Monday, January 24, 2011

Observations From Frye Boot Fan

Note from BHD:  This is the second of a two-part guest blog series from Frye Boot Fan.  His previous post recalling how he got into wearing Fryes as a teen during the late '60s in suburban Washington, DC, is here (link).  Below, he shares additional observations.

Footwear historians note that in turbulent and unsettled times (wars, etc.), for centuries, the unconscious trend is towards substantial boots, as they make us feel safer and more protected than foot-revealing, light-weight, low shoes. It's all very psychological.

Look at that era, no more tumultuous or troubling times that I can think of in the 20th Century.  As youngsters we lived in mortal fear of getting drafted and going to Vietnam, getting busted by "the pigs," having to run away, or just let our "boot heels go a-wandering" at a moment's notice to escape parents' authority  (e.g. the series of Kay Lenz hippie-hitch-hiker-girl movies, 'Billy Jack', troubled teen flicks, etc.)

Too close to home--remember the skies glowing red all night from DC in flames in the 1968 riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King?  It was pure trauma to suburban kids--boots afforded protection.

Until Fryes hit the scene, really, the only alternative were cowboy boots.  Those were uncomfortable and bespoke red-neck culture.  Where I lived, those guys were pretty hostile to long-hairs like us.  We dallied with surplus store combat boots for a while. Those were "cool," but too grim a reminder of what might await us at 18--Vietnam service.  Frye boots were just the right things at the right time for our generation.  They were not hold-overs from any previous generation, not borrowed from another sub-culture--they belonged entirely to us.  We made then culturally-charged icons, pure and simple, not a style with any stigmas to overcome like cowboy boots.

Dress has ever been all-defining.  In the halcyon heydays of Fryes, for all of the propaganda about non-conformity and free-thinking, a more rigid and "uniform" dress code enforced by peer-pressure I cannot imagine than what we endured.  Official public school dress codes mandating: neatly cropped hair, collared dress shirts, and prohibiting blue jeans, boots, etc. in the classroom had only just been rescinded in local junior and senior high schools in '67 or so, and this new-found freedom began the whole sartorial "fashionista" trend for school kids--the excesses of which are now causing a return to dress codes in U.S. public schools (nobody I heard of ever got killed over their Frye boots, as some have been for popular sneakers).

If period advertising is anything to go by, the current chronology of Frye styles is messed-up it seems to me.  Frye marketing claimed that the "Campus" boot came "first" in the "mid-'60s", as a revival of some "1863" boot. I cannot find any ads for the "Campus" style until c.1973, even among the copycats like Sears, who only lagged a few months in ripping-off popular styles.  Double H Boots' website says they came out with their "Snoot Boot"(TM) (harness) in direct competition with Frye, around '70-'71, but HH never copied the "Campus" style.  The square snoot toe and harness, I think, came in first, but what year exactly?  Some bloggers claim to have worn Frye harness boots to Woodstock (Aug. '69).  Is there a really a pair shown in 'Easy Rider' (1969)?  Maybe we need to look more closely at album cover photos of the day. Others say Jim Morrison (d. '71) wore Fryes to boost his height, but no reference to which exact style.

If my memory serves, the harness boots appeared on the suburban DC scene c.1970 at the earliest, and the Campus boot followed in c.1973.  All of the Frye Co. ads I have found pre-1970 only show cowboy boots, and the older '40s-'50s ads shoe just the "Jet" boots, all mail-order only.  My theory is, Frye underwent some changes when they decided to wholesale boots to retail stores, and that this coincided with the new styles of the harness and later the "Campus".  The square toe harness style was quickly co-opted by long-hairs, and bikers, so Frye came out with the more clean-cut and neutral "Campus" style for the general youth market, by then trending towards bulbous toe shapes, thick platform soles and the straight chunky heels that reigned supreme during the Disco era.   More research is needed here.

BHD comment:  My recollections about Fryes are the same as my Guest Blogger's memories -- we grew up in the same geographic area, and are about the same age.  Actually, I was just under the wire of having to register for the draft back in the day.  I recall comments about "only rednecks wear boots" and thought those slurs were part of an ongoing repitoire of commentary that was hurled at me by other guys who picked on me -- typical grade-school bully stuff (though we were in high school at the time.)  To me, I just liked to wear boots, and I did.  I began back then to emerge as my own person, and with the encouragement of my family, I didn't let negative comments make me change my mind about what I chose to wear on my feet.  Plus, having strong ties to Oklahoma, wearing cowboy boots in Maryland was a way to demonstrate some pride for my mother's family roots and my Choctaw blood.

One more word:  I realize that about half of my blog visitors live elsewhere in the world, and do not know what a "redneck" is.  That is a term for someone who works out in the hot sun, such as a farm worker.  Thus, their neck would get red from sunburn.  It was usually a term of reference to someone from the U.S. South, and in the north, calling someone a "redneck" was deemed an insult.

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