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.
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
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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
- 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
- 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
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.
- 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.
… when you discover that yesterday would have been Mary Millington’s 72nd birthday (1945-1979). Growing up in Britain during the 1970s, it was hard to avoid her likeness, which was splashed all over the London Underground on posters promoting her fantastically popular (and truly awful) sex comedies. The story of Mary Maxted (her real name) is both fascinating and very sad, and has been chronicled in a biography by Simon Sheridan (1999) and a recent documentary, ‘Respectable’ (2016); it’s well worth exploring for anyone interested in seventies Britain. Anyway, here she is, in a typical (and quite NSFW) pose in some provincial English town – the towering platform boots were a common accessory for the tiny Mary (4′ 11″).
- Pocklington, Rebecca. 2016. Who is Mary Millington? Everything you need to know about tragic porn star honored with a blue plaque. Daily Mirror, April 7, 2016. Accessed 12/1/2017
- Sheridan, Simon. 1999. Come Play With Me: The Life and Films of Mary Millington. FAB Press.
- Sheridan, Simon. 2011. Keeping the British End Up: Four Decades of Saucy Cinema. Titan Publishing, 4th Edn.
- Whitehouse, via Vintage Erotica Forums
At the request of David Sheldon, I’m posting this picture of the T. Elliott & Sons Christmas Party from 1968/69. If you haven’t been following the comments thread on Elliotts, which you can find here, I encourage you to do so. If you’re interested in the history of shoes, it’s fascinating stuff.
I’m excited to report that Made for Walking now has a publication date! The book will be available from May 28th of next year and can be preordered from Amazon.
May 28, 2018 seems a long way off, but I’ll make sure the blog has plenty to keep you occupied between then and now.
International readers may never have heard of her, but back in my homeland, Carol Vorderman MBE is a bit of a national treasure. She co-hosted the popular gameshow Countdown for 26 years (1982-2006), one of 19 TV programs she has presented; she has been a strong advocate for math education in the UK; and she is the only celebrity to have won “Rear of the Year” twice, the second time (2014) when she was 54 years old. What lifted her into the realms of this blog, however, was a rumor that I heard years ago that, when she was a student at Cambridge in the late 1970s, she was known as “Boots” Vorderman.
Obviously this was worthy of further investigation. So I turned to “It All Counts: My Story” (2010), which as you may have guessed from the title is Vorderman’s autobiography. And here is the story, as described by the lady herself. To set the scene: in October 1978, 17 year old Carol Jean Vorderman of Prestatyn, North Wales, comes up to Cambridge to read Natural Sciences at Sidney Sussex College. It is fair to say that she does not blend in to the anonymous mob of undergraduates…
“Standard uniform for all students in Cambridge in those days was a pair of jeans, a college scarf and trainers. I was absolutely determined not to change what I would normally wear just to look like everyone else. In those days I loved to dress in a 70s glam rock style. Abba were at their height, and there were definite shades of Agnetha in my day-to-day outfits.
“Pride of my wardrobe was a pair of thigh-length leather boots. I wore these boots virtually every single day, teamed with the tightest velveteen trousers, a white shirt and a matching bow tie. That’s how I got my college nickname of Boots Vorderman. Not very original, I suppose, but that’s what it was.
“If I had worn normal jeans and trainers, I would have reached my lectures at least four times faster than I did. But instead I would attempt to cycle to the engineering department with my thigh-length boots on, which made each turn of the pedals difficult. The tightly hugging trousers didn’t help much either, but I refused to be beaten. I raised the seat of my bike really high, so that I didn’t have to flex my leather-clad knees quite as much, which meant my bottom was so high from the ground that my bike resembled a penny farthing. But I didn’t care. I simply set out with plenty of time to spare and wobbled my way to lectures.”
Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while will know that the late 1970s saw the brief return of over-the-knee boots to mainstream fashion popularity. From 1977, when Karl Lagerfeld introduced them in his Fall collection for Chloe, through to around 1981/82, OTK boots were, if not common, than at least high profile, due in no small part to their adoption by a number of celebrities (see here for an example of this). Carol Vorderman was not famous in 1978 – that would come four years later, when she first appeared on TV – but she plainly had the fashion sensibilities of a celebrity.
And there, of course, lies the problem. It would be great to illustrate this little personal vignette of late-70s fashion history with a photo of Carol in all her Cambridge glory, but the likelihood of such photos floating around on the internet is quite low. However, it turns out that if we can’t see Boots Vorderman, we can at least see her boots. Because, as Carol notes in the book:
“Years late I wore those same boots when I was Cher in Celebrity Stars in Their Eyes, proving that a good pair of boots never dies!”
Twenty years later, as it happens, in 1998. And for that, we do have photos (and even video).
Now, even Vorderman admits that this was probably not her finest hour, being more Rocky Horror Show than Cher, but if we ignore the excess of leather and fishnet (to say nothing of the “get me out of here” look of horror on Carol’s face) we can see that this is a pretty respectable pair of late-70s thighboots, complete with flaring top, rounded toe, and slender stack heels.
As for her Cambridge education, Carol Vorderman achieved the remarkable feat of getting a third in each year of the Tripos exams, making her a member of the exclusive “Nines” club. My experience of people that get third class degrees from Oxford or Cambridge is that they almost invariably go on to greater success than those who win higher class honors, and this is certainly true for her. Not only that, but at 57 she looks as good as she did forty years ago. Keep on counting, Carol.
- Vorderman, Carol. 2010. It All Counts: My Story. Headline Publishing Group, United Kingdom
In 2002, a British teenager called Charlie Gowans-Eglinton took a weekend trip to Paris with her mother. Reflecting back on the trip in 2017, Gowans-Eglinton, now a fashion editor for the Daily Telegraph, recalled that “we drank coffee and did the galleries and, having spotted stylish French women wearing them, bought my first pair of knee-high boots, which I insisted on wearing straight away. Somewhere between the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo I lost feeling in my toes, and so ended my first, and only, experience of knee-high boots.”
I have great sympathy for Gowans-Eglinton, because she had her first experience with the fashion boot when it was, without doubt, at its least forgiving. Women’s boots in the years surrounding the Millennium were a triumph of style over comfort; wickedly tight, perched on pencil-thin stiletto heels, and with a toe so pointed that it looked like it had been weaponized for some James Bond movie. Contemporary news articles highlighted the pain caused by trying to fit the aerobicized calves of the fashionable Millennial woman into the glove tight shafts of these boots.
The designers, of course, were unrepentant. Quoted in the New York Observer in 2000, Miranda Morrison of Sigerson Morrison, justified her company’s wickedly tight boots by saying “We made a decision … to cater to the shapeliest legs, just because that’s how the product looks the best. I mean, you know there are companies who try and fit everybody, and the result is that, for a lot of stylish girls, their boots fit like Wellingtons!… You can put your leg into a smaller boot… you may spend a couple of days wondering where your toes are.”
If anyone can be blamed for this, it’s probably Gianni Versace. His 1995 fall ready-to-wear collection had introduced a new style of boot that, in many ways, it was a high-legged equivalent of the popular high-heeled pumps of this period, combining the stiletto heel and pointed toe of the pump with a glove-tight leather upper climbing to just below the knee. It was stunning, and it was almost unwearable, but it inspired a flurry of late nineties imitators. “Out of fashion for decades,” the Toronto Star reported in September 1995, “[the boot] is now striding onto centre stage in kid-soft leather or gleaming patent, on high stacked heels or short, dagger-sharp stilettos. There haven’t been so many boots in fashion since Nancy Sinatra first grabbed a microphone.”
Ironically, by the time the young Charlie Gowans-Eglinton was trying out her first pair, mainstream shoe designers were modifying the dress boot to place place less demands on the wearer. The toes were squared off, at least at the tip, to reduce wear and tear on the feet; the fit of the shaft was loosened, especially round the ankle; and stilettos made way for stack heels, easier to walk in. A frequent, and very distinctive variant on this style was the “compressed stack;” viewed in profile, it looked like a stiletto, but from the rear it was apparent that the heel ran the full width of the boot and went straight to the ground without any taper. This revised design was to become a key element of what a 2011 New Yorker article described as “… the professional woman’s default uniform of the moment: a smart knit dress in a dark color, worn with knee-high black leather boots.”
Today, of course, there is every manner of boot to fit almost any need. When my own daughter picked out her first pair, a year or so back, they were low-heeled, round-toed, and with a shaft that was relaxed enough that they can be zipped up with minimal effort. There are no complaints about numb toes. Reviewing this season’s knee-length designs for the Telegraph, Gowans-Eglinton was in a forgiving mood. “As I’ll be 30 on my next birthday, I reckon it’s probably time I gave them another go.”
- “Key Pieces for Fall – The High Boot” – Marie Claire, ca. 1999
- Gowans-Eglinton, Charlie. 2017. Every type of boot that you should have in your Autumn ‘boot wardrobe.’ Daily Telegraph, October 18, 2017.
- Hayes, Tracy Achor. 1995. Step Into Style With the Appropriate Fall Footgear. Toronto Star, Sep 7, 1995: pg. F6.
- Jacobs, Alexandra. 2000. Das Boots: Women Beg for Torture, Wrapping Calves in Tight Leather. New York Observer, October 16, 2000
- Mead, Rebecca. 2011. Strategy Session: The Pipeline, The New Yorker, Jan 10, 2011
There’s a Spanish movie from 1974 called La mujer con botas rojas, which translates as “The Woman in Red Boots.” Catherine Deneuve plays the woman in question, who wears her pants tucked into a quite unremarkable pair of red leather knee-length boots for pretty much the whole film. It was directed by Juan Luis Buñuel, who is the son of the much more famous Luis Buñuel, with whom Deneuve made the much more famous Belle de Jour (1967) and Tristana (1970). In it, Deneuve plays an avante garde writer who gets manipulated by an elderly millionaire; however, the tables are turned when it emerges that she can summon up apparitions and recall visions of the past. I cribbed that plot summary from IMDB because, despite having watched the movie once on late night TV, I can remember absolutely nothing about it.
This post is not about that film, or those boots.
Around the time Deneuve was conjuring her apparitions in La mujer con botas rojas, David Gilmour, guitarist (and co-vocalist) for seventies rock giants Pink Floyd, received a demo tape from a friend, Ricky Hopper. Hopper was also friends with a family from Welling, in southeast London, whose teenage daughter was a musical prodigy who played the violin, organ, and piano and composed her own songs. Fifty of these youthful compositions were crammed onto the tape, which must have been a daunting prospect for any listener. But Gilmour was impressed by what he heard and forked out his own cash to pay for professionally-recorded demos of three of the songs. On the strength of these, sixteen year-old Catherine Bush, better known as Kate, was signed by EMI.
I am, I will freely admit, a huge Kate Bush fan, although to be honest I much prefer her first three albums – The Kick Inside (1978), Lionheart (1979), and Never Forever (1980) – which represent the unleashing of a huge burst of creative energy that had built up during the two years of her contract, when she was placed on a retainer by EMI and paid an advance that enabled her to take classes in mime and interpretive dance. The reasons for the company’s largesse are a matter of debate, ranging from altruism (EMI wanted to protect the youthful Bush from the potential trauma of releasing an album early to poor reviews), to cold-eyed commercial calculus (they wanted to lock her down before she had a chance to sign with another record label), to incompetence (the initial producers hired to work with her were no good).
Regardless of the reason, EMI’s caution in bringing Bush to the attention of the public paid big dividends. By the time she began recording her first album, in the late summer of 1977, she had written over 200 songs and honed her live skills by performing with her backing band in South London pubs. More especially, she had worked to combine music, song, and dance into the unique style of performance art that was to make her such a distinctive star of the late seventies and early eighties. By the end of 1977, Kate Bush was ready to meet her public. Which she did, in a very impressive pair of red boots.
The middle years of the 1970s had seen a shift away from more tailored clothes towards what Vogue called “the new ease in fashion;” oversized sweaters; loose-fitting, pleated skirts; wool, tweed, and peasant headscarves. Boots were a big part of this look; in contrast to the zippered, calf-hugging styles popular at the time, the new boot was loose-fitting, touching the leg rather than clinging to it, and falling in extravagant folds as the soft leather crushed around the ankle. Rather than having heels that were covered in the same material as the boot itself, the new boot featured stacked heels in material like wood. By 1975, the New York Times was referring to this style as “The Boot of the Year.”
Flash forward to when the young Kate Bush was fronting her band at the Rose of Lee in Lewisham and the boot was reigning supreme. “It’s lucky that shoemakers are almost all bootmakers too,” Barbara Griggs reported from the 1977 Paris Fall collections. “Otherwise they’d be grimly facing bankruptcy.” Griggs estimated that around 90 percent of the models on the Paris catwalks that season were wearing boots of some sort. “Ankle-high boots, calf-high boots, knee-high boots, and thigh-high boots. Boots that laced-up and boots you simply slid into. Boots made of soft sheepskin, shiny calf or dressy satin. Boots that invariably had low heels for daytime.” The variety of boots seen in Paris was, in Griggs’ words, “staggering.”
Most notably, 1977 saw the re-emergence of the over-the-knee boot after a six-year gap. Reporters covering that year’s Fall ready-to-wear shows in Paris were full of praise for Karl Lagerfeld’s collection for Chloe. Lagerfeld had been much taken with Federico Fellini’s Casanova released in December of the previous year and decided to produce a collection based on the eighteenth century costumes seen in the movie. But rather than women’s clothing from that period (which he declared to be “uninteresting”) Lagerfeld chose instead to design a collection for women that was influenced by the flamboyant male clothing of the seventeen hundreds. So we have broad-brimmed cavalier hats, capes, velvet and satin breeches, lace trimmed blouses, and lots of swaggering over-the-knee boots.
The look caught on. By May of 1977, Bernadine Morris was reporting in the New York Times that a growing number of retailers on 7th Avenue were featuring knee-baring dresses for fall, also noting that high boots, thick tights, should be used to offset increased leg exposure. By the time the glossies started covering the fall fashions, in their July editions, over-the-knee boots were high on the list of accessories. In its review of shoes for the 1977 fall season, Vogue hailed “a great-looking new over-the-knee boot to bear with a tunic top and textured legs… or a thick Shaker sweater and matching leggings. Or to pull on over the narrowest narrowed pants and cuff down (boots are that soft this year!) sometimes to show its cozy shearling lining.”
A thick sweater and shearling-lined over-the knee boots. In early 1978 Kate Bush went on a round of promotional interviews for The Kick Inside wearing just such an outfit, or variations on it. In March, the NME carried a profile of the new star, describing her as “neither doll-like, nor petite, though hardly tall. Her faded jeans are mostly concealed under a pair of sheepskin-lined, thigh-high, reddish suede boots, and are in marked contrast to her very feminine fringed top.” Here I have to take issue with the NME’s Steve Clarke, because those boots are most definitely not suede, but leather. I know this because Bush was possibly at the height of her fame (or at least its first peak), with the first single from the album, Wuthering Heights, at number 1 on the UK charts, and she was photographed everywhere in those boots. Sometimes with a sweater, sometimes the fringed top, and occasionally a silk chinoiserie blouse. But always the boots.
They were quite sturdy boots, made from heavy leather with a chunky heel and thick soles, more buccaneer than boutique, and quite the contrast with the image portrayed by Bush through her music, which tended towards floaty dresses, dance leotards, and unearthly vocals. The contrast was mirrored in Bush herself. I still remember being shocked when I first saw her interviewed on the TV. I’d imagined that the owner of that ethereal singing voice would speak in delicate tones of Received Pronunciation, but Bush’s accent was pure South London.
It was hard to escape from Wuthering Heights in 1978; those piercing vocals seemed to be everywhere. It spent four weeks at number 1 on the UK pop charts and ended up being one of the most played records on the radio that year (as well as the tenth best selling single*). My brother had recently moved to North Yorkshire and my memories of that time involve a lot of driving around wet moorland of the sort that had inspired Emily Brontë’s Gothic masterpiece, which had, in turn, inspired Bush. Wuthering Heights was an ever-present accompaniment on the car radio.
Interestingly – at least from the narrow perspective of this blog – March of 1977 saw a chart showdown between the red booted Bush and her black booted rival for seventies pop superstardom, Debbie Harry of Blondie. Blondie’s single Denis was kept off the top spot of the UK charts by Bush (and then suffered the ignominy of being leapfrogged by Brian & Michael’s Matchstalk Men & Matchstalk Cats & Dogs; Google it to see just how bad that one was), although the American act was to have by far the greatest number of hits overall. Kate Bush continued (and continues) to plow her own idiosyncratic course, with variable mass success but a passionate fan base. In 1993, she released an album entitled The Red Shoes, but since 1978 the red boots have, sadly, been consigned to the back of the pop closet.
* If 10th place seems a little underwhelming, bear in mind that this was the year of two Grease-powered John Travolta & Olivia Newton John hits, to say nothing of ABBA and the Bee Gees, so it was not a bad effort for a first single. Although she did get beaten by the Boomtown Rats as well.
- Anon. Shoe Signals. Vogue, July 1977: pp.98-103
- Anon. Walk Right In…. All the Terrific New Stockings & Socks, Shoes & Boots”, Vogue, July 1977: pp142–143
- Clarke, Steve. Kate Bush City Limits. New Musical Express, March 25, 1978.
- The Daily Mail, March 31, 1977: pg. 15
- Griggs, Barbara. Bootnote… Down to Earth Detail. The Daily Mail, March 31, 1977: pg. 15
- Morris, Bernadine. At Lagerfeld’s Paris show, the 18th Century goes modern. New York Times, March 29, 1977: pg.41.
- Morris, Bernadine. Message is in From Paris – Bubbly, Bloused and Billowy. New York Times, April 5, 1977; pg.24