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


  1. This was a really outstanding post. elevator shoes for men In theory I'd like to compose like this too - taking time and real effort to make a solid article.

  2. It’s nice sharing! Where are the store to buy the boots for women?The store is the shoes shop online.