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Apart from this utilitarian purpose, boots have, in certain ages, been fashion- able footwear equal to, or paramount over, shoes or sandals. In the West, in Britain and Europe, this was especially so in the first half of the seventeenth century, the later eighteenth century and much of the nineteenth, though, in the latter case, the boots were only partly visible for much of the time as they were worn under the trousers. In all these instances, boots were masculine wear but, in the nineteenth century, ladies wore boots also, designs varying from ankle-boots in the early years to high-buttoned footwear at the fin de si@cle.
In general, the style of the foot part of the boot has followed that of other foot- wear of the period and country. For example, in Europe, the extended toe of the later fourteenth century is echoed in long-toed boots, while the broad-fronted shoes of the earlier sixteenth century had their counterpart in broad-toed boots. Likewise, in the Balkans and the Middle East, for instance, where toes tend to be turned up at the ends, boots follow the same trend as shoes and sandals.
Boots were worn by the men of ancient Greece and Rome for travelling and for out-of-doors wear in cold or wet weather. The soles were shaped to each foot and most designs were of leather and about mid-calf in height. They were laced up the front and could be fur-lined and/or deco- rated with the animal's paws and tail hanging over the top. The cothurnus (Latin), kothornos (Greek) was a higher boot used primarily for hunting. The name was also applied to the boot with especially thick soles worn by tragic actors in the theatre. Soldiers and peasants wore a heavy boot of undressed hide called a pero or crudus. The Etruseans often wore boots; either short, ankle-length ones or reaching to mid-calf. An Oriental influence shows in the styles which, like their shoes, had up- turned points at the toes. The boots were made of cloth or leather, brightly coloured, especially in red, green and brown, and fastened by straps round the ankle or front-lacing. In Byzantium, too, the boot was normal footwear for men. Leather was the usual material, in black for everyday wear, while at court, and for important occasions, red leather was de rigueur, embroidered and with pearls.
Boots were an important article of clothing in the Middle Ages, particularly before about 1350. They were vital as protection against the cold and wet, and for difficult travelling conditions, as well as for life in a house which lacked any comforts and had only bare necessities. Women as well as men wore boots o f doors and for travelling. Many styles were mid-calf height, laced up the side and with turned-down or roll tops. A higher boot, reaching up to the knee, was generally called a buskin or brodequin. Elegant designs worn at court could be in bright colours and made of soft leather, silk, embroidered or brocaded. For riding, boots were usually of leather. in the later four- teenth century, when the ties of footwear were extended to great lengths, boot designs tended to follow suit. A cruder, knee-high boot worn by peasants and labourers was known as a cocker. The tall, leather boots with heavy soles, but which left the toes uncovered - like the Greek and Roman designs - were also worn in the early Middle Ages. Known as heuze or houseaux, they were of varying height from mid-calf to mid-thigh and were in use from the ninth century to the fifteenth.
Boots were not fashionable in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. They were worn for travelling and out-of-doors in bad weather, in which case they were of leather, in black or brown, and followed the general footwear designs. In the 1530s and 1540s broad toes were usual and slashes appeared in the leg part of the boot. Later sixteenth century designs had normal-shaped toes and the boot fitted the leg closely, often to mid-thigh level. in the first half of the seventeenth century the boot became an article of high fashion for men; especially between 1625 and 1650, when boots were worn on all occasions, indoors and out. They were made of soft leather and were high, with a funnel top which covered the knee for riding. For town wear this funnel was turned down, giving the open bucket top so characteristic of Cavalier dress. The weight of this top caused the boot to sag and crease across calf and ankle (see also Boot hose). on the instep, the leather flap, called a spur leather, was cut into the familiar butterfly or quatrefoil form. it and the spur were held in place by a leather strap, the soulette, fastened under the boot. The boots had heels and, often, platform soles as well.
For riding or military wear thejack boot was worn in both the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the seventeenth century it generally had the instep flap of leather. It was made of hard 'jack' or 'bend' leather, which means that the waxed leather was hardened by coating with boiling pitch. It was a heavy boot with square toes, deep square heels and a funnel top to cover the knee. In the eighteenth century the back part was often cut out to facilitate bending of the knee; and a softer and lighter-weight jack boot was also available without an instep flap and with a lighter top.
With the introduction of petticoat breeches in the 1660s, and then the gradual change-over in men's dress from these to coat and breeches, the boot went out of fashion and until the 1780s was retained only as functional protection for bad weather and travelling. In the 1780s it returned to favour as a fashionable item in a man's wardrobe and there was a choice of several styles. All of these, worn with fitting breeches, were also well- fitting, of polished leather in black or light shades of brown, and were generally knee- length or just below. There was the top boot (also known as a jockey or jemmy boot), which was of soft black leather, turned down in a deep fitting cuff at the top to display the light brown leather lining. In the 1790s the Hessian boot (known as a Hussar boot in France) became fashionable. Taken from the style worn by the troops of Hesse in Germany, it was of hard, black, polished leather and had a tassel hanging from the top in front of the boot.
In the early nineteenth century a high, black leather boot with straight top - the Wellington - was named after the Duke. A similar style, named after Napoleon, extended above the knee in front and was cut away at the back in a square to enable the knee to be bent while on horseback. A somewhat shorter version was worn under the trousers by most men for much of the nineteenth century. This was also of black leather, but softer, and reaching to just below the knee. it had a slender, square toe and a low heel. The waterproof rubberized version of the Wellington boot in half or full length is of simijarst le but can now be obtained in all colours.
During the whole of the nineteenth century men wore boots rather than shoes, and after about 1820-30, they were worn under the trousers. Apart from the Welling- ton, styles were buttoned or laced (these last often known as high-lows) and were made of black or brown leather with black patent leather for dress wear. There were also elastic-sided boots which had an inset of rubberized fabric at each side at the top. These were made possible by the work of ,Thomas Hancock who was studying the problem of elasticizing rubber material from 1820-47. An elastic cloth woven with rubber was developed from his work.
A lady's boot (termed a bottine or a jemima) was first designed for the young Queen Victoria and it became a popular style for ladies in the 1840s. It was a short boot, made of cloth or leather, with no heel and, often, a patent leather toe-cap. Such boots, which needed no fastenings as the elasticated gussets made them hug the ankle, remained fashionable for most of the nineteenth century, the style changing in tune with the footwear of the time. From about 1830 until the outbreak of the First World War, boots became as fashionable for ladies as shoes or slippers and were the most accepted outdoor wear. In style of heel, shape of toe and fastening, they followed the trend of shoe or slipper. in general, boots worn earlier in the century were short, ankle-length or a little higher - the Balmoral was one of these (see Balmora4 - while by the 1890s they reached to mid- calf and the highest designs were of the years 1909-13. Ladies' boots were made of all kinds of materials - leather, su@de, brocade, silk, velvet, satin - and they could be fastened (apart from the elastic-sided designs) by buttons or laces at the side or up the centre front.
Since 1920 the boot has been largely a feminine article of wear. Not particularly fashionable between the wars, it returned to favour in the 1950s, and since then designs have been as varied as are the materials from which they are made, both natural and man-made. Apart from these fashion boots - particularly appreciated during the Second World War and the austerity years which immediately followed it - there were also the short su@de or leather, sheepskin-lined, styles often termed bootees.
Beyond this brief survey of boot styles in Europe there are also designs which have been evolved from specific needs or climatic conditions in different parts of the world, as well as traditional methods of using and decorating the materials avail- able to hand in order to make a boot suitable for and attractive to the people using it. From these designs which have been developed in response to specific requirements are the thigh waders for fishermen, the warmly-lined boots for aviators (especially in the early days of open cockpits), and protective boots for firemen and certain industrial workers (see also Industrial and protective clothing). The need for a boot to withstand the extreme cold in Arctic regions has led to the Canadian, Eskimo, Norwegian, Finnish and Lapp types. Among these are the Finnsko or Finnesko boot, as worn in Norway and Lapland, which is made of birch-tanned reindeer skin with the hair left on. Such boots were worn by members of Scott's last expedition to the Antarctic in 1912 and there is reference to this in Scott's diary. A similar boot is the mukluk, made of seal- skin, moose or walrus hide with the hair left on and turned to the inside. The Indian design of moccasin front is common to such boots (see also Moccasin). Sonic of the Eskimo boots are very high, reaching to the thigh for extra protection. In the Middle East and the Orient boots follow the general trend of footwear and often have turned up toes. Decorative designs and materials also illustrate local traditions, as in the Bedouin boot (illustrated) and also the beautiful Russian example of stitched red and black leather. Certain Chinese boots are characterized by the thick felt sole, also sometimes with turned-up toes. In contrast, cowboy boots are generally of heavy, tough leather with a heel to hold the foot in the stirrup. They are sometimes decorated, as in the example illustrated, by stitched andlor appliqu6 designs.
| © Ragnar Torfason|
2006 March 28