These Boots Are Made for Walking: Boots Throughout History

1 – These boots are made for talkin’. Well, #threadtalk, anyway.👢

Yup, this edition is all about the sexy, sturdy, subversive, and sumptuous footwear we know and love. Docs, Fluevogs, cowboy, military: they all share history.

Below: 1895-1900, Museum at Fit; Austria or England

From the Museum at Fit: This boot represents a turning point in fashion, when the restrictive dress of the Victorian period gave way to the more relaxed styles of the early 20th century. As fashionable women began to lead more active lives, the high-button boot evolved into an essential element of dress. The boot was more suitable for outdoor walking than thin leather and silk slippers, and was considered progressive and sensible. However, this particular boot, with its high curved heel and tightly fitting ankle, is actually seductive and daring and meant to peek provocatively from beneath skirts.

2 – Like hats, tunics & other foundational human garments, it’s hard to say when shoes became boots. Likely they morphed from hose & leather shoes to this recognizable hybrid.

The archaeological record goes way back. Here, an Assyrian soldier rocks some sweet boots in 7thC BCE.

From the Met: This relief fragment dates to the time of the Assyrian king Sennacherib (r. 704-681 B.C.), and comes from the great Southwest Palace, called by Sennacherib the "Palace Without Rival," at Nineveh in northern Iraq. It shows an Assyrian soldier leading a horse beside a large river, and comes originally from a much larger scene depicting an Assyrian campaign that filled a room of the palace.

3 – To the surprise of zero people who know about cowboy boots, we see boots in societies with big hunting and horse energy.🐎🐎🐎

This gorgeous statuette of Artemis has some lovely detailed boots, ideal for trying to keep the hell away from everyone else in the woods. 3-1C BCE.

From the Met: This statuette shows Artemis, goddess of the hunt and hunters, removing an arrow from a quiver that would have been suspended over her right shoulder. Her left hand probably held a bow. She wears a short peplos, cinched beneath the breast bone with an overfold at the hips, and hunting boots. This traditional costume facilitates swift movement and implies a sense of athleticism, two traits commonly associated with Artemis.

4 – Roman foot soldiers wore a sandal-boot hybrid called a caligae. They were openwork, so kind of like 80s jelly shoes, but the bottoms were hobnailed.

They were issued to soldiers and came in a variety of designs–some surprisingly modern looking. These came from Trimontium.

A variety of shoes (four whole shoes and three smaller fragments above) in the openwork style of the caligae. They range from mostly covering the foot, to dedicate openwork, almost like woodwork looking leather. The photo is in black and white with a measurement key at the bottom.

5 – Boots also grew into a sign of class. Protecting your feet, after all, meant you could afford the materials to do so. These Egyptian examples from the 6-7th century have gorgeous patterns on them still visible & would have indicated status & prestige. Better than a pedicure.

A clog-style low boot with a kind of tongue at the front for easy putting on and taking off. They show lots of wear, but still maintain a golden color and dark patina.

6 – By and large, leather was used primarily for the construction of shoes in the pre-industrial world. Research has not determined much of a difference between gendered footwear, save footbed size.

This recreation from Tønsberg, Norway based on 12th C remnants just blew my mind

From the article: To the right, a knee high boot from the medieval city of Tønsberg (C57759/1113). To the left, a reconstruction of a similar Type 1 boot as referenced in Erik Schias typology. Photo: Vegard Vike, KHM/UiO. The boots are deep brown, soft leather, with no laces or buttons. It would be pulled on, and has a steep angle at the mid-calf.

7 – Of course, boots are also deeply rooted in the military. We see them in armor from all around the world but also influencing fashion once we get in to the Imperial age & Englishmen start emulating soldiers even if they aren’t. The Hessian boot became a staple of Regency wear.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London - A pair of black, knee-high boots, with thick leather soles. They are very plain looking and show some patina and wear; the interior might be red, and there are pull hooks inside.

8 – These stunning moccasins date from the same period as the Hessian boots above, and are made by the Huron. The intricate embroidery and bold colors are still vibrant today, even though they’re over two hundred years old. Absolutely remarkable.

A pair of moccasins in deep brown leather with orange and white floral motifs embroidered on to the top half. The tops flap over and have tassels in alternating white and orange, and are tied with a red bow.

9 – On the opposite side, we have the most durable boots I have ever seen. These date from 1750-1774, and include removable spurs made of iron. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I could walk straight in these, let alone get on a horse. But then again, I trip in sneakers.

(c)Victoria and Albert Museum, London
A pair of thick, thick knee-high boots with a huge knee turnover. The front of the boot is square and there is a removable spur attachment that adds even more leather to the ensemble. Looks incredibly heavy.

10 – The age of colonialism does bring us a whole lot of gendered clothing, and women’s wear becomes fairly clear. The line between “shoe” and “boot” is often blurred.

However, you all know my weakness for moiré and green, so these gorgeous ankle boots from 1830-40 were a must.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London - This pair of side-laced, ankle-length boots of watered silk has a flat heel and square toe. As skirts increased in width and shortened in length, attention became focused on the foot and ankle. Brightly coloured silk boots or shoes would complement the richness of the gown. Sometimes they were chosen to match the sash or silk ribbons worn with the hat.

11 – Boots, of course, find their way into art, as well. One of my all time favorite painters, Artemisia Gentileschi, depicted Esther here before her husband, King Ahasuerus. I have no doubt that she chose to put him in white boots for a reason. Pristine, privileged. 17th C

From the Met: The most famous woman painter of the seventeenth century, Gentileschi worked in Rome, Florence, Venice, and Naples. This painting, among her most ambitious, represents the Jewish heroine Esther, who appeared before her husband, King Ahasuerus of Persia, in order to stave off a massacre of the Jewish people, breaking with court protocol and thereby risking death. Rather than turn to historical recreation, contemporary theater informed how Gentileschi conceived this dramatic scene, in which Esther faints before the king grants her request. An African page restraining a dog was painted out by the artist, but is partly visible beneath the marble pavement to the left of the king’s knee.

12 – Or, the absence of one’s boots makes for quite a shocking show. This is a portrait of Don Quixote by Célestin Nanteuil. His red legs almost look like hose, but you realize he’s not wearing anything and his armor is strewn about. Madness. 1873.

Don Quixote sits, reading a book, a sword upheld in one hand, his jerkin undone and eyes wide. He has a handlebar mustache and his collar is wild. He's wearing bloomers and has bare legs and small, ill-fitting shoes. Pieces are armor are strewn about him.

13 – Another piece we can’t forget, before we look at more boots, is the spurs. Though brutal in practice, their design is rather stunning and ornate. This example is like from Spain and is called a Rowel Spur, dating from the mid-17th C. A sign of wealth, to be sure.

From the Met: This pierced and chiseled decoration is inspired from contemporary German examples, but the style, more floral, betrays a likely Spanish origin. In the first half of the 17th century, the fashion trend for gentlemen in Europe was to wear boots and spurs even in non-riding circumstances, including for dancing or walking around at court. Spurs became then more than equestrian tools, but pieces of male jewelry often enriched by the same goldsmiths also working on armor and weapons. Their decoration was sometimes intended to match the sword hilt and the general outfit and horse tack of their owner. These trendy accessories were also a significant mark of status for gentlemen, sometimes nonetheless copied by the bourgeoisie. This fashion progressively disappeared after the mid 17th century

14 – And we cannot, of course, forget the dandy macaronis. Their boots, though often mimicking the feel of military style, were most certainly for show. These caricatures were quite popular; this one is of William John Kerr, Earl of Acrum, afterward Marquess of Lothian, ca 1771.

This example satirizes extreme macaroni fashion of the period, and caricaturizes WIlliam John Kerr, Earl of Acrum, afterward Marquess of Lothian. He is shown in military dress with a tassled saber and wig with long queue, a coat laced with gold and tight breeches, long "top" boots, and a small Nivernois hat.

15 – These Russian boots date to 1867 and were bought for £1 13 shillings and 6 pence at the Paris Universal exhibition (according to the V&A, and they’d know, right?). The leatherwork and stitching is quite gorgeous, and that tassel brings it right over the top, IMHO.

(c)Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Pair of boots; red, green, brown and beige leather uppers with multicoloured stitching. Faded red piping at top with bright red tassel at front of each leg.

16 – Nights in black satin? These boots are scalloped and made of curves to die for. Likely part of a mourning ensemble, they date from 1865-1870, and if I could fit even part of my foot in them I would wear them right now. 🖤🖤🖤

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London/Gartrell - Pair of woman's boots of black satin. Rounded square toes and hollow medium heel. The top is scalloped and trimmed at the centre front with a braid rosette and bow. The boots have a scalloped side button fastening, and a concealed lacing over the instep. The lace is of white woven silk with a metal tag.

17 – These are another 1860s set, in a color I would commit a felony for. The Met gives us almost no information on these other than that they are “probably American” but I just adore the two tone leather and velvet here. And that little knob of a heel!

A pair of magenta velvet boots, mid-calf, with a brown leather split at the mid-foot. Eyelets got all the way up, and the short heel is just maybe an inch or so. The top is scooped.

18 – The 1890s are not messing around. Who would think that adding a heel and going with just a regular calfskin brown would be so damned sexy?
I need a moment. The yellow lining is really the thing that’s killing me. Made in Austria, for London audience, purchased in 1923.

© Victoria & Albert museum: Pair of ladies' boots made from tan glacé kid leather and are high mid-calf length with a curving top, scalloped side button stand, a self-covered 'Louis' heel and pointed toe on which is a peaked toe cap, bordered with perforations.

The boots are lined with white sateen, the tops faced with yellow satin. Printed on the left boot is 'ANTON CAPEK THALIASTRASSE 28 WIEN' surmounted by a crest and with four medals at the bottom. On the right shoe, 'MADE IN AUSTRIA EXPRESSLY FOR C. W. Coulson, 15 Tottenham Court Road, London, W'.

On the stitched, welted brown leather sole is stamped on the right and left toes '35' '3' and, underneath in ink '35' '24' and under the instep '5'. On the right book in ink is written 'GR/R' 'A/X' ''4/X'.

19 – These marvelous embroidered boots feature side-lacing, which for the time period was considered a bit of a throwback.
Whatever it is, it works. I mean, even the HEEL on this thing is embroidered. Can you imagine working that metallic thread into the silk? Whew. 🔥

From the Met: While the slipper and the strapped shoe were the most common choice for evening wear in the last third of the 19th century, boots did occasionally continue to appear. As with shoes, the basic evening boot was satin, either plain or featuring an embroidered vamp, usually in floral or foliate designs. Surviving examples of evening boots of the late 19th and early 20th centuries suggest, however, that those daring to wear something already outside of the ordinary often opted as well for unconventionally bold and unusual materials and trimmings. This pair of boots typifies that phenomenon: anachronistic side-lacing, novel and atypically exuberant fret and scroll motifs, and embroidery covering the entire boot, including the heel.

20 – And lastly (I could go on all night) these are heart-stopping boots from the Museum at FIT–and they’re for a bicycle ensemble! The date is 1898, and I just love the swirls and playfulness of design. Corduroy is aways sporty chic, and it’s got a definite proto-sneaker vibe.

A knee-high pair of boots with almost western-style scrolling on the top. Two-toned brown leather and darker corduroy with a small heel and laces from top of the foot all the way up.

21 – Some fun sources this week, and some cool extras: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boot
https://www.fitnyc.edu/museum/exhibitions/_hide/boots.php
https://www.jstor.org/stable/4516471?read-now=1&refreqid=excelsior%3A0ea06fdac84d31b0a46275c25f9a31a7#page_scan_tab_contents
https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/aams/hd_aams.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caligae
https://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/these-boots-were-made-romans
https://www.trimontium.co.uk/archive-item/caligae-replica/
https://www.vam.ac.uk/shoestimeline/

https://www.khm.uio.no/english/collections/objects/a-boot-from-tonsberg.html

22 – Remember, Patrons get *extra* #threadtalk content! I’ve also got a tip jar (link in bio) & super follows, now. (People asked, so I provide! 🌈)

Thanks for hanging out with me today & learning all about glorious boots! I miss my old combat boots… I painted them myself.

23 – I cannot believe the typo in the first post, but whatever. Books are on brand. But that was 100% autocorrect.

Originally tweeted by Natania Barron (@NataniaBarron) on July 28, 2022.

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