Nicola here, musing on the appeal of boots. One of the things I like most about autumn is that I can get my boots out and wear them again after their summer break. I think in an ideal world I would wear boots all the time. I love them. Comfortable, stylish, practical, sexy, they cover just about every option. I was slightly shocked when I discovered I had seven pairs (that said I can’t wear the ones in the photo these days – they are just too high!) It would have been eight pairs but last year I very grudgingly threw away my all time favourite pair of wedge boots which I had worn until they literally fell apart.
A few weeks ago I went to an exhibition at the Victorian and Albert Museum in London called “Shoes, Pleasure and Pain.” The exhibition was stunning with examples of shoes and boots from different cultures going back over 600 years. The power of the shoe or boot is very strong in persuading us that we can be transformed into someone who is seductive and glamorous. It feels as though they have almost magical properties.
It was George Bernard Shaw who wrote: "You can tell he is a
gentleman: Look at his boots." Boots and shoes have of course been symbols of status and prestige for centuries. In fairy tales feminine shoes are so often pretty and fragile but masculine boots move, leap and make the wearer active and dynamic. In German myth the King of the Golden Mountain offers a pair of boots that can transport the wearer anywhere that they want to go. Russian folklore speaks of the 7 league boots that carry the wearer vast distances in a single bound. We have “Puss In Boots” the dashing, sword-fighting hero who, as he takes off his hat and cloak, says: “All I need are the boots!”
The idea that men’s boots can have associations of power and virility is still a very strong one; when a friend of mine saw these Musketeer Boots in the exhibition I thought she might swoon. “They look as though they mean business,” she said. Yes they did. (Thank you to fellow historical author Christina Courtenay for the photo!)
Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough wrote in 1704 "His Grace returned from the wars today and did pleasure me twice in his top-boots.” Possibly too much information but also a tribute to the Duke’s virility – and his boots. Boots and swords do seem to go together. In the mid seventeenth century the “cult of the cavalier” was hugely popular amongst men who combined violence in the form of swords and riding boots with spurs, with long hair, jewellery and rich textiles.
The Duke of Wellington was another man who had a penchant for boots, a stylish dandyism reflected in the original Wellington boot. These, originally flat boots made of leather were all the rage after Waterloo, giving a man an air of energy and activity. Over time the Wellington has changed out of all recognition into a very practical but not particularly seductive boot.
Women’s boots in history were somewhat different, essentially practical although they could be pretty as well. A good example of these was 19th century carriage boots, worn for warmth and usually fur-trimmed. The ones in the picture below belonged to the Empress Eugenie. The fashion for “Adelaide boots” developed in the pre-Victorian era when Queen Adelaide popularised a dainty feminine boot with side lacing. These days, though, both sexes can wear whatever boots we choose, from stilettos to cowboy boots, fetish boots to platforms. There is a fabulous and dizzying array of styles open to all.