Rockette Man

The Holiday season is almost past, but I wanted to push out at least one short, but seasonally appropriate post to make up for the long hiatus on this blog. As you’ll have gathered by now, I’m happy to scavenge any potential source of information to unwrap the history of the fashion boot and in the run-up to Christmas I stumbled on a new one.

American readers will almost certainly be familiar with the Radio City Rockettes, a precision dance company that has been performing at the Radio City Music Hall in New York since 1932. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is as much a part of the Holidays as Santa Claus and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

As it happens, the Rockettes had a long tradition of celebrating the recruitment of dancers for the Christmas Show by getting them to do a kick line for the press cameras. In the past, they often did this in their street clothes, which, given the time of year, often included boots. And if you dig around on the web for a while, you can find these.

Included here are four photos from 1970, 1976, 1977, and 1978. It’s a bit of a cheat, because they’re not all from the same type of event; the ’76 picture is a press image from a tour to San Francisco, while the ’78 one is a picket line when the Rockettes were protesting the threatened closure of Radio City. But let’s ignore those inconvenient details and focus on what the photos actually show.

If you look along the kickline for 1970 it’s pretty much as you’d expect (assuming you’ve been following this blog and/or reading the book); close-fitting boots, low-heeled, some rising above the knee. The line is very long and the resolution is none too great, but I’d take a guess that about 1 in 3 of the dancers is in boots. By 1976, that number is just shy of 50%; the heels are of the higher, stacked variety and there’s now a mix of the straight-legged, “baggy” boots with the calf-hugging ones. Jump forward a year and we still have an almost 50:50 split of shoes and boots. The boots are now almost all straight legged and the heels, while still high, are beginning to acquire a taper.

But the most interesting picture is from 1978, where we have a pretty much 100% showing for boots. This is understandable, given that the photo was obviously taken during a snowstorm, but the mix of styles very definitely reflects some trends that would become important moving on into the the nineteen eighties – more calf- and ankle-length boots; a greater emphasis on loose-fitting, casual styles; and boots worn under pants.

Some of this is undoubtably the fault of the weather (check out the long, down coats, for example), but as we’ve seen in earlier posts, the late seventies saw both diversification of styles and a shift towards lower heels and shorter leg lengths. By the mid 1980s, these would completely replace the higher legged, high heeled boots of the seventies and those styles would not return to popularity for another decade.

Image Sources:

1970, 1977, 1978:

1976: Coots Imagery @


The End of the Year

But not the end of the road, I hope. I haven’t managed a post for six months, largely because of having to manage a major project in my ‘day job’ as a museum curator. That will be an ongoing situation for the next few years, and makes blogging a bit of a challenge. I had almost decided to call it a day on the “Made for Walking” blog – the book is published now; it’s selling, but I did wonder – as all authors do from time to time – whether anyone really cared. And maybe it was time to cast about for a new project.

Then, a few weeks ago, I ‘outed’ myself to a couple of friends who knew nothing about this project, giving them copies of the book to read. I’d expected polite enthusiasm, but it turned out they really liked it. They had a ton of questions, all of which were excellent, and provided me with a woman’s perspectives on the topic that (with the exception of my wife) I’d been lacking. They wanted more. They were kind about my insights, but felt I should have talked to more women. One of them was so enthusiastic that she went straight home and texted me photos of all the boots in her closet. It was a fascinating conversation, and I came away stoked and energized to write more.

So thank you, Mary and Shana – I am going to blog some more, albeit sporadically. And you can expect the first of these in 2019. Happy New Year!