Mid 1970s Knee Length Boots


As I mentioned in the previous post, I want to draw on my recently created reference collection to do an in-depth consideration of some of the styles of boot that I’ve touched on in earlier posts. For the first of these, I’m looking at the pair that I’ve assigned catalog # 2013.12.002, a pair of black leather boots purchased via eBay.


If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll remember that back when I was reconstructing an evolutionary “tree” for the fashion boot, I identified a small group of related boot styles – a family, if you like – which has its origins at the beginning of the 1970s. This group includes both the iconic suede boots produced by the London store Biba and the platform boots that were popular in the early to middle years of the decades.


Both these styles are well-documented and can be found in the on-line costume collections of major museums. Less well known now, but far more commonplace during this period, was the third style contained within the group, which for want of a better name I’m calling the Mid-70s (or M70) boot. If you look at mail-order catalogs for the middle years of the seventies – say 1974-1977 – this is probably the commonest style of boot.


Since I didn’t have “type” specimen for the style in the various collections I’ve been drawing on, I decided I needed to acquire a pair. Fortunately, as ever, eBay came to my aid with this very reasonably priced pair, which were apparently made in Brazil. I don’t have more of a provenance than that, but there are a number of features that very definitely place these boots in that mid-70s period.


The first thing that strikes you when you look at them is how small they are. My wife, who is a petite woman, took one look and declared that there was no way she could get into them, despite their being notionally her size. The ankle is unforgivingly tight and the shaft has been folded and stitched (pleated?) at the top to give them a wicked curve that is only partly relieved by having a very long. elasticated gusset on the inner surface of the shaft. These are absolutely a young woman’s boots and they reflect the comment that I quoted a few posts back from the “Kaschia from Sacha” blog post about having to stretch boots in the back of the store to make them fit.


The next thing you notice is that these are very definitely platform boots, but that the sole is much thinner than the classic platform boot of the period. For the purpose of the tree study, I classed platform boots as having a sole that was greater than an inch in thickness. This seems to hold up.


Another feature of the sole and heel is that they are made from laminated layers of wood, built up to provide both the platform sole and a high, stacked heel. These contrasting wooden accents were another distinctive feature of boots from this period; most boots before and afterwards had soles and heels which were made from the same material as the uppers. Today, wooden heels are more of a novelty, used to give the boots a retro feel.


The toe of the boot is rounded – again, this says first half of the seventies. Before and after, boots tended to have more of a pointed toe, as they do today. The round toe was seen in both shoes and boots from early to mid 1970s, and reflects the more “organic” or “rustic” design ethos of the seventies, compared to the “space age” vibe of the sixties and the overt modernism of the eighties. Round-toed boots are quite rare today, even in styles that are consciously retro.

Image sources:

Because I’m idle, I re-purposed the images for these boots on the original sellers page on eBay


On Plastic Boots


I’m reading (and greatly enjoying) “Women from the Ankle Down,” Rachelle Bergstein’s 2012 history of women’s shoes in the 20th Century. I actually intended to write a piece on Nancy Sinatra, who Bergstein covers in some detail, but I was struck by an observation she made regarding the role of artificial fabrics in promoting the spread of fashion boots in the sixties and thought it was worth sharing here.

As I’ve already noted in a previous post, there were shortages of leather in the mid-sixties, which led to a rise in prices. At the same time, designers like Mary Quant were experimenting with other materials, such as PVC and Corfam, the latter being a shiny artificial leather produced by DuPont. These materials were significantly cheaper than real leather, but also much less durable (you’ll notice if you visit vintage clothing stores that there are very few shoes and boots from this period still around today).

Bergstein proposes that unlike their mothers, who had lived through rationing and postwar austerity, and regarded a good pair of shoes as an investment requiring many years of wear, the young women of the sixties were more open to the idea of disposable fashion; inexpensive, trendy items that could be quickly replaced as and when they went out of fashion.

As Bergstein notes, a knee-length boot crafted out of leather would be significantly more expensive than one made from PVC or Corfam. That would place it beyond the reach of teenagers and young women, and only available to the sort of older, wealthy clientele less likely to take on radical new trends. But instead, the go-go boot became widely adopted by a new breed of young, fashion conscious, independent, and sexually and politically liberal women. So you could say that the cheap, plastic boot opened the way for the widespread acceptance and adoption of boots in the following decade.

If you accept this idea – and it certainly seems convincing – then it forms an intriguing contrast with the fate of the so-called “Russian boot,” the fashion boot of the 1920s and 30s. The Russian boot failed to make a long-term impact because it was too cheap and too egalitarian. Wealthy women were reluctant to adopt the style because of the lack of durability of the materials used and the fact that the boots were affordable footwear for the masses. The same factors that made the go-go boot such a success doomed the Russian boot to failure, because fashion in the twenties was still the preserve of the old and the rich. Something to mull over.

Selected references:

  • Bergstein, Rachelle, 2012. Women from the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us. New York, HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 978-0-06-196968-3

Image source:

  • PVC raincoat and boots by Mary Quant, 1964: Tumblr