of the bourgeoisie and all the more so because it was a unisex phenomenon. The original eight lacing boot with distinctive yellow stitches has remained the most unique boot of all time. With its patented sole and trends no competitor has ever attempted to copy its world famous features.

As the appearance of Beatle Boots heralded the beginning on a new era so too did Doc Martens document an ambiguity and blurring of role distinctions in the later decades of the 20th century. Doc Martens became popular with women and Gay men – so despite its macho aggressiveness it belies the real feelings of the wearer even Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama ordered several pairs of Doc Martens.

Reviewed 26/03/2016

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Military Boots: Hob nails, Shoody goods and Trench Foot

Barefoot warriors were commonplace in antiquity but sometimes the upper foot was covered for protection. The Romans militarised their sandals and made them robust with copper tacks to secure the union between the sole and upper. The origins of hob nailed boots can be traced back to Roman times. Protruding nails on the sole of the sandal extended the lifespan of footwear as well as give added traction. In the 20th century the British Army were supplied with hob nailed boots as an ecomomy. This Blutcher or Derby style footgear flowed through to the industrial working boot.

In the Great War it was estimated some 2,500,000 pairs of sgreat War hoes were made for the Allied troops. Laid end to end this would cover the complete coastline of Western Australia. 380,000 cattle required to be slaughtered to provide the equivalent of 17.5 million square feet of leather or 400 acres. The soul leather alone would weigh 4,000 tons; metal for nails would be 1,150 tons; with 55 tons of thread; and 78,000,000 eyelets. War has always meant big business to the shoe and textile industries. Sadly, this has not always brought the best from friendly suppliers and it is estimated human greed can account for almost as many casualties as enemy fire in modern warfare. Soldier’s boots need to be suoerior quality for the conditions of combat otherwise then their fighting ability is undermined.

During the American Civil War, the US cavalry were demoralised because of shoddy workmanship. Supplied with sub-standard cardboard, cowboy boots, their feet and legs were cut to ribbons. The term shoddy was added to the English lexicon meaning ‘inferior quality, second rate’.

During the Second World War footwear supplies to the front were fatally delayed because vital supplies were misappropriated by Black Marketeers. It was quite common to find non-combat units wearing superior footwear intended for their colleagues at the front. Trench fighting during the Great War meant the men were stood in very cold mud for long periods of time. Their footwear was no match for the atrocious conditions of the trenches and many suffered Trench Foot.

In the Second World War, trench foot was responsible for putting more Allied Forces out of action than the German 88 (artillery). In December 1944, northern Europe's witnessed its coldest winter during which 45,000 men - the equivalent of three full infantry divisions, were pulled out of the front line because of trench foot. Three days before the Battle of the Bulge began so great were the casualties to trench foot, men unable to walk were carried from sheltered pillbox positions at night to firing positions in the day time. Behind the US Lines it was decreed any soldier suffering trench foot would be tried for court martial. Senior officers were suspicious some soldiers were hoping to avoid combat by actively encouraging symptoms of trench foot.

One reason why trench foot was so common was soldiers slept with their boots on. During engagement they were recommended to dry and warm their feet as best they could, and sleep with their boots off. This was often impractical and most ignored the directive.

Conditions in the Falklands War were also extreme. The British soldiers were severely challenged by their inferior boots. The direct moulded sole failed to keep their feet dry and water poured through the lace holes. The impermeable sole provided a perfect reservoir and feet was immersed in cold water for long periods. Trench foot was commonplace and a major concern to the assault forces. The Argentine boot, on the other hand, was superior in every way and provided ideal protection to the elements; hence it became a valued prize of war.

Reviewed 22/03/2016

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Potted History of the Cowboy Boot

The origins of the Cowboy Boot are well researched and started life as riding boots for the marauding Mongol tribesmen. Horsemen wore red wooden heels and conquered all before them. The fashion caught on and was popular for centuries among nobility and horse riders. Louis XIV wore only red heels as a tribute to Genghis Khan and banned all other men in his court from sporting the red heel.

English Cavaliers took the style to extraordinary lengths wearing thigh high riding boots with Cuban heels. Once defeated by Oliver Cromwell, the Cavalier Stuarts immigrated in their droves to the New World. They took with them their boots and many settled in the southern states forming the plantation class. After the Civil War (1861-65) many southerners migrated west to Texas taking with them their noble footwear. Standard cavalry issue during the American Civil War was the Wellington boot.

In 1815, Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington, defeated Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo (1815). The popular victor became a national icon and both men and women emulated his sartorial style by adopting his footwear. To make the boots easier to mass produce the modern Wellington had a low cut heel which was calf high and not thigh high.

Unfortunately, during the American Civil War (1861-1865) unscrupulous contractors supplied below par footwear to the government and many of the cavalry boots were mass produced using reinforced cardboard. Climatic conditions took its tool and horse soldiers suffered deep cuts to their feet. A Chiropodist General to the US cavalry was appointed at this time. Our lexicon was enriched with the word shoddy meaning manufacturers willing to compromise for profit. Many experts believe the final victory by the Union Army was in no small measure due to the superior footwear of their forces. There were few boot factories in the south and many of the Confederate Army fought barefoot.

Right and left boots were introduced and they were most unpopular. As a result, shoe manufacturers decided not to introduce right and left shoes to the masses for another half century. At the end of the war the federal government had half a million pairs of boots surplus to requirements.

Systematically during the following years troops stationed on the frontier were supplied with the shoddy boots. Shoe historians believe the foundation of the cowboy boot trade in the frontier was based on the simple necessity for civilian bookmakers to replace defective military footwear. Skilled workers from Germany and other European Countries were welcomed and crafted hard wearing boots called "kips" from the shoddy military issue. These were low heeled, high topped boots made in hard, black, leather. Boot makers based their designs on Northern European riding boots. The most popular was the Coffeyville Boot (1870) from Coffeyville, Kansas. It combined the various US Cavalry styles and the original British leather, Wellington boot. Billy the Kid (1859-1881) was reputed to wear a style of boots based on the Austrian Boot.

During the American Indian Wars in the west (circa 1865) the US Government issued new boots to the soldiers that used brass tacks to hold the leather soles to the uppers. As the soles wore down the tracks protruded through the bottom into the soldier’s feet. The Government put together a committee to study the problem and suggested a solution. Their solution was to issue each soldier with a metal file to file down the points of the tacks as they pushed through the boot sole. This is thought to be the origin of the phrase “getting down to brass tacks.”

High heeled boots (4"), called saddle dandies, were popular by 1860s. The back of the heel sloped gently until the sole was no bigger than a quarter.

Drover, Stovepipe and cattleman models were popular and the leg of the boots rose at least 14 inches with many boots going thigh high.

By the 1880's the cowboy boot was beginning to emerge as a distinctive style. Starting life as a dress Wellington or full Wellington, the fashion merged with the hard wearing lace up boot (or packer), worn by drovers. Other influences included the Mexican riding boot called vaquero. Early cowboy boots had no ornamentation and for control in the saddle, the shoe portion was made so tight that walking was difficult and painful. Originally both boots were made on the same last which necessitated the wearer having to break them in. Later the three-piece military boot was incorporated and worn by Hollywood's Cowboys.

In 1903 the first embroidered toe wrinkles started to appear. Cut out leather designs often in a star pattern were sometimes overlaid around the collars of the boot tops. Tejas (or Napoleon style boots) with their peacock flair and ostentatious inlays were worn by Hollywood megastars like Tex Ritter (1905 -1974) and Tom Mix (1880 – 1940) during the 20's and 30's. At first films were made in the Eastern States and the costumes were based on exaggerated clothing illustrated in cheap novels and comics. By the time the industry moved to California in 1914 and employed real cowboys, their actual clothes were considered too dull compared to the illusion.

Instead actors wore highly decorated boots outside their trousers.

Charlie Dunn one of Texas's most famous makers had produced in 1914 a pair of boots trimmed with gold and inlaid with diamonds and rubies for a gambler. In 1923 boots were available in the US, made from kangaroo skins. It is therefore somewhat surprising to think; today’s cowboy boots are really fantasy footwear fabricated by Hollywood and have little to do with the Wild West.

The Italian shoe designer, Salvatore Ferragamo (1898- 1960) made boots for one of Cecil B de Mille's films. The director was so impressed he said " The West would have been conquered earlier, if they had boots like these." The style caught on and thanks to Hollywood became popular across the world. Designs became more colourful and ornate and fashion designed flocked to add to the range of boots available to the fashion following throngs.

By the 1930s cowboy boots were available with leather inlays depicting steer heads, stars, half-moons, dice diamonds, initials, ranch brands, hearts and butterflies. Boot makers vied to outdo each other with coloured leathers, stitching and exotic materials, decorating their boots with decks of cards, oil derricks, spider's webs, prickly pear cacti, and bucking broncos. The exotic cowboy boot remained popular and peaked in the mid-fifties.

The Lucchese Company of Texas in 1940's produced 48 pairs of boots to symbolise each of the states, featuring inlays of the state house and state flower, bird and flag.

In 1954, the design of cowboy boots changed to accommodate the growing sport of Roping. At rodeos competitors were required to bale off their mounts, then chase and tackle a strong calf. A lower heel and rounded toe was preferred. This style soon caught on with the audience and became the vogue.

The 60s brought an oil boom to the oil states which led to a subsequent economic upswing. Conservative Texans were more likely to drive a Cadillac than ride mustangs and so therefore influenced the fashion for lower heeled boots.

By the 70's urban cowboys took to the dance floor and the common work boot all but vanished. The new boots were less hardwiring and more high fashion. Today's styles cater for both with the traditional high heel and pointed toes for the posers and a lower heel, rounder toed boot with comfortable soles and laces for the real cowboy.

There is a common bond between many of the modern US Presidents and cowboy boots. Harry Trueman (1948) ordered his from the famous bootmakers, Tony Lama, establishing the "El Presidente" style which in turn graced the feet of many other US Presidents.

Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon B Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama .

Current hopefuls include Hiliary Clinton and Ted Cruz

The appeal of the fashion cowboy boot in not hard to fathom and it is an excuse for men to share the thrill of standing on elevated footwear. The change in body mass this has makes for a more attractively shaped derriere and hence the natural development of the jeans. Standing taller helps to give the impression of power and dominance and presence and presentation were all in the Hollywood that made the style fashionable. The footwear can be secreted into everyday wear and therefore undetected to the undiscerning eye. On average a handmade fashion boot will take 45 hours of loving labour and be every bit as a creation as a designer cocktail dress.

Further Reading

More information about the cowboy boot at Jennifer June's Tribute to Cowboy Boots

Reviewed 13/03/2016

Monday, June 29, 2009

Twentieth Century Boots

Improved mechanisation at the turn of the 20th century and the introduction of the first heel factory in the US (1889) meant shoes and boots became more readily available to ordinary people. Popularity for Balmoral boots continued with a young Winston Churchill a devotee. Victorian fashion highlighted feminine beauty in which eroticism played no small part. Hemlines were rising and legs, ankles and feet took greater importance and long legs were definitely an attractive feature so heels prevailed. High boots buttoned at the side were fashionable for both men and women. Upper class women wore boots made from glace kid or brocade, velvet and antelope skin, whereas working women wore lace up ankle boots made from leather. The spat was a combination of a patent leather shoe with a cloth legging and was often fastened with buttons. An essential accessory for women who wore these was a button hook. Charles Chaplin favoured patent leather boots with beige cloth legs. By 1921 women were wearing straight topped, knee high, Russian boots (similar to a Wellington boot) with pointed toes and a Louis heel. The boot originally laced up the side but was later replaced with a zipper (invented, 1891). Dunlop developed another version for the fashion market; these were made from rubber and came in a brown colour. The boots had pointed toes and a Cuban heel. Wellingtons or wellies as they are better known had a short fashion life and were soon relegated to garden accessories. For ease in cleaning the spat (combination of shoe and legging) could be separated. The sports boot and forerunner to athletic footwear has its ancestry in the development of the blutcher army boot and came from conscription for war. Boots took less and less fashion attention after the 1930s and were often associated with oppression. Wars and depression meant greater concentration was given over to utility and hard wearing properties. In Australian during the depression RM Williams designed and made an elastic sided boot for mounted stockmen working in the outback (1932). The qualities of water resistance comfort and toughness ensured the footwear became popular with country people and now are exported all over the world. Williams was assisted in his endeavour by Dollar Mick a travelling companion. Made from one piece leather the upper had no seems to burst when worn hard against the saddle stirrups. At first heels were hand made with a series of lifts but nowadays they are pre-made and nailed to the sole by machine. In the late fifties boots began to appear in mainstream fashion. Rediscovered by the youth of the day engineer boots took on a fashionable veneer. First came the fashionable canvas boot associated with the popular game of baseball in the US. Next the desert boot which was to spring board into Brothel Creepers, then, the sixties chukka boots. Both traditional leathers and new look plastic were used to add spectacle to the tight fitting footwear.
The Engineer's boot or Biker's boot was used by motorcyclists of the fifties to protect their legs from the heat of the engine. They also gave a mechanical advantage to the biker when holding on to the pedals not to mention a buccaneer quality. The chukka boot was hybrids of dessert boots and was worn by scooter, mad Mods. The ankle protection prevented the Mods from the heat of the engine. Made from suede they wear prone to mark easily until the invention of Hush Puppies which were treated synthetically. The Cuban heeled, Chelsea boot or recycled elasticised boots was rediscovered and became fashionable with young men, in the sixties. These were worn with pointed toes, round toes or chisel toes. With the introduction of the mini in the 60's women's legs were more exposed and fashion designers created ankle and knee length boots to accentuate the new look. Thigh high boots enjoyed a degree of popularity too. By coincidence the boots often captured kinks or folds and were nicknamed as "kinky boots”. The youth of the decade's preoccupation with promiscuity, meant instant success for these "go go boots'. In the seventies the US oil recession meant expensive fashion boots fell from fashion. Doc Marten boots meantime became popular with both sexes and were associated with the alternative Punk movement. DMs commercial success in the early seventies combined with increased competition and the availability of cheaper Taiwanese and Korean products convinced the Swartz brothers (US) to manufacture under the Timberland label. The company was launched in 1975. The relaxed all American male image portrayed by the rugged footwear was an instant success with the young Americans. More importantly according to Cattison and Patterson (1997) this was the first time since cowboy boots that a manufactured style was sold to US youth. Their popularity spread throughout the Europe and the rest of the world. Like cowboy boots, Timberland boots, have become part of the mythology support by clever marketing. The success of Timberland boots draws a clear point that only in the later part of the twentieth century have men been targeted. This had been the domain of women's fashion. Nostalgia for earlier pioneering days combined with a rise in the Green Movement, meant yuppies could wear these icons on their feet. The four wheeled drive boots of suburbia had arrived. The platform boot was popular with the Glam rockers of the seventies. Platform soles gave the height challenged an advantage they would otherwise not have had. Abba took the new platform boots to knee and thigh length extremes. Made in all sorts of material synthetic and natural the fashion passed with the death of disco. However it remained popular as drag sartoria only to re-appear more recently in the nineties with "girl power".

Pattison A & Cawthorne N 1997 A century of shoes: icons of style in the 20th century NSW : Universal International

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Nineteenth Century Boots

The Napoleonic Wars dominated the early part of this century and shoe makers became dedicated to making the military boots but as the war passed they soon adapted their skills to civilian wear. First men, then women took to wearing boots for everyday wear and this remained the vogue until the end of the 1800's when shoes became popular again.

Men's boots had high heels until the middle of the nineteenth century when the design of coaches was improved and the development of railways meant less need for horses.

According to McDowell (1989) the height of heels worn by women were equally a reflection of their preferred mode of transport i,e a coach. During the seventeenth century ladies traveled by sedan chair. In Versailles, sedan chairs were carried into the public rooms so ladies might alight on clean dry floors. The fight against dirt was everyone's concern until the introduction of metalled roads.

The slap sole was a fashionable extension added to high heeled shoes and boots. Working on a similar principle to the Eskimo's snow shoe with a bar between the heel and forefoot to increase surface contact thus preventing the shoe from sinking into the mud. The outdoor extension was called after the sound made when the sole 'slapped' the mud to the side.

Nineteenth century Dandys like Beau Brummell paid much attention to their appearance. Although there was less emphasis on ostentatious styles for men by the beginning of the twentieth century. Men’s' fashions had virtually become a uniform. This is especially true of shoes.

Until 1820, women generally wore soft flat heeled slippers for all occasions but after that, day shoes or ankle boots were widely favoured. (Black J and Anderson and Garland M, 1975)

By 1830 fashions for non-working women included boots. There was a return of the heel and the boots were worn short to the ankle, or just above. To give the appearance of daintiness, the boots were made on narrow lasts. The introduction of heelless shoes brought an end to the straight shoe. Closely buttoned or tightly laced to the mid-calf, the boot supported the ankle, presumably to reduce risk of sprains. Ladies boots were made from silk, fabric or kid leather.

A change of lacing style to side lacing proved very popular and the ankle boots were called "Adelaides" after the Queen Consort of William IV. The style highlighted the gentle contours of the female foot, presenting a vulnerable and delicate extension. Primarily the boot was to encase the female foot and ankle from temptation but probably had the opposite effect.

Bootmakers embellished their wares with silk fabrics and metallic thread embroidery. Button closures were used instead of laces to reveal shapely ankles. Cut-outs in the leather were sometimes included a playful view of colourful stockings. These boots were called Barrettes.

Heels did make a return by the middle of the nineteenth century and close fitting high button boots became the predominant fashion.

Charles Goodyear's discovery of vulcanised rubber enabled Sparkes-Hall, bootmaker to Queen Victoria in 1837 to invent the elastic gusset boot. The advantage of elasticated boots meant they could be easily removed and put on again which appealed to busier and more demanding life style of Victorian women. Although there were several teething problems by the late 1840's the fashion began to catch on. This became a prominent style in the West until the onset of World War One.

The Balmoral boot (or Bal) was originally designed for Prince Albert and consisted of a close fitting lace up boot, similar to those worn by today's wrestlers. They could be front or side lacing and acted as a galosh to protect the feet from the wet gorse. The upper section of the toe box was treated with water proofing. Queen Victoria must have approved because she had several pairs made and wore them regularly. Possibly because Prince Albert expressed a liking for the style because it had a slendering effect. Balmoral boots became popular with both men and women. After the Royal family bought Balmoral in Scotland, the Queen took to walking and this required sturdy footwear for women. This freedom reflected the growing movement for women to enter the workforce.

Well-bred women could not be acknowledged to possess anything as base and potentially carnal as legs. Indeed, it was during the Victorian period that legs were referred to as lower limbs. Crinoline as a material may have looked ridiculous but at the same time was very seductive. The steel hops that buoyed the skirt kept the material in a permanent state of motion. The slightest pressure at one point raised it correspondingly at the opposite point. This often revealed a titillating and tantalising glimpse of the forbidden flesh i.e. the female ankle.

Partly worn in honour of Wellington (1769-1852), the boot complemented the crinoline dresses and provided a foot corset enjoyed by men and understood by women.

The nineteenth century was dominated by dancing and the craze for public balls affected the dress and costume of the day. Jane Austin's novels illustrate the importance of dances to nineteenth century social life. Fancy costume balls were all the rage in America and women would create their own design themes.

Fashionable boots came in many forms including Opera boots which were highly decorated footwear. These were popular with opera goers and hence the name.

Juliets were quilted boots worn by lady's travelling in carriages. Once they arrived at their destination they would change into other shoes more suited to the occasion.

In the cold winters earthenware boot warmers were used to heat up the footwear. The piece is hollowed with a hole in the top and like a hot water bottle warm water can be added before the device is inserted into a boot.

Hi low boots or half boots were first worn as fashionable boots in the early 1800s. Made from silk or wool they laced to above the ankle. Women began to wear low, “half” boots as a practical alternative to delicate slippers in the early nineteenth century but silk hi lows were a popular choice with brides.

Victorian children wore miniature adult shoes and gaiter boots were popular.

By the middle of the century mass production meant the cost of boots became affordable to more people. No longer were they a reliable sign of status, the boot become a symbol of emerging equality not just between the sexes, but also among the social groups (O'Keeffe, 1996). The workboot started to appear and waterproofed boots designed to give women greater mobility with freedom outdoors became available.

Patent leather boots and shoes became fashionable for both men and women between 1850 and 1860.

John Lobb trained as a bootmaker in London before moving to Australia to try his luck in the goldfields. He never found his fortune in gold but instead came up with the brainwave of making hollow heeled boots for prospectors to hide their gold. The idea caught on and John Lobb set himself up in business in Sydney in 1858. When the Great Exhibition came along in 1862 he sent a pair of his boots along and won a gold medal for their quality. Twelve months later he sent a pair of his riding boots to the Prince of Wales and was awarded a Royal Warrant. He returned to London and established a business " John Lobb, Bootmaker" which continues to trade as the world's most famous bespoke shoemaking establishment.

Boots for women became more elaborate from 1850s onwards partly due to the introduction of machinery. The Bustle dress allowed more opportunity to reveal the feet. Shoes became more fanciful and elasticised boots were worn for daytime wear where at night leather slippers were preferred for formal wear. Men’s slippers were usually black and trimmed with black flat bows or black ribbon rosettes. (Bigelow, 1970,).

Carriage (overshoe or boot) shoe were made of kid leather and lined with fur. Worm by women in winter in horse drawn carriages and in early automobiles. (Rossi 2000)

In 1890, the low shoe or laced oxford was introduced. These were often worn with gaiters in colder weather or for sporting occasions. Toe shapes changed over this period but otherwise shoes and boots styles remain unchanged.

Toe shapes changed over the last three decades of the 19th century. In 1870 the square toe eas the fashion; 1880 rounded began to appear; then during the 1890s boot and shoe toes became more pointed. In 1890 rubber soled shoes were introduced. (Bigelow, 1970)

Bigelow MS 1970 Fashion in history apparel in the western world Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Co
McDowell C (ed) 1998 Fashion: the Pimlico companion to fashion Random House London
Black, J. Anderson and Garland, Madge A History of Fashion. Orbis Publishing, Ltd., 1975.
O'Keeffe L 1996 Shoes: a celebration of pumps, sandals, slippers and more New York: Workman Publishing Company.
Warren G 1987 Fashion accessories since 15000 Unwin Hyman London

Reviewed 10/03/2016