Whether it’s an ankle-hiding, kid-leather boot with a Louis XV heel from the late-Victorian Era, or a thigh-high, skin-tight, Stephen Sprouse stiletto from the 1980s, women’s boots have always been about more than mere utility. They can symbolize control of the elements (a Wellington rain boot), seduction (the salacious, above-the-knee numbers designed by Giulio Coltellacci for Jane Fonda in “Barbarella”), or getting down to business (a no-nonsense pair of suedes by Anne Klein II).
For collectors of women’s boots, the lace- and button-up boots of the early 20th century suggest an era when getting dressed was far from a casual or impromptu affair. Some of these boots had a dozen or more pairs of eyelets for their laces, while the profusion of buttons on others made button hooks an essential tool for the well-heeled woman.
By the middle of the century, boots had shrugged off their Edwardian past in favor of more playful looks. Low fashion boots had mesh uppers to reveal the top of the foot, and even foul-weather boots with molded rubber soles were capped with fur trim.
But the real fun began in the 1960s, when women were offered everything from ankle boots in molded vinyl to white-heeled booties with fake-leopard uppers to chic cowboy boots in alligator, snakeskin, or elaborately tooled leather. Stocking boots were even embraced, evolving quickly into body boots, which was like wearing a pair of tights with leather soles.
Of course the 1960s are most famous for the go-go boot. Designer André Courrèges, produced a short white boot in 1964 that was copied by pretty much everyone. Roger Vivier was not one of the imitators. His Cristal boot from 1966 was outlined in black, with a revealing clear plastic window at the front and side to show off most of the foot and ankle.
By the 1970s, designers like Yves Saint Laurent were making knee-high walking boots with side zippers in hues that ranged from two-tone browns to black-and-gold. So-called “flower power” boots included stretch black-vinyl knee-highs with flowers up the front on two-inch heels.
And a London boutique from the 1960s called Granny Takes A Trip expanded into the States, spreading its hippie-Edwardian-paisley aesthetic to New York and Los Angeles. Even mains...
Meanwhile, in Australia, fleece-lined sheepskin boots called Uggs were gaining acceptance. Popularized by surfers looking for a quick way to warm their toes after hanging ten, the style caught on with U.S. women in the 1990s, when Pamela Anderson of the television show “Baywatch” took to wearing the leg-warming footwear between takes.
By then, boots were a favorite of footwear designers who are better known for their high heels. Malaysian-born designer Jimmy Choo crafted everything from thigh-high black-leather boots to ankle boots with names like George (four-inch heels supporting water-snake leather uppers), Erica (its carved heel measures four-and-a-half inches), and Chicago (a black patent-leather boot with a revealing V cutout on the side).
Acclaimed shoe designer Manolo Blahnik was also drawn to boots. His Cava featured ocelot-print goat fur trim, his snakeskin boot sported a square toe and cream-leather lining, and his provocative Cage boot seemed to be someone’s bondage fantasy, complete with four-and-a-half-inch heels.
Other designers who have chosen to stake their reputations on their boots include Stella McCartney, whose mesh, peep-toe booties are fun and flirty. Cynthia Vincent’s open-toe lace-ups are more Victorian in character (without the modesty, of course), Fendi’s black suede boots feature comfortable triangular heels, and Christian Louboutin’s Goya ankle boots have a tuxedo riffle on the vamp and lipstick-red soles.