Pause & Review


Time for another review; we’re not quite at the end of the eighties, but we are about to shift to a new period that will cover the first part of the nineteen nineties, and arguably it begins in 1989. So it’s not a bad place to take a look back at what we’ve seen in the past few posts.

Back in April (yeah, it’s taken me 4 months to do 4 posts on one decade – hopeless, I know) I posed the question of whether the eighties were really marked by a drought as far as fashion boots were concerned. That was certainly my recollection, but the numbers suggested otherwise. And ultimately, the numbers proved right.

It’s true that at first sight, things seem to be dominated by an abundance of not very impressive ankle boots, but there were a couple of significant bursts of enthusiasm for more diverse styles in the fashion press, one in 1981/82, and a second in 1987/88. The latter period saw the high profile return of over-the-knee boots, something that many people, including me, seem to have missed or forgotten.

The one thing most definitely missing from the period was the style of high-heeled dress boots seen in the previous decade, and here I think we can establish a rule – shoulder pads are fashion death for anything other than pumps or ankle boots. The tapering silhouette, from broad shoulders to narrow skirt and on down, does not tolerate anything as heavy as a knee-length boot. It’s possible that the very slim-line dress boots of the late nineties could have worked if they’d been around ten years earlier, but I doubt it. The eighties silhouette was just too extreme.

So instead, boots flourished as casual wear – soft, loose-fitting, low-heeled styles that could be combined with a long-skirt or, for the shorter boots, worn with jeans tucked in. When hemlines rose towards the end of the decade, boots eventually rose too – but only when shoulders began to narrow. It was then that they began to be seen as an alternative to tights or leggings for providing protection to exposed legs – a role that the ultra-high boots of the late 60s had also filled, and one that would be filled in the future by a new breed of over-the-knee boots.

When I first started writing posts on the eighties, one of my regular commenters, DeanG, raised the question of whether boots in the eighties were like those of the sixties, and there’s much to support that observation. Most eighties boots were low-heeled, loose fitting, and either quite short (ankle/calf length) or very high (over-the-knee or thigh-length). In fact, they were much like the first generation of fashion boots from 1962-1964.

As time went by, in the late sixties and into the seventies, boots became more feminine – higher-heeled and tighter-fitting – but there’s a case to be made that the eighties boots represented a throwback to the earlier, more masculine styles of boot. At the time, I would have been skeptical about this, but my somewhat improved knowledge about the early years of the boot in the sixties has convinced me that much of what we think we know about sixties fashion is based on later interpretation and reinterpretation.

Musically at least, one such reinterpretation of sixties culture took place in the late 1980s, with the growth of rave culture and the emergence of neo-psychedelic bands like the Stone Roses, Charlatans, and Happy Mondays. But the real surge of interest in the sixties, and in sixties fashions, took place in the following decade. Which, by happy coincidence, is where we’re going next.

Image Source:

  • VogueUK, 1982, via the Fashion Spot


7 thoughts on “Pause & Review

  1. Thanks for all the work you put into this blog. You have done some very interesting research. I also follow you on Pinterest.

    Thanks again

  2. Your statement, “Shoulder pads are fashion death for anything other than pumps or ankle boots,” seems to sum up the boot situation in the 1980s.

    And that second 1980s peek in boot interest, 1987-88, I remember as the year when designers united around ultra-short, usually ultra-tight (via stretch) skirts and dresses, a style that had been around for the entire decade, sort of pioneered by Azzedine Alaia, but that designers suddenly made de rigueur in 1987. Alaia and others, though, didn’t usually see a need to cover the leg with opaque tights or high boots; only some did, particularly ’87-’88 Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein. Most still showed the mini-length stretch sheath dresses with high-heeled pumps, a big difference from the short styles of the sixties, when keeping heels low and covering or “breaking up” the leg was the focus, as was avoiding blatantly seductive coquetry, something very much the point during the less enlightened eighties.

    A few designers in ’87/’88 continued to show huge shoulders with the new abbreviated lengths, particularly Ungaro, whose 1988 micro-minidresses were so heavily constructed that they looked kind of like 1950s panel swimsuits. I don’t think he showed high boots with his clothes then, though. Kinda sad, considering that he had shown some of the coolest, slicker-yellow thigh boots during his 1960s Space Age phase.

  3. Your mention of late-80s 60s revival bands like the Stone Roses, Blur, etc, reminds me that those bands often cited early 80s sixties-revival bands like Rain Parade as inspirational, reminding me further that I associate 60s-revival styles particularly with the 1979-1982 period, when the UK experienced its mod revival, California gave us the revivalist Paisley Underground and bands like the Bangles, The Three O’clock, and Rain Parade, and the “powerpop” sounds and revived surf sounds went hand in hand with revived miniskirts and geometrics. In 1983-84, blatant sixties-revival designer Stephen Sprouse, responsible for Debbie Harry’s 60s-inspired outfits, showed his most influential collections, which included 60s-style boot-hose in neon graffiti prints. Not mainstream really, but all over the fashion press and favorites of celebrities like Patsy Kensit.

    1. Thanks for the comments – I actually pulled some stuff on Sprouse and ended up not using it. Maybe I’ll dig deeper on that. And I always find it interesting to get the US culture perspective – as you say, I associate the late 70s/early 80s with 2-Tone, not psychedelia

      1. I also associate the late 70s/early 80s more with early 60s revivals like Tutone ska, mod, and powerpop, than with revivals from the later 60s like psychedelia, but, in the US and the UK, there were low-level psychedelic revivals as well, though maybe only prominent in the minds of fanatics like me. You may remember when the early recordings of Echo and the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes were referred to as evidence of a psychedelic revival.

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