Made for Walking (the blog) has been joined by Made for Walking (the book)! Published by Schiffer in 2018, Made for Walking is a history of the fashion boot from the early twentieth century through to the present day. As much as a story about society and social change as it is fashion, Made for Walking explores the role of the boot is such unlikely areas as Prohibition, the underground politics of the late sixties, and the Iran-Contra scandal of the nineteen eighties. If you’ve ever wondered where Nancy Sinatra bought her boots, how boots got Joan of Arc into big trouble, or why people have boot fetishes but not hat fetishes, this is the book for you!
Made for Walking is available from Amazon or from any good bookseller. To whet your appetite, here’s a brief sample. In the nineteen twenties, the so-called “Russian boot” was an early attempt to develop a fashionable tall boot for women. It was an uphill struggle…
The Russian boot in America, 1922
“The main streets of Petrograd and New York have much in common,” the Boot and Shoe Recorder reported in May of 1922. “Russian music, and dancing, Russian plays and costumes, and some boots.” However, this was not to say that the Recorder approved. “The Russian boot stands for utility, not for beauty” the paper cautioned. “It cannot be said to be a fitting and beautiful part of the costume of the American girl, whose skirts are short and whose feet in Russian boots are far from petite.”
If Russian boots had proved to be enormously popular in Britain, their reception elsewhere was not so ecstatic. This was particularly so across the Atlantic, where the Boot and Shoe Recorder used the relatively new-fangled mechanism of the telegraph to survey shoe retailers across the Nation. The results were not encouraging.
“In my opinion… the Russian boot fits too few women and looks too clumsy to make it popular.” R.C. Cummings, New York.
“Have had Russian boots for the past three months but have only sold a few pairs.” H.E. Fontius, Denver.
“Not very practical for our climate in either winter or summer… are not wanted by refined clientele. Have seen only one pair on the street. Too extreme to be popular.” Rosenthal’s Inc., San Francisco.
“The freak dresser is the class of trade that will wear them.” E.E.E. Shoe Company, Memphis.
“Expect slight demand in September for cheap quality boots. Better dressers won’t wear them.” Walk-Over Shoe Store, Milwaukee.
“Saw one chorus girl wearing Russian boots and one pair on display in a shop window…. A few pairs may be sold to sporty flappers.” Roy S. Whitmore, Providence RI.
“Russian boots were a popular fad, but will probably not repeat… We had a limited quantity, which we sold out. Could have used more.” A. Wachenheim, New Orleans.
“Thus far have seen only one pair of Russian boots in this city. Personally think they are anything but trim-looking. Cannot see any demand in sight.” Anon., New Haven.
“I would not advise any retailer to carry Russian boots, unless he were an enemy of mine.” Arthur Weiss, New York.
The Recorder speculated that perhaps a fitted boot, like those worn by English cavalry officers, might have something to be said for it, but such boots required a valet to pull them on and off. By contrast, “the average American woman considers her footwear the last incident of the day’s costume and wants her boots to fit in a jiffy.”
Image source: Punch, 1922