Putting the boot in


DOCS The Dr Martens Boot was introduced by the punk movement but became mainstream in the 1990s.

Maggie Gibbons

Long before boots became the fashion statement they are today, their main function was simply to provide protection from wind and rain. They have been around for centuries. There’s an old Spanish cave painting from around 12,000 BC of a couple wearing boots, his are skin, while the lady wears fur. Centuries ago boots were representative of power. The more powerful one was, the more ornate the boots. This was during a time when the majority of the people went barefoot, as leather was so expensive.
With the seventeenth century came military uniforms and high-legged boots, whose main function was to protect the legs while horse riding. They were mainly worn by men. With the nineteenth century came the wellington, reputedly developed by the Duke of Wellington in around 1817. It was such a success it became popular with the masses and was worn for nearly all country pursuits like hunting, riding, general land work etc. It’s even believed the wellington was the precursor to the cowboy boot in the United States.
Boots only began to influence women’s fashions during the nineteenth century. Until then women’s boots were quite masculine, made with hard leather and worn to the knee. By the early 1800s, there was a feminine influence emerging with lacing, high heels, and pointed toes. During the Victorian period, boots were widely available and Victoria herself was partial to a smart ankle boot. By the mid 1800s, footwear had become far more decorative, and the staid older styles were rapidly replaced by fancy designs in satin and colored leather, tightly laced to accentuate the ankle.  
Sometime during the 1950s and 1960s, boots became the fashion staple of young ladies and were mainly high heeled with pointed toes. They were worn with slim fitting ‘cigarette’ pants and were known as ‘Beatle boots’. The 60s changed fashion forever - mini-skirts, crimplene, beehive hairdos and kohl black eyes were the order of the day and in came the white boot …in PVC!
It sounds gross to even imagine it now but it was high fashion back then. In 1965, André Courrèges gave us his white leather calf-length boots and designers like Mary Quant soon followed suit, by launching cheap plastic boots in a variety of colors. The high cost of leather during the 1960s made plastic and vinyl boots accessible to even the lowest paid ladies. Prior to that, white footwear was considered ‘common’ and no self respecting young lady would be seen in them … ask your mother! The 60s put an end to that stream of thought.
The 1970s brought us unisex fashion with both genders wearing cowboy boots, and high platform boots. The Dr Martens boot, simply known as ‘Docs’ was adopted by the punk movement in the 1970s, but by the 1990s had entered mainstream popular fashion. Suede and canvas over-the-knee boots produced by London store Biba were so sought after that queues would form outside the store when a delivery was due. The 1980s popularized ankle boots and knee length boots were referred to as ‘riding boots’. By the 1990s, everyone had a pair, in fact, 1993 was known as ‘the year of the boot’. Ankle boots have remained hugely popular in the early years of this century and are without doubt the only ones to have remained without a break since the nineteenth century.
So, next time you’re pulling on your boots and thinking our current footwear designers have a monopoly on great design, spare a thought for some fashionista in another era who’s already worn something very similar. Why reinvent the wheel I say!

> Maggie Gibbons is an Image/Style Consultant based in Louisburgh. She can be contacted at living@mayonews.ie.