Saturday, July 3, 2010

Boots in Antiquity: Colour and cost

In antiquity, efforts to control personal regulation were related to the general mode of living rather than of dress. The Greeks had some laws relating to clothing, such as; women could only wear three garments at a time. This may account for why most women went barefoot. The amount of money to be spent on clothing was also regulated by the wealth of the family.

Sumptuary laws in Rome included the Lex Orchia which was passed in 187 BC. This related to the number of invited people who might attend a feast. The Lex Fannia was passed in 161 BC and regulated, the cost of entertainment. According to Brundage, (1987) the Roman Lex Oppia, was adopted in 215 BC and later repealed 195 BC with the Lex Valria Fundiana. He described the action of Marcus Porcius Cato who argued lifting restrictions of women's dress would invite moral decadence and social upheaval. He was right and both followed in quick pursuit.

Colour and material were very important as a means of depicting rank in Roman time. Laws were passed restricting peasants (plebs) to one colour; officers could wear two colours; commanders three; and members of the royal household up to seven colours. The colour purple was always reserved for the royal family. Scarlet could be worn only by royal family members and high noblemen.

During the reign of Claudius I (AD 41-54), his marines were ordered to go barefoot after some demanded compensation from the emperor for the marching shoes the marines had worn out. As a result, the entire fleet were forbidden from wearing shoes.

At the time of Emperor Aurelian, (Lucius Claudius Domitius Aurelianus (AD 270 - 275) the colours yellow, white, red or green were reserved exclusively for women. The only exception to this was he reserved the right to wear red or purple for himself and his sons. He banned his wife from buying purpura-dyed silk garments because it cost its weight in gold. Only ambassadors to foreign lands might wear gold rings, and men were strictly forbidden from wearing silk garments of any sort.

When Roman soldiers returned victorious to Rome they frequently celebrated by substituting the bronze nails in their caligae (war sandals) with gold and silver tacks. The fashion caught on and patricians began to wear ornamentation on their shoes with gold and jewels. Such alarm was raised with the fashion for shoe bling Emperor Heliogabalus (AD 218-222) banned the practice.

Heliogabalus had his own shoes decorated with diamonds and other precious stones, engraved by the finest artists. During the more luxurious days of the Roman Empire, thongs were decorated with gold and precious stones. Sumptuary laws and price controls were later imposed by Gaius Valerius Diocletianus (AD 245-313), in AD 301.

During Roman times footwear came in many styles and colours each reflecting class distinctions. Only male citizens were entitled to wear the toga and the calceus (a shoe or short boot). The colour of the calceus always indicated social standing. The reason for this had much to do with the cost of dying materials which was very expensive. Red was, at first, the colour for high magistrates (in the service of Edile); but later became the Emperor's prerogative.

Brundage JA 1987 Sumptuary laws and prostitution in late Medieval Italy Journal of Medieval History 13:4 343-355.

Reviewed 3/04/2016

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Potted history of Wellington Boots

The wellington boot is associated with Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, (the Iron Duke) (1769-1852). He instructed his shoemaker, George Hoby of St. James' Street, London, to modify the Hessian 18th century boot and make it in calfskin leather.

George Hoby (1759-1832) was proud of his achievement and is reported to have said on news of the French defeat at Vittoria.

“If Lord Wellington had any other bootmaker than myself, he never would have had his great and constant successes; for my boots and prayers bring his lordship out of all his difficulties.”

Wellingtons first appeared in 1817 and proved popular with the troops because they were hard wearing for battle yet comfortable for evening wear. The boot leather was treated with wax to make them softer and more waterproof. The new boots became a very popular fashion accessory for gentlemen. Considered fashionable and foppish in the best circles, they remained the main fashion for men throughout the 1840's. In the 50's they were more commonly made in the calf high version and in the 60's they were both superseded by the ankle boot, except for riding.

After Charles Goodyear (1800-1860) invented a vulcanisation process for rubber some American bookmakers began making rubber boots.

Hiram Hutchinson saw the potential to shod agricultural workers in France and bought the patent from Goodyear in 1852. He started a rubber boot company in Montargis called “La Compagnie du Caoutchouc Souple” (The Flexible Rubber Company). He patented a brand of wellington boots he called “A L’Aigle (or Homage to the Eagle) in 1853. The new waterproof boots were quick to become established and sold well within the large rural population (95% of the population). By 1857 the company were hand making 14000 pairs of boots per day. Now called Aigle, these Wellington boots have become synonymous with quality and 95% of the Aigle’s collection is still handcrafted in France.

Fellow American, Henry Lee Norris moved to Edinburgh, Scotland and started producing rubber wellington boots in 1856.

Norris believed Scotland was a good place to manufacture wellingtons because of the country’s high rainfall. Based at Castle Silk Mills his company was registered as the British Rubber Company. Four former bootmakers from New York trained the Scottish workforce and the company went in to production first making rubber shoes and boots but then quickly expanding to produce an extensive range of rubber products, included tyres, conveyor belts, combs, golf balls, hot water bottles and rubber flooring.

Come the outbreak of the First World War (1914- 1918) the trench war ensured high production of rubber boots. In the Second World War the armed forces again used vast quantities of rubber wellington boots along with waders. In peace time farmer’s gardeners and fishermen made good use of rubber footwear.

The new wellingtons (or ‘wellies’) had to be hard wearing and comfortable, usually made of natural rubber with good non-slip soles. Wellington boots came in a variety of colours and heights, but most are about knee-high and a number of them come up to the crotch and are worn as waders. The soles were also made of full rubber and had some form of tread on them for grip while walking in a stream or on wet ground. These boots are made to be waterproof.

The North British Rubber Company continued to prosper introducing both the Green Hunter and Royal Hunter wellingtons in 1955. The North British Rubber Company changed its name to Uniroyal Limited in 1966. More changes took place until eventually four decades later; the Wellington boot production section became Hunter Boot Limited. Hunter Wellington boots have transformed from being a solely practical item to now an extremely popular fashion brand.