“Made for Walking” Takes A Stroll Through the History of the Boot

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If, like me, you can trace your formative years through footwear, particularly “boot-wear,” this book may be of interest. Made for Walking: A Modest History of the Fashion Boot by Andy Peake, who writes a blog of the same name, is an Oxford scholar’s look at the last hundred years of boot trends, what influences them, who wore them and why. If you are expecting a biography of Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 hit of almost the same title – this isn’t that, although the singer does get several mentions and a devoted sidebar including this gem.  Her father’s longtime collaborator Lee Hazlewood advised her to “sing like a 14-year old who f*cks truck drivers” but ended up, thanks to her “shameless swagger,” sounding more like a woman who drives a truck.

Brigitte Bardot 1968, Grenada, Spain

“I’ve always been interested in history, particularly social history, and I’m also interested in design. Accessory design is fascinating because things like shoes, bags, and hats have a huge impact on the overall look of an outfit. Of all these accessories, fashion boots are probably the ones that have received less than their fair share of coverage. That’s surprising because they have so many fascinating aspects: the gender paradox of a very masculine item becoming ultra-feminine, the fetishistic elements, the way they can make an outfit rustic or futuristic according to the style adopted. That’s where the social history comes in. In most fashion histories, boots don’t merit more than ‘popular in the sixties.’ I figured they deserved better than that,” reads the author’s forward.

Tall suede boots from the mail order company Kays 1973

This 176-page oversized paperback features photos from fashion magazine editorials, catalog pages, celebrity shots, infographics and charts on nearly every page, making it a cross between coffee table eye candy and semi-intellectual fashion fodder. For the first 60 or so pages the author focuses on schooling the reader in the difference between functional boots worn strictly for practicality during (snowy, rainy or cold) weather versus the gradual emergence of the fashion boot worn primarily for style through all four seasons. The British author who now lives in Greenwich, Ct. has a slightly dry, academic writing style, however, like many Englishmen (or maybe men in general) dwells at length on the sex appeal/fetishism of the female figure in boots. He does thank his wife and daughter for bearing with him while he devotes much of his time, shall we say, to “flesh out” the subject by working on this book.

Miss Hattie Klawans, a clerk in the office of the prohibition czar Lincoln Andrew wearing a pair of Russian boots

Although the popular 1920’s era Russian boot which suffered from fit, sagging and bunching issues emerged as a short-lived trend as did cuissardes (early flat-heeled over-the-knee styles initially worn by 17th- century “principal boys” who were girls acting on stage in young, male hero roles). Boots didn’t emerge again as a fashion trend until the 1960’s; a fact that “the first lady of shoe design” Beth Levine ascribes to the era of The Pill and women’s new found freedom and emancipation. All I knew as a 4th grader was that I needed a pair of those white rubber Go-Go “shoe” boots that I saw everywhere and on everyone (you couldn’t get them off me that entire year). These objects of my desire were no doubt originally influenced by the low calf length, flat white boots from Andre Courreges (popularized in 1964) as well as Pierre Cardin’s late ‘60s mod boot which accompanied his mod, space-age fashions. Yves Saint Laurent brought back the cuissarde in 1963’s alligator-skin thigh-high version for his autumn couture collection. By the end of the ‘60s, cuissardes became associated with Brigitte Bardot in her “Harley Davidson” days.

Tight-fitting leather buckled OTK boot — early 1970’s

By the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, new stretchable materials were introduced which made boots that could cling to the leg (I remember my first pair of brown leather knee-high boots which might have been from Etienne Aigner who made those iconic sandals everyone wore. I remember feeling so grown up)! These styles were adaptable to be worn with the ‘60s mini, as well as being “the antidote” to the otherwise “matronly” ‘70’s midi. A scary stat: before 1970 many boots were made so tight that doctors saw an increase in phlebitis from boot-related injuries. The fit was so extremely unforgiving on the calves that often one had to enlist the help of a friend to pull them on and off. By 1975 boots “grew” into a more loosened up style as young boot wearing girls aged up into boot buying women.

Frye Campus boot — a 1970’s icon

Knee-high boots of leather or less expensive, less durable human-made materials including PVC and DuPont Corfam, mainly meant to be disposable, were worn with styles such as gauchos and hot pants. By 1971 boots even spanned the summer months such as the Chelsea Cobbler Canvas or “Caning boot” with woven leather straps. When ponchos and pants came into fashion, along with vests, scarves, fringes and beads, boots adapted with the times.

Lace-up knee boot from the British company Dolcis – Mid 1990’s

Casual versus dress boots are explored: from the Biba platform boot to the Frye Campus boot, to lace up Victorian boots, platform boots and the reemergence of the over-the-knee or thigh high boot. They were brought back from 1960’s oblivion by Karl Lagerfeld for Chloe in the late ‘70s and Chanel towards the end of the 1980’s. All are detailed here, often with quotes from renowned members of the fashion press Including the New York Times (and Lookonline) fashion critic Bernadine Morris.

Over-the-knee stacked wood heel boots (left, center) and platform boot with mini skirts

Here’s a historical fact that you might not know: platforms originated in Classical Greece, “where actors wore cork-soled platform sandals, called Kothorni, of differing heights to indicate the social status of their characters. In more recent times, during the eighteenth century, they were used to lift the wearer above the filth of the dirty city streets.” By the 20th century, platforms were strictly a fashion item.

Mid 1980’s Baggy fit, turned down top boot

By the 1980’s boots were often made looser and with adjustable cuffs – they could be worn over the knee, at the knee or even slouched down at the lower calf. Mine was a versatile camel color worn day and night. Ankle boots were a favorite style with leggings or stirrup pants (I owned a pair of what I believe were called “pixie boots” in a metallic cherry red which also featured a low cuff). Jeans, leggings and eventually jeggings are tucked into higher equestrian riding or western boots as well.

No book on boots would be complete without a discussion of the 1990’s Pretty Woman phenomenon. Peake calls it “The Vivian Effect” — worn by Julia Roberts in character as a hooker with a heart of gold which “gave that particular pair of boots a cinematic profile to rival Dorothy’s ruby slippers or Cinderella’s glass ones.”

One thing for sure: since the dawning of the new millennium and beyond, boots of all styles, heel heights, and thicknesses, toe boxes rounded, squared or pointed, ankle booties to thigh highs, all colors and materials are produced, purchased and worn. Most women today have a vast boot wardrobe — some of them indeed made for walking – even if it’s just off to the store to buy yet another pair.

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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