It’s widely accepted that a staple of modern fashion is a good pair of shoes. And when it comes to footwear, a popular choice among everyone from celebrities to college students to blue-collar workers has always been a solid pair of boots. It’s not hard to see why, either: most pairs of boots are made to be durable, practical…and perhaps a little stylish. So it’s no surprise that boots have been the go-to choice for icons of the silver screen since not long after the silver screen was invented.
Most boots we know today are descended from the cowboy boot, which has been used by cowboys and vaqueros in Spain and the Americas for centuries. However, its rise in popularity can be traced to spring 1942. Sam Lucchese, an American bootmaker, was approached by legendary singer Bing Crosby, who asked him for a pair of boots made in “nice, soft leather – the best you have in stock.” Lucchese quickly obliged, and the boots became part of Crosby’s “Canadian tuxedo.”
Around this time, Hollywood had began cranking out Western movies, and so began the trend of cowboy boots in Western fashion. After Crosby’s purchase, many stars decided to get a pair of their own, and Lucchese’s reputation became more established. Just two years after Crosby, an up-and-coming actor named Gregory Peck bought the first of many pairs of boots from Lucchese. In 1957, Lucchese designed a pair of intricately-made boots in honor of Peck, who by this point was a well-established actor.
Peck wasn’t the only familiar face to call on Lucchese, either. In October 1951, a tall man blew through the door into Lucchese’s shop and requested a pair of boots with a distinctive square toe. But this man was more popular than Peck, at least at the time. Though he’d been cast in small roles since the 1920s, his career had really taken off two years earlier, with a starring role in war film that had earned him an Academy Award nomination.
The man, of course, was John Wayne, and he was at the start of his career as an All-American Western hero. So naturally, he needed a pair of cowboy boots.
The square toe on his boots became known as the famous – and controversial – “John Wayne Toe,” and like Peck, Wayne became a frequent customer and proponent of Lucchese. In fact, several of his style of boots – notably goat and alligator leather – can be found on the Lucchese website.
Lucchese’s fortune was looking up; in fact, many famous actrors, celebrities, and politicians would visit his store throughout the 1950s and 60s. Among them were war-hero-turned-actor Audie Murphy, businessman Jimmy Dean, singer Slim Pickens, and even then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. All wanted some variation of Lucchese’s now-signature elaborate, elegant cowboy boot.
But there’s a balance to everything in the universe, and fashion is no exception to this. One of Newton’s Laws (it’s not important which one) states that every action has an equal, opposite reaction. For every push, a pull. For every day, a night. For every patriot…a rebel.
Enter Doc Martens.
Doc Martens have an admittedly turbulent history. In 1945, Nazi doctor Klaus Märtens was on leave in the Bavarian Alps when he injured his foot skiing. However, standard-issue army boots wreaked havoc on his recuperating foot, so he began to experiment with them, adding softer leather and air-padded boots from rubber found in looted German towns and disused air fields. Once he’d settled on a reliable prototype, he and a university friend put them into production, and the Doc Martens we know and love were sold to millions, showing once again that something great can show up even from the most unlikely places.
Doc Martens were initially sold to British housewives, as they were the prefect gardening shoe. However, the 1950s saw them quickly becoming one of the go-to boots for the greaser movement, both in Britain and the U.S., thanks to arguably the most famous rebel of them all – James Dean himself. Once he was seen with a pair of black Doc Martens, the craze took off…and still hasn’t stopped to this day.
Chippewa and Wesco Engineer boots were also popular during this time, due to Marlon Brando’s role in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Brando was another one of those Hollywood bad boys every teenager wanted to be like, and the boots were the icing on the cake. In the late 50s and early 60s, actor/daredevil Steve McQueen embodied the devil-may-care look with a pair brown suede boots, and they were inseparable.
He wore them in his most famous roles, notably 1968’s “Bullitt,” where he played a – you guessed it – devil-may-care cop, who wore brown suede boots. He was also known to wear them in his private life, and after a lengthy search to find their origins, the boots were revealed to be made by an English shoemaking company named Sanders & Sanders.
By the 1970s, both cowboy boots and the others (many of which under the category of “roper boots”) had settled into their places in the fashion world. Cowboy boots became a common sight in the Southwest and the Deep South, and one can hardly “Texas” without a pair of embroidered cowboy boots coming to mind. Within the last few decades, they’ve enjoyed a surge in popularity thanks to films like “The Dukes of Hazzard,” or John Travolta’s “Urban Cowboy.”
Meanwhile, roper boots continue to be a symbol of uniqueness, and youth rebellion. They were popular in the punk scene in the 1970s and 80s, along with lace-up army jackboots around the same time. In 1980s Britain, various subcultures rose up and demonstrated their own mission, and with it, their own styles. But no matter what you’re looking for, whether it be a solid cowboy boot to withstand the force of good ol’ hard work, or a pair of ropers to help you stand out in the crowd, rest assured that others who have gone before you have found what they were looking for.