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