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Published!

“Made for Walking” is officially published and available for sale on Amazon! You can also get a copy directly from Schiffer Publishing. Here’s a sample of what’s in store…

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As she walked around the streets of Manhattan, Beth Levine had become used to the calls from passing drivers, invariably male. It was always along the same lines: they would lean out of their cars and shout something like –

Hey, where’s your horse?

The attention was not surprising, because the sight of a woman in the heart of the city wearing skirts or dresses with knee-length boots was an unusual one for the late nineteen fifties. But Levine didn’t mind. She saw it as a tribute to the boots she loved to design and wear. She was no stranger to skepticism, amusement, or in some cases outright ridicule. Levine had spent the last five years on a quest to redefine the utilitarian boot as a fashionable shoe. It was proving to be an uphill struggle. The years since the disappearance of the Russian boot in the early thirties had not been kind to the idea of a fashionable boot for women. After a brief flirtation with stylish designs, the shoe industry had concluded that the role of the boot was overwhelmingly one of protection. This was something that the rubber rain boot did much better than the leather Russian boot.

There were some short-lived attempts to revive the idea of a fashion boot. At the end of the 1930s, there was a brief revival of interest in fashionable ankle boots for women, associated with clothing that paid homage to the so-called Romantic era. They were not worn very widely, but a number of designers included them in their collections. One of the most notable examples was André Perugia, who came up with leather button boots in black or cream that are now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. But these were a rarity. For the most part, the women’s boot styles of the forties and fifties tended to be trim, ankle-length rain boots.

That had not always been the case. If you want to get a sense of what the earlier generation of rain boots for women looked like, mail order catalogs provide a useful window. The autumn/winter Kays Catalogue of 1928 shows a couple of styles of Russian boot. But by 1933, the Russian boots were gone. Instead we have two pages of rain boots. Some of these are typical Wellington boots. But the catalogue also featured “stylish” models “for city wear… extra-high shaped leg, close fitting, 1 1/2″ Cuban heels.” The leg height is 16 1/2 inches, which takes them right to the knee. And they are specifically described as “practical high-leg fashion boots (my emphasis); a similar pair came in two-tone rubber.

So while they may be absent from the high-end fashion press, mail order gives us a different picture; there were still knee-length fashion boots on sale in 1933. But by 1937, while Kays still offered one style of heeled and shaped-leg rain boot, most of the women’s boots featured in the catalogue the were regular “wellies.” And by 1960, all the boots shown were ankle length and, critically, were advertised as a practical option for bad weather. As far as the young and the stylish were concerned, they also had a significant image problem. For the teenage Lesley Hornby and her friends, growing up in the Northwest London suburb of Neasden, it was better to go through an entire winter with your legs frozen to the bone than wear boots. “Nobody wore boots,” Hornby, who was to become famous worldwide as sixties supermodel Twiggy, recalled. “Boots meant ankle boots, brown with a zip, the sort of things old ladies wore.”

To a large extent, this view was shared by the people that made them. Shoe manufacturers and retailers saw boots as a separate category of footwear from shoes, to be worn for protection from bad weather or for work. Unlike shoes, boots did not have to be fashionable, only practical. This was the world that Beth Levine set out to change.

References

  • “Hey, Where’s Your Horse?” Hartford Courant, Jun 16, 1963: Pg.7E.
  • Bergstein, Rachelle. 2012. Women from the Ankle Down. New York, Harper Perennial.
  • Verin, Helene. 2009. Beth Levine Shoes. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang

Dr. Gale


We’re now well-and-truly on the countdown to publication of the book, which is a little over a week away. You can get a copy here. As a very brief taster, I thought I’d write a quick post on the television series that gives Chapter 4 its title, Chapeau Melon et Bottes de Cuir, better known in the anglophone world as The Avengers. It ran from 1961 to 1969, and I think it’s fair to say that it is now firmly woven into the fabric of how we look back at the nineteen sixties, along with miniskirts, the Beatles, and Vietnam. When I was growing up in the seventies, any mention of the series would always elicit the comment “ah yes, kinky boots!” Today, people would append, “Emma Peel” to this. But although Emma Peel is the best known female sidekick of suave British agent John Steed, she wasn’t the one with the kinky boots. That was Dr. Cathy Gale, played by Honor Blackman.

It’s hard to overemphasize how much of a departure Gale was for television in 1962, when she first appeared in the series. She was in her early thirties, which was older than most female characters in similar detective series, had a PhD in anthropology, and had grown up in Africa. More to the point, she could fight, hand-to-hand, and shoot. She was Steed’s partner, not a decorative appendage. Her leather outfits may have had a fetishistic edge to them, but they were also eminently practical for someone who was using judo moves to throw bad guys around. And yes, she also wore boots, but they were the more masculine styles that were common in the early years of the Sixties, when fashion boots were used to challenge and contrast the hyper feminine fashions of the previous decade. The book gets into this in a lot more detail, but for now I just wanted to post this as a counterpoint to the previous post’s discussion of where movies like X-Men: First Class, get sixties fashions wrong. Yes, later in the decade there were tiny skirts and leg-hugging boots, but back in 1963 the emphasis was upturning convention. Cathy Gale led the way for the Emma Peels of later years.

All in the details

I just returned from a visit to the Motherland, where I discovered, among other things, that someone has made a musical based on ‘The Liver Birds,’ a popular BBC sitcom that ran from 1969 to 1979, although in all honesty its glory days were in the first half of the nineteen seventies. The novel aspect of the Liver Birds was that it took a popular trope of that time – young people leaving home and striking out on their own – and applied it to a pair of single women, Sandra and Beryl, sharing a flat in Liverpool. It also happens to be a goldmine for anyone interested in the fashions of the time, as the two style-conscious leads spend their time in a succession of eye-watering outfits. This is especially true in the early episodes, which feature hot-pants and boots quite heavily.

I had planned to write a whole post on the Liver Birds and what it tells us about early seventies Britain, but then I realized that it would,most likely end up sounding exactly like the post I did a few weeks back on the year 1971. So instead, I was inspired by the sheer period perfection of the above image, taken from the musical, Liver Birds Flying Home, to write an article about how TV shows and movies that are trying to capture the look of the past get the costumes, and in particular the boots, right or wrong. In doing so, I am trying my best to channel my friend Bruce, whose encyclopedic knowledge of such matters would undoubtedly result in a better post. Go take a look at his blog if you want to see what I mean.

Let’s start by going back to the year 1963, as portrayed in X-Men: First Class (2011). This one is definitely a bit of a miss. It may seem a bit picky to take issue with a movie that posits the involvement of mutants in the Cuban Missile Crisis, but the costumes – whether the mini-skirt and boots combos of Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and Moira (Rose Byrne), Angel’s (Zoe Kravitz) go-go dancer outfit, or the stocking boots worn by Emma Frost (January Jones), the fashions are a good 5-8 years off the mark. There were boots and minis around in 1963, but the skirts were longer and the boots nowhere near as tight-fitting as seen here. The early sixties fashion boots were intended to provide a relatively masculine counterpoint to the prevailing fashions of the previous decade, and were more likely to be paired with a rugged tweed suit in what was known as the ‘sportif’ look. X-Men: First Class is showing us a shorthand view of what sixties fashion is perceived to be, rather than what it actually was.

Jumping forward a few years brings us to Drugstore Cowboy (1989), Gus Van Sant’s tale of a crew of drug addicts robbing pharmacies and hospitals in the Pacific Northwest in 1971. This is a serious piece of movie making, starring Matt Dillon and featuring a cameo by William Burroughs. The two main female characters, played by Kelly Lynch and a very young Heather Graham wear pitch-perfect outfits of miniskirts and knee-length boots that are very similar to those in X-Men First Class, but are actually correct for that time. What’s particularly striking is that those fashions were not at all popular in 1989, but would become so over the next 5 years, initially in the dance clubs of the early nineties before becoming absorbed into mainstream fashion around the middle of the decade. So the costume designer for the movie, Beatrix Aruna Pastor, deserves double kudos. Plus any movie that features Desmond Dekker’s Israelites is alright by me.

Onwards to another account of the seedy underbelly of the early seventies, in this case the early history of the porn industry in New York, as shown in HBO’s drama series, The Deuce. As I mentioned a few posts back, the hot pants and boots combo quickly went from the height of fashion at the end of the sixties to an almost irreversible association with sex workers by the seventies, and this is certainly evident from The Deuce‘s depiction of Times Square, circa 1973. If you were a drug-addled hooker of this era, then cheap vinyl boots and lacing, which would be dead as a fashion doornail within a year, were  likely to be your footwear of choice. A prime example are the white lace-up boots worn by fresh-faced Lori (Emily Meade), new in town from the Midwest and looking to upgrade from streetwalker to pornstar. But the series also gets the non sex-worker fashions right, such as the boots worn by Andrea (Zoe Kazan) the estranged wife of Vincent Martino (James Franco); A beaten-up pair that probably the height of fashion a few years earlier, but now too expensive for a working-class Brooklyn girl to replace, is again a spot-on costume choice.

Staying in New York, and in 1973, we have another HBO series, Martin Scorsese’s ill-fated Vinyl, which lasted only one season before cancellation. To be honest, there’s always a risk in trying to mix fictional characters with depictions of real bands (American Dreams anyone?), especially if the bands in question are so iconic that their fictional depictions can’t help but fall short. To add to the problems, the fictional acts included the world’s least convincing punk band, the Nasty Bits, who were not only awful, but also about 3 years before their time. But it was still sad that Vinyl got cancelled, because some of the performances, notably those of Ray Romano and Bobby Canavalle, were brilliant. And on the costume front there was Juno Temple, as A&R assistant Jamie Vine, in period-appropriate platform boots. These were probably a year or two early, and also a rarity in the USA, but perhaps you’d expect that sort of cutting edge fashion from someone working in a record company in NYC. Anyway, Vinyl gets the thumbs-up for this.

Not so Rush (2013), Ron Howard’s account of the epic rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1970s. On a previous iteration of this blog, I went off on the scene, set in 1974, where Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) meets his future wife Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde) for the first time. It’s 1974 and they have her in a stunning period outfit of a floppy hat and suede coat with a fur trim, befitting the fact that Miller was a bona fide seventies supermodel. The costumes were designed by Frida Giannini, who is the creative director at Gucci, and they’re based on period designs from Gucci’s archives, which is all well and good. And when Wilde’s booted legs appear over Hemsworth’s shoulders the first time they meet, all seems good. They’re kinda baggy in the leg, and ’74 is the year when these looser-fitting boots came into fashion for the first time. They’re also platforms, which is still OK – platforms were at the peak of their popularity then, and there were a few that had this looser leg. But stiletto heels? With platform soles in the first half of the 1970s? They should be stack heels. You could make a case for stilettos if this was 1978, but the boots that Wilde is wearing are pure post-millennial.

Which brings us to The Americans, the FX network’s drama about KGB deep-cover agents in America during the early 1980s. Keri Russell, who plays one of the Russian agents, gets to wear a wide variety of period outfits. A typical one from the first season (set in 1981) featured an overall silhouette, with a wide-shouldered blouse and tapered skirt, that was classically eighties. Strictly speaking, it should have been paired with pumps or ankle boots, but the costume designer, Jenny Gering, chose heeled, knee length boots. Contemporary images and mail order catalogs clearly show that the knee-length boots that are more typically associated with the late seventies remained popular through to at least 1983/84. So it would not be surprising for a woman in her early forties (the age of Russell’s character) to own at least one pair.

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Out of Town

I’ve been reading “Out of Town: A Life Relived on Television” (1987), which is an autobiographical memoir written by Jack Hargreaves (1911-1994). Hargreaves is a fascinating character, who would be worth a blog post in his own right (if I had another blog that was not fashion-oriented). Although he was a successful businessman, broadcasting pioneer, and more than at home in sophisticated London society, most people in Britain remember him as the white-bearded host of Out of Town (1963-1981), a gently-paced show that explored life in the English countryside. In my childhood memories, the post-Sunday lunch TV spot is inextricably linked with images of Hargreaves driving his horse and trap along a country lane to the strains of Recuerdos de la Alhambra.

Hargreaves saw significant changes over his lifetime, as did anyone of my parent’s generation, something that is very clear when you read his reminiscences of growing up in the years after the First World War. In the countryside, technology had seemingly triumphed over a way of life that had remained largely unchanged for the previous two hundred years or more, a process that was accelerated in the aftermath of the Second World War. The nineteen fifties and sixties, with their space rockets and brave talk of a New Elizabethan age, seemed to represent the culmination of all this, and the triumphalism of the space age and what Harold Wilson called “the White Heat of Technology,” was reflected in the fashions of the time… Courréges, YSL, and especially Pierre Cardin.

This was the time when the fashion boot came of age; the radical step of co-opting a previously masculine form of dress as a fashion item for women reflected a new (if still largely unrealized) role for women in the society of the future. New materials born in the laboratory rather than the fields allowed for sleek, colorful variants of the boot at prices that made fashion egalitarian in a way that it had not previously been.

But the end of the sixties saw the beginnings of a revolt against this technocentric paradigm. The future didn’t seem quite as bright and idyllic as we had been promised. The war in Vietnam dragged on, sparking violent political protests. Crime rates soared, and the recreational drugs that had promised to open new doors of perception became, instead, a plague that blighted urban areas and the lives of those that lived there. People began to look at the past, through rose-tinted spectacles (sometimes literally), as a lost Golden age. Forgetting the reactionary politics, wars, and imperialism of the time, they sought out fashions that recalled those days.

We’ve looked at some of these in earlier posts, and it’s a topic that gets a whole chapter to itself in the new MFW book (note the shameless plug). This began in the last years of the nineteen sixties as a fascination with the fashions of the Victorian and Edwardian eras; in footwear, this manifested itself in a new category of “granny” boots, that added retro laces or buttons to the knee length boots of the time. By the early seventies, nostalgia had become focused on the 20s and 30s, as typified by the fashions of the London store Biba, and its footwear manifestation was the platform sole. We tend to think Glam Rock when we see boots of this era, but in fact they were a (successful) attempt to fuse the leg-hugging boot of the late sixties with a heel and sole that reflected fashions popular in the Golden age of Hollywood, four decades earlier. But these were, for the most part, youthful fashions; for the older generation that had consumed the early “youthquake” fashions of the sixties first-hand, the nostalgia for past times had evolved into something rather different.

One of the most popular British sitcoms of the mid-70s was The Good Life (1975-1977), the story of Tom and Barbara Good (played by Richard Briers and Felicity Kendall), a suburban couple who abandon the rat race of modern life in favor of “self sufficiency,” converting their suburban home and garden into a smallholding, much to the horror of their upwardly mobile neighbors, the Leadbetters. Few people actually went this far, but there was a great enthusiasm for natural materials around the home – quarry tiled floors, rattan chairs, stripped pine furniture, earthenware plates and mugs, hand-woven rugs, etc. Terrance Conran’s “Habitat” chain did booming business.

In the world of fashion, this manifested itself in what Vogue called “the new ease” – natural fabrics like wool and cotton, worn loosely in “sloppy-joe” sweaters and full skirts that hit the leg just below the knee. It was a countrified look, heavy on tweeds, plaid, capes, and expensive raincoats by the likes of Burberry and Acquascutum that harked back to the glory days of the country house set and weekend house parties.

The new style of dress came with its own distinctive fashion boot. In contrast to the tight, vinyl styles of the late sixties, this was made of high-quality leather or suede, stack heeled, and loose fitting, with a tendency to settle in extravagant folds around the ankle. It was this feature that gave the boots their quite unflattering nickname – “baggy boots,” but the loose fit gave added balance to a silhouette that, combined with the fuller skirts, placed the weight low on the body. Because the hem of the skirts just covered the tops of the boots, they also provided much-needed leg coverage in cold or wet weather.

This neo-country style was massively popular in Europe and, to a certain extent, North America during the second half of the nineteen seventies. To my mind, it was absolutely embodied by the series of press advertisements for Burberry shot by the Queen’s cousin, Patrick Lichfield. These featured the ultra blue-blooded model Lady Annunziata Asquith, daughter of the 2nd Earl of Oxford and Asquith and great granddaughter of British Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, wandering round the estates of various stately homes in a Burberry trenchcoat, expensive woolens, and boots. It was a look enthusiastically embraced by the mail order catalogs of the time, which failed to see there was something slightly unrealistic about a woman donning expensive, heeled boots to plow through muddy fields with the family spaniel.

In reality, the country fashions of the nineteen seventies were rather like Jack Hargreaves himself; for all their outward aspirations of rustic simplicity, they were actually products of a thoroughly urbanized society. When The Good Life finished, in 1977, its breakout star, Penelope Keith (who played the spectacularly snobbish Margot Leadbetter) went on to play a widowed member of the country gentry, Audrey fforbes-Hamilton, in To the Manor Born (1979-1981), swapping her suburban kaftans and polyester jumpsuits for tweed skirts, sweaters, and pearl necklaces. It was the absolute apotheosis of the neo-country look. But when she went outside, in the fields, she wore Wellies.

Image Sources

  • Rustic fashions: Janet Frazer catalogue, Autumn/Winter 1975
  • Fashions by Pierre Cardin, 1968: via Tumblr
  • Granny boots: via Pinterest
  • Baggy Boots: Janet Frazer catalogue, Autumn/Winter 1975
  • Lady Annunziata Asquith, shot by Patrick Litchfield for Burberry: via Ebay

Selected References

  • Anon 1974. Fashion: Fall Guidelines: The New Ease in Fashion. Vogue, Jul 1, 1974: pp. 40-65.
  • Griggs, Barbara. 1974. For the Girl Who Likes a Little Loose Living. The Daily Mail, Aug 19, 1974. Pg. 10.
  • Hargreaves, Jack. 1987.  Out of Town: A Life Relived on Television. Dovecote Press
  • Nemy, Enid. 1974. Boots have changed – especially in price: droopy look. New York Times, Sept 20, 1974: pg. 47.

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Never a Dull Moment

“Never a Dull Moment” is the title of a great book by music journalist David Hepworth. It’s his account of rock music in 1971, his thesis being that this is a pivotal year in which the era of singles-driven pop, typified by the sixties, gave way to the album-oriented rock of the seventies. You can’t argue there’s not something special about a year that saw the release of Tapestry (Carol King), Bryter Layter (Nick Drake), Sticky Fingers (the Rolling Stones), What’s Going On (Marvin Gaye), Imagine (John Lennon), Blue (Joni Mitchell), Who’s Next (the Who), Electric Warrior (T. Rex), Shaft (Isaac Hayes), Meddle (Pink Floyd), There’s a Riot Going On (Sly & the Family Stone), Fragile (Yes), Madman Across the Water (Elton John), Hunky Dory (David Bowie), and Led Zeppelin IV, to pick just 16 of Hepworth’s 100 albums of the year.

It was also, as Hepworth’s introduction reminds us, a completely different world. In Britain, there were only three television channels and one type of credit card (Barclaycard, if you’re interested). The average annual wage was £2000 and 2/3 of people did not have a bank account to pay it into. There were no cell phones, no dialing overseas without the help of an operator, and urgent news was delivered by telegram. There were few supermarkets; most people used small, local stores – butchers, greengrocers, and bakers – and had to shop several times a week. In America, gas was 36 cents a gallon, a Big Mac was 20 cents, and on Sunday night Ed Sullivan was still on T.V. Also, hot pants – shorts with an inseam of two inches or less – were everywhere.

Which brings us, neatly, to the quite wonderful image at the top of the page, which features contestants in a 1971 ‘Miss Hotpants’ contest in the Netherlands. I found it on this awesome blog, which – if you’re at all like me – will guarantee you many happily wasted hours. The picture is, in itself, evidence that 1971 was a whole different planet than the one we live on today. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing something quite as cheerfully awful as this competition in this day and age, although to be honest I haven’t gone clubbing on the Jersey shore recently. I’m sure that the high stacked coiffures on some of the contestants are not their own hair; this was also an era when the average mail order catalog would feature several pages of wigs, and even someone as staid as my 40 year-old mother would have at least one that could be whipped out for parties (black and curly, as I remember it).

Short shorts have a fashion pedigree that goes all the way back to the nineteen thirties (think of the classic pin-up photos of that era – Betty Grable and the like), and their enthusiastic adoption at the beginning of the seventies is part of the wider nostalgia for that period that was represented by stores like Biba. The actual term ‘hot pants’ is usually attributed to a 1970 article in Women’s Wear Daily, and this is certainly the year in which shorts began to attract mass attention. In the fall of 1970, the New York Times reported that “short pants are getting the fashion whirl for spring and summer. In Paris, young girls are reportedly wearing them right now, over tights, with boots and long coats.” If you want to get an idea of how common this style was, take a look at John Hendy’s pictures of London’s Kings Road during this period.

The association of boots with hot pants is a close one; for example, in the image above, 10 out of the 14 contestants pictured are wearing boots of some description, while the other four are wearing high-strapped sandals or thigh-length socks, which could be described as boot substitutes. This is not really surprising, because as we’ve discussed earlier, 1970-71 is really the high watermark of the sixties fashion boot. This is the time when boots hit peak popularity as measured by the number of mentions in the mainstream and fashion press.

There are a number of factors behind this; a worldwide rise in the price of leather provided an impetus for the development of a host of artificial substitutes with names like Corfam, Futuran, and Vynarich. Now, women could pick from boots that were smooth, shiny, dull, stretch, suede, snakeskin, alligator/crocodile, satin, or velvet. This, in turn, meant that it was possible to pair boots with a much wider range of outfits than had previously been the case, and you could afford a wardrobe of boots, because the artificial leather substitutes were much cheaper than the real thing (although this came at the cost of less durability and a shorter lifespan). You can see the effect of this in the picture from Holland – here we have a full range of styles, colors, and materials.

When they first appeared, hot pants had a certain radical chic about them; Yoko Ono was a big fan in the early years of the decade, and even Jackie Onassis was tempted, although supposedly she wore hers when yachting. But the titillation factor was just too easy to exploit. When Southwest Airlines put its flight attendants into hot pants and boots in 1971, it’s unlikely they were thinking in terms of their employees’ comfort. The committee that selected the first batch of staff included the person responsible for hiring Hugh Hefner’s “jet bunnies” and the the women hired were described as long-legged dancers, majorettes and cheerleaders with “unique personalities.” By the middle years of the decade, hot pants were hopelessly associated in the public mind with prostitutes, as can be seen in Taxi Driver (1976) and, latterly, HBO’s The Deuce (2017).

As day-to-day wear, hot pants have gone the way of public telephones, evening newspapers, milkmen, and a host of other things that Hepworth mentions in his book. To the extent that they survive at all, it is in the limited sphere of nightclubs, Hooters restaurants, and the sort of women who hang around in non-driving roles in the Fast and Furious franchise. However, there is one area of where hot pants and boots are still very much in the public eye, and that is pro-cheerleading. For some reason, perhaps associated with the demographics of NFL and NBA fans, on game days you can still see squads of gyrating dancers in clothing that would not have seemed out of place back in 1971. That might be the topic of a future post.

Image Sources

Selected References

  • Hepworth, David. 2016. 1971 – Never A Dull Moment: Rock’s Golden Year. London, Random House.
  • Nemy, Enid. 1970. “The Great Boot Boom of ’70: Expense, It Seems, Is No Object.” New York Times, Sep 29, 1970.
  • Peril, Lynn. 2008. “Hot Pants”. In Mitchell, Claudia; Reid-Walsh, Jacqueline (eds). Girl Culture: Studying girl culture : a readers’ guide. Westport, Greenwood Press. pp. 362–363
  • Taylor, Angela & Morris, Bernadine. “Knickers Hold Center Stage, but Shorts Are Waiting in the Wings.” New York Times, Dec 26, 1970.

 

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25 Words

I just finished the final review of page proofs for the MFW book. It’s looking very good. One of the things I had to do was index the volume, which is a time-consuming, but strangely satisfying process. Anyway, I thought I’d pick an A-Z selection of words from the index (minus X, which somehow didn’t make it into the index), if only to prove to you that as fashion histories go, this one is quite wide-ranging.

Wrapping Up 2017

We’re getting near to the end of 2017, so here’s a few domestic announcements to wrap up the year. First, I’m officially back on social media. There is now a new MFW Pinterest site, complete with multiple boards, that provides a bunch of image content to help illustrate some of the topics covered in the book and the blog. I’m also back on Facebook, and Tumblr.

This surge of activity is related to publication of Made for Walking: A Modest History of the Fashion Boot (Schiffer Fashion Press), which comes out in May of 2018. There’s been a lot of progress in the past few weeks, including checking of page and galley proofs, indexing, and finalization of the design. It’s looking very good. You can preorder your copy on Amazon.

As I mentioned earlier this year, while the blog and book overlap, there are plenty of good reasons to keep following MFW online. It seems like every week I find another story that I wish I’d had time and space to include in the book and I don’t see that drying up anytime soon. And I’m still living in (almost certainly vain) hope of an email from Sally James.

And, I think, that’s all for 2017. Happy New Year to you and yours and I’ll be back in 2018.

PS: initially I couldn’t think of an image to run this with, until I remembered the awesomely inappropriate talent show number from Mean Girls (2004), featuring (left to right), Lacey Chabert, Rachel McAdams, Lindsay Lohan, and Amanda Seyfried, all of whom have gone on to bigger and better things. With a script by Tina Fey, this movie is a gem. Go rent it

Image source:

panicmanual.com All Rights Reserved. For further information: please contact your local UIP Press Office.

 

 

Giving Sexism the Boot – Jurassic Word: Fallen Kingdom

There are many reasons why I didn’t like the Jurassic World reboot of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. The latter was a thoughtful take on the limits of science; why our ability to do something cool should not stop us asking whether it’s ethical. The former is a loud, dumb action movie that replaces this with big guns and ex-army heroes.

In the first film, scientists led the way – paleontological knowledge helps our heroes navigate the collapsing world of the theme park. In Jurassic World, the sole scientist is an amoral geneticist who is apparently unconcerned about the havoc his creations have unleashed, and authority is instead transferred to a guy who has an intuitive “understanding” of how dinosaurs think, based on working with dogs. It truly is a movie for our times – the loss of trust in science and the substitution of empathy for reason.

But this blog is about fashion, so lets talk about misogyny. In Jurassic Park, the female lead, Ellie Sattler (played by Laura Dern) was a paleobotanist with a PhD. In the second movie, Jurassic Park: Lost World, it was Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), another PhD level paleontologist. In the Jurassic World movies, it’s Claire Dearing, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, a high-powered company executive. This should be a good thing, and quite appropriate given the shift in the narrative towards re-engineered dinosaurs as an established tourist attraction, but the movie instead portrays Dearing as a career driven ice-queen, unable to relate to kids or family, who needs humanization at the hands of the movie’s empathetic he-man male lead. And all of this is encapsulated in her choice of footwear.

Dearing wears a business suit and high heels. For the whole movie. The heels in question were nude Sam Edelman pumps with a 3.5″ heel. The suit gets torn, stained, and muddied, but the heels stay defiantly in place. She treks through the jungle in them; flees from dinosaurs in them; runs, jumps, and climbs in them. Her shoes are even a running (!) joke in the movie, and it’s a joke that’s very much at Dearing’s expense. “Look at this loser,” we’re encouraged to think. “And she thinks she’s hot shit. Hah!” It’s nasty undercurrent in a film that had a sizable audience of young girls.

Clare Deering’s shoes became a lightning rod for the wider issue of misogyny in Jurassic World, which was discussed in articles in the LA Times and the Atlantic, and on any number of websites and discussion forums. It came to overshadow the film to the extent that Howard had to repeatedly address the issue in various interviews. She made a game attempt to justify it in terms of Dearing’s innate practicality, as in this interview with Yahoo UK:

“From a logical standpoint I don’t think she would take off her heels. I don’t think she would choose to be barefoot. I don’t think she would run faster barefoot in the jungle with vines and stones…I’m better equipped to run when I have shoes on my feet. So that’s my perspective on it. I don’t think she would carry around flats with her. I think she’s somebody who could sprint a marathon in heels.”

As time went by, she got more testy on the subject, as in this 2015 Cosmopolitan interview:

“She doesn’t at all expect that she’s going to be tromping through the jungle… And you know what? She’s in high heels because she’s a woman who has been in high heels her whole life and she can fucking sprint in them. She can. That’s kind of how I perceived it. She doesn’t have to be in menswear and flats in order to outrun a T. rex.”

Which sort of misses the point. The shoes themselves aren’t really the issue; they only became a problem because of the broader context of the film, and the ongoing debates about the treatment of women in Hollywood and the wider world. At the same time as Jurassic World was released, a furious debate was taking place in the UK regarding the right of employers to specify that women wear high heels as part of a corporate dress code. Under the circumstances, Jurassic World‘s choice of humor seemed a little tone deaf.

That brings us to next year’s sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Advance reviews of the trailer for the movie, which was released a few weeks ago, focused on a major change from the first movie. To the delight of many, Claire Dearing is now wearing boots. Specifically, as seen in the images shown in this post, a very sensible pair of flat heeled, knee length boots in brown leather. Boots are an interesting choice, and not just because they are much more practical for the whole running-away-from-dinosaurs aspect of Jurassic World. As we’ve touched on elsewhere in this blog, and as the forthcoming MFW book explores in more detail (did you notice that none-too-subtle plug?), boots were a primarily masculine form of fashion that was coopted for use by women. Even though the knee-length boot is a more-or-less exclusively feminine item today, it still carries with it a certain amount of male swagger.

This is particular true of the style known as the ‘equestrian’ boot, which Dearing wears in the new film. It is form-fitting, which emphasizes the shape of the leg, but also has buckles, straps, and a rugged sole tread that give it decidedly business-like edge. It harks back to earlier generations of movie heroines, of which the closest would be Rachel Weisz’s archaeologist, Evie Carnahan, in the Mummy movies of the early aughts. And you can, most assuredly, run in them, as can be seen in the trailer.

So, was the shift from shoes to boots an intentional one on the part of the film makers, seeking to re-empower the Claire Dearing character after her treatment in the first installment? Who knows, but a tweet from the director, Colin Tevorrow (left) certainly suggests that they were sensitized to the question of her footwear. It remains to be seen whether the film represents a reset on other fronts. Somehow I doubt that I’ll be there on opening night to find out

 

Selected References:

  • Bilefsky, Dan. 2017. Sent Home for Not Wearing Heels, She Ignited a British Rebellion. New York Times, Jan 25, 2017. Accessed 12/23/2017
  • Garber, Megan. 2015. The Perma-Pump: Jurassic World’s Silliest Character. The Atlantic, June 15, 2015. Accessed 12/23/2015
  • Libbey, Dirk, 2015. Jurassic Park High Heel Controversy Finally Put To Bed By Bryce Dallas Howard. Cinemablend.com. Accessed 12/23/2017
  • Miller, Marissa G. 2017. Jurassic World 2 Trailer Has Bryce Dallas Howard Wearing Boots Instead of High Heels. W Magazine, Dec 4, 2017. Accessed 12/23/2017
  • Semigran, Aly. 2015. Jurassic World Has a Serious Woman Problem. Refinery 29, June 12, 2015. Accessed 12/23/2017
  • Warner, Kara. 2015. “Jurassic World” Star Bryce Dallas Howard Thinks Heelgate Was Feminist. Cosmopolitan, Oct. 20, 2015. Accessed 12/23/2017
  • Woerner, Meredith. 2015. ‘Jurassic World’ battles sexism claims, in heels. Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2015. Accessed 12/23/2017

Image Sources:

  • Close-up, Bryce Dallas Howard on the Set of Jurassic World 2 in Hawaii 07/07/17: HawtCelebs.com
  • Colin Tevorrow tweet, 1 Dec 2016 – @colintevorrow

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Scandal

I don’t know what it is, but this blog is getting a bit fixated on mortality these days. First it was Ruth Pearson, then Mary Millington, and now we have Christine Keeler, who died this week at the age of 75. Keeler was the last of the major players in the Profumo affair, a scandal that gripped the attention of Britons in the early 1960s, led to the eventual downfall of the Conservative government, and ushered in the era of more liberal, progressive, and – some might say – permissive society that most people imagine when they think of the sixties. As the poet Philip Larkin, much quoted in the aftermath of Keeler’s death, put it, ‘Sexual Intercourse began in 1963/ Between the Lady Chatterley ban and the Beatles first LP.

The years from 1962-63, as those who’ve followed this blog will know, were also pivotal ones in the development of the fashion boot, something that is explored in detail in the forthcoming MFW book. This is the period when the boot completed its transition from utilitarian rainwear to the world of high fashion. Looking back eight years later, Daily Mail fashion writer Iris Ashley remembered that in May 1962 “there was only one pair of boots (not counting Wellingtons and riding boots) in the whole of London…. Hand-made they were by Anello and Davide, and I nearly got shot for photographing them in the rain and getting them dirty.” But things were changing. “Boots will put the kick in fashion this fall and winter,” Raymonde Alexander wrote in the Atlanta Constitution in July of that year, while Patty Peterson’s fall forecast for the New York Times in August predicted “boots for all occasions” as a major accessory trend.

This can be very clearly seen in the 1962 Paris fall collection of Balenciaga, who revealed something quite startling; the first over-the-knee fashion boots for women, side-zippered in leather and suede, worn with checked and pleated skirts, white blouses, and wool and leather coats and gloves; the Daily Mail hailed the emergence of “a new sporting type of woman, one who can walk the countryside with elegance in very high leather boots and leather jerkin,” while the Atlanta Constitution described it as “an unexpected group of country clothes.” And in 1963, of course, there was what Vogue hailed as “the most feminine foot, the most luxurious boot – black crocodile… musketeer boots – shiny, thigh-high, shapely as legs. With this look they brought down the house at St. Laurent.” Roger Vivier’s iconic boot was paired with black suede jerkins, a visored leather cap/hood, strap sleeved short coats, leather gloves and tights. In an era when a lady still wore gloves and a hat to go out, this was radical stuff.

So I wondered – was there a link to Keeler in all of this? “Her finest moments,” as Julie Burchell wrote in the Telegraph this week, “may have taken place naked, but Keeler’s dress sense was to have a pleasing impact on Sixties style. When she came out of court, women in floral frocks and fussy hats perched atop home perms line up to jeer at her; in her sleek black suit, tossing her dark glossy mane, she had an air of being one of Nature’s aristocrats.” This struck a chord, because it seemed to echo something that Iris Ashley had written in the Daily Mail in October of 1962, just a couple of months before Johnny Edgecombe began the unravelling of Profumo’s career by firing five shots at a house where Keeler was staying. “Keep an eye on the young…” Ashley urged. “The under twenty-fives…. These are the girls who made long hair piled high into fashion, the girls who’ve been living in tunic dresses and Chanel-type suits – these are the girls who are going mad for capes. For daytime, they wear them with high boots.”
So, was Christine Keeler one of those under twenty-fives in high boots? It seems, based on a couple of images available from Getty that perhaps she was. #71870367 was taken on April 23, 1963, #592272662 in Keeler’s apartment on March 17, 1963, the week before she was due to give evidence in Edgecombe’s trial. Her two outfits – a blouse and an oversized sweater, both worn with ski pants tucked into knee-length boots – would have been seen as shockingly edgy by Burchell’s latter-day tricoteuses, with their  floral frocks, fussy hats, and home perms, but it pointed to wider changes in society.

The approval of the oral contraceptive pill had given women an unprecedented level of control over their fertility. While social conservatives tut-tutted about promiscuity and extra-marital sex, the major impact of this new contraceptive technology was in transforming women’s economic role. By uncoupling the onset of sexual activity from the age that women first married, it allowed them to invest in education and other forms of human capital as well as generally become more career-oriented. Soon after the birth control pill was legalized, there was a sharp increase in college attendance and graduation rates for women. And as Beth Levine so presciently noted, the emergence of the boot and the pill were contemporaneous. They were both, in their in own ways, symbols of women’s growing independence.

Selected References:

  • Alexander, Raymonde. 1962. Fashions Will Stand on Solid Footing as Boots Kick Off the Fall Season. The Atlanta Constitution, July 16, 1962. Pg. 17
  • Anon. 1962.Balenciaga Is Praised by Buyers. New York Times, Aug 2, 1962. Pg.18.
  • Anon. 1963. Paris: The First Full Report: Vogue’s First Report On The New French Clothes And The Fresh Excitement Of Paris. Vogue, Sept 1963: pp164–181, 243, 245
  • Anon. 2017. Christine Keeler, model at the centre of the Profumo Affair – obituary. Daily Telegraph, Dec 5, 2017. Accessed 12/9/2017.
  • Ashley, Iris. 1962. Iris Ashley with Balenciaga Yesterday. The Daily Mail, Aug 29, 1962. Pg. 4.
  • Ashley, Iris. 1962. On the Wave of a New Rave. The Daily Mail, October 31, 1962. Pg. 10.
  • Ashley, Iris. 1970. Fini the Mini. The Daily Mail, July 30, 1970. Pg. 4.
  • Burchell, Julie. 2017. Christine Keeler made me realize the respectable life was not for me. Daily Telegraph, Dec 9, 2017. Accessed 12/9/2017.
  • Peterson, Patricia, 1962. Fall ’62 Forecast. New York Times, Aug 26, 1962. Pg.248.

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