Here we are at the end of the seventies, so it seems like a good time to pause again and look back at what we’ve seen, before pushing on into the apparently unpromising terrain of the 1980s.
The decade started with the fashion boot at hitherto unguessed of levels of popularity. This was really a continuation of a trend that started around 1967, but it reached its peak in 1970/71. Boots of all styles from ankle to thigh-high were insanely popular, with women buying multiple pairs. The emergence of new materials such as stretch vinyl made boots both relatively cheap, and quite disposable.
Within a couple of years, however, the fashion world had undergone the equivalent of a temper tantrum where boots were concerned. In 1972 and 1973, it was hard to find any mention of them in the glossies or the daily papers. Instead the emphasis had shifted to shoes, especially those with retro-styled platform soles. It seemed like the boot was being consigned to the dustbin of sixties fashion.
Except that it wasn’t. Fashion boots were just too popular and too practical to be easily dismissed, as is clear when you ignore the editorially biased media data and look at the pattern revealed by, for example, mail order catalogues. From these it’s clear that boot sales stayed steady throughout the supposed early seventies popularity dip, and by 1974 the fashion press had got over its temporary boot phobia.
In the forefront of the mid-seventies boot renaissance was a loose-fitting, stack-heeled knee boot. Yves Saint Laurent paired these with outfits based on Russian peasant themes, which gave them the popular name of “Cossack boots.” Tighter-fitting boots remained popular in the middle years of the decade; in the UK and Europe these often featured platform soles.
Platform soles were anachronistic, even at the height of their popularity in 1974/75; a youth-centric boot style at a time when the fashion boot was growing up and becoming the choice of an older generation of women, some of whom would have worn the first generation of boots in the sixties youth quake. The platform sole was somewhat of a reaction against this, as were the Western-themed Frye boots that took the place of platform boots in the USA.
The popularity of the Frye boot in the mid-seventies marks a fundamental split in the history of the fashion boot, one that we identified back in the “tree” many months ago. This was the beginning of the split between the dress boot and the casual boot that continues on to this day. In the beginning it wasn’t much of a split; aside from the Frye and its imitators, most boots from this period were distinctly dressy, even if they formed part of the casual, “countrified” look of the time. The divergence would become much more significant in the eighties.
By 1977, boots had reached a second peak of popularity. New takes on old styles appeared, including shorter, ankle or calf-length boots, and the return of the over-the-knee boot. Boots were ubiquitous, beyond even the levels of the late sixties, to the point where they were not even noticed. They were a wardrobe staple for the well-dressed woman; in contrast to the vinyl boots of the early seventies, they were now seen as a sensible investment rather than something frivolous to be worn and discarded.
But 1977 also represented the apogee for the fashion boot and it would be more than 20 years before they reached these heady heights again. The beginnings of what proved to be a long period of decline can be seen in the fashion press of 1978; as we’ve already noted in earlier posts, this was the year when those in the know decreed the tall boot to be dead and buried. The reasons for this are something that we’ll cover when we move on to the next decade.
- Unknown, 1971