Monday, October 16, 2017

A brief history of blue chip sneakers

Once Saturday was established as a work free day, working class families were keen to enjoy the new train systems and took every opportunity to leave the city and visit the seaside, particularly in the summertime. Working boots were discarded as day trippers wanted shoes for walking through sand and paddling in the sea. At first, cheap cotton canvas topped shoes had a sole made from leather, jute or rope but these were flimsy and wore out quickly, usually within a day. After the discovery of rubber vulcanisation (the addition of sulphur and heat makes a more durable and non-sticky rubber compound), which was attributed to Howard and Goodyear in the mid-19th century, but had similarly been discovered in the UK by Thomas Handcock. A major court case ensued and Goodyear was granted the patent in the US; and Hancock became the patent holder in the UK. Henceforth there was fierce rivalry between the two countries to produce rubber based products.

The New Liverpool Rubber Company (UK) developed a lightweight shoe which combined a cotton canvas top with a rubber sole. These were still insubstantial and better off people wore white croquet shoes made from kangaroo skin, and too expensive for the working class. By 1876, seaside promenaders sported the latest canvas topped rubber soled shoes called plimsolls (1876). A rubber band was wrapped around the seam joining the upper to the sole making the new shoes more robust. The similarity to the new load lines painted on boats meant the shoes were called plimsolls. White plimsolls wore well, kept the feet cool in the summer and dried quickly after a paddle in the sea. The canvas could be painted with chalk white which give the outward impression from a distance these were expensive white croquet shoes and really gained popularity during the Gilded Age. Examples can be found in many museums across the world but rarely do these attract the interest private collectors and therefore difficult to value.

The simple plimsoll was quickly adapted to popular sports another working class pastime encouraged by the ruling class at this time. Keeping workers and their families amused in their leisure time was important especially at a politically volatile time in history. In the UK, Lawn Tennis players (circa 1860) wore low cut plimsolls with patented sole patterns to improve grip and prevent destroying the lawns. In the US, sneakers or high-top canvas plimsolls (used to protect the ankles), were introduced to the new team games of baseball (1846) and basketball (1891). When it was realised ‘tennis shoes’ shoes softened the landing of a long jumper they became ingratiated into athletics, and when it was discovered the treads prevented slipping on wet surfaces they were modified for yachting. As each recreational sport adopted the plimsoll (now generally regarded as the tennis shoe) it was adapted to the specific needs of the game. The addition of a simple rubber strip at the end of the shoe stopped the big toe nail appearing through the canvas. Gradually the anatomy of the modern sport shoe (or trainer) began to emerge. Even the British Army, issued plimsolls to their serving men and a pair of gym shoes were found in the kit of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic Expedition of 1911.

The rubber industry boomed and was very competitive. The popularity of cycling meant many companies started producing bicycle tyres and by the time it waned, development of the car industry brought with it a need for car tyres made from rubber. The United States Rubber Company bought out their smaller rivals, many of which were already exporting sport shoes globally. By the beginning of the 1890s there were two types of canvas topped rubber soled sport shoes, those which sat below the ankle were called ‘tennis shoes’; and hi-top sneakers, designed for basketball were called sneakers. Irving Watkinson is credited with designing the first pair basketball sneakers for Dr. James Naismith who invented the game. An iconic feature of the first hi top sneakers was the addition of a rubber ball logo at the lateral ankle of the shoe and the Colchester Company were so proud of them they had them on display at the 1892 Chicago World’s Fair. In the same year, the company was bought over by the United States Rubber Co., and it took almost 20 years before Spalding introduced their basketball shoes in 1907, others followed. However, it was the Converse Rubber Corporation’s version called The All-Star shoe (1917) which would become the evergreen iconic basketball shoe, we all recognise today. In reality these were a reinvention of the original Colchester sneaker which you can still buy replicas for $85 (US). A pair of the originals would be of course, be worth considerably more to a collector. In 1916 the United States Rubber Co., introduced their own tennis shoes called Keds.

After the Great War, the market for sneakers grew exponentially it was realised the fitness levels of the working class was low. Sports and athletics increasingly became a way to demonstrate Christian Muscularity or moral fibre and patriotism in the new movement of Physical Culture which swept the West. Athletic shoes increasingly were used for leisure and outdoor activities and when physical education lessons were made compulsory in schools, children had to wear plimsolls. I well remember at school the class was divided between those families who could afford tennis shoes from those with gym shoes (sand shoes). Going barefoot was not an option.

Between the wars, the new Olympic Competition was a fashion catwalk, and covered relentlessly in the media as a focal point for international trade. Shoe manufactures quickly modified their footwear to the specific needs of popular sports. After his return from World War I, Adolf "Adi" Dassler started making sports shoes in his mother’s kitchen, he and his brother then went on to establish Adidas. In America, the market for sneakers grew steadily as young boys lined up to buy white hi top sneakers endorsed by sporting heroes like Chuck Taylor for $1.00 (or $20 today). The famous basketball player wore Converse All-Stars and they became so popular they were called, Chuck Taylor All-Stars, or ‘Chucks.’ Chuck Taylor's name was added to the signature circle patch and ventilation eyelets were added in 1932. The classic black All-Star retailed until the 40s. By WWII, Chuck Taylor sneakers were the "official" sneaker of the U.S. armed forces.

International tennis and badminton had become major draw cards and customised tennis shoes began to appear circa 1936. A French brand, Spring Court, marketed the first canvas tennis shoe featuring signature eight ventilation channels on a vulcanised natural rubber sole. Jack Purcell (Canadian badminton champion) adapted tennis shoes to his sport which was played on hard wooden floors. At the same time, Australia starts to have a major influence when one of its famous son’s and international double tennis champion, Adrian Quist, convinced Dunlop Australia in 1939 to make a plain white tennis shoe with patterned herringbone sole. The added grip on the lawn surface made the Volley OC (Orthopaedically Correct) an instant success. Production continued until the 1970s with almost no change except the addition of the iconic green and gold stripe to the heel in the 1970s. Dunlop Volleys were standard issue by the Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force. Through the ensuing years other brands of tennis shoes appeared, but the essential design remained unchanged until the late 1960s, when a huge variety of tennis shoe designs emerged. To that effect, Adrian Quist is the godfather of the modern low-cut trainer and I have always advocated we should celebrate this with a Dunlop Volley Day (DVD).

Like the T shirt, service issue plimsolls (often in various colours) became popular souvenirs after the War and were highly prized by the youth of the time. Tennis shoes were ideal for the dance floor and dancing to quick tempo Swing and Jive. The appeal of American sneakers was confirmed when James Dean was photographed wearing Jack Purcell’s and Elvis Presley appeared in low cut tennis shoes. Chucks and Keds became a by-word for teenage rebellion. Fashion crossover (i.e. moving from sport to recreational wear) not only ensured lasting popularity but also the value-added benefit now of retro fashion, because they have never gone out of fashion in almost a century. People still buy them to wear and the originals in their boxes, to collect.

By the 50s man-made fibres became incorporated and sneakers merged into trainers. Now more durable, flexible and hard wearing, cellular foams were added to increased fit and comfort. When designers began incorporating a two-colour finish (colourways), signature sole patterns and brand decals and dashes a completely new fashion was created. These were first seen at the Melbourne Olympics worn by the athletes from behind the Iron Curtain. Competitors were often filmed ambling about minutes before competition wearing their trainers then later as if by magic, won medals in their heats. Contrasting colours were used to highlight reinforced areas on the shoe which gave them distinctive characteristic and coincidentally head turning appeal. Trainers were now fashionable shoes in their own right, with Ath-Leisure footwear equally at home on the track as they were trucking asphalt. Film and television coverage of sporting events was a marketing bonanza for sport shoe manufacturers, who recognised the need to have their product instantly recognised. Adidas three stripes trademark back in 1949 set the bar for branding thereafter. Collectors pay big bucks for these original pathfinders.

Two other things ensured the allure of sport shoes would last for ever. The first was celebrity endorsements and sneakers sponsorships into college and professional sports; the other came as an aftermath of the Space Race. In the beginning those sneaker designs affiliated to particular sporting celebrities ended with their retiral from sport. The same model was then passed onto a new endorser rather than be discontinued, or a new one created. This created collector interests. Once we had walked on the moon and with a surplus of new synthetic polymers, what better use to make of them than to incorporate the out of this world material into sport shoes. It was during this time in the early 80s, sport shoes become blue chip investments with a constant barrage of designer styles and signature shoes. While previous generations of males might collect cars from their youth, Generation X preferred shoes. This is not entirely male centric and females too, collect sneakers. The ultimate in secular consumerism maybe driven in part by the overall desire to acquire modern objet d’art at affordable prices. Collectors appreciate one-off's, limited editions and exclusives.

The shelf life of a trendy trainer is short (3 months) and companies like Nike and adidas are forever introducing new lines. To add incentive, companies offer "quick hit" or hype shoes which is a clever marketing ploy involving the sale of a small number of limited edition shoes as a special offer in selected outlets for a limited period of time only. With minimum advertising these events are hurriedly communicated through networks, websites and SMSs. Sneakerheads range from casual fans of sneaker fashion to those who buy and sell shoes like blue chip investments. Fanatics endure the elements and camp overnight for their next purchase of limited edition. The shoes can cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars depending on their cachet. Some wear them, and have multiple pairs (in case one gets scuffed); whereas others keep them ‘fresh’ in their boxes, or ‘deadstock’ them in a bank vault, or on display and always unworn. Shoe collectors often determine what will sell and companies are obliged to follow. Collectors have enormous closets full of trainers designed by sneakerhead artists who, themselves become celebrities. Experts believe the drive for the sneaker phenomena relates to a mix of popular culture, nostalgia, technology and investment. Sneaker Freakers have many dedicated web sites, movies, books, songs and even radio shows dedicated to sneaker culture. Experts believe the drive for the sneaker phenomena relates to a mix of popular culture, nostalgia, technology and investment.

Currently the American market for deadstock sneakers is estimated at $1 billion, with the thriving resell community net millions of dollars a year by selling rare kicks for profit. By far Michael Jordan shoes (Js) are considered to be the most expensive at auction. Recently a pair of his shoes was sold for $190,373. The previous record for a pair of game-used sneakers was again, Jordan’s worn during the "Flu Game," and sold for $104,765 in 2013.

Recently, in Perth WA, The Art Gallery of Western Australia hosted a most successful Sneaker Exhibition entitled The Rise of Sneaker Culture. This is a traveling exhibition organised by the American Federation of Arts and the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Feature was local collector, Dr Lee Ingram, a lecturer from Curtin University who has collected 830 pairs of sneakers.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The history of sneakers

Shoe Historian Cameron Kippen joins Harvey Deegan on Remember When for this fascinating chat about the history of Sneakers.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Manolo Blahnik: The Art of Shoes exhibition. Prague

The exhibition dedicated to the famous shoe designer Manolo Blahnik is now on display at Prague’s Kampa Museum.

The travelling The Art of Shoes exhibition, currently in Prague, explores the career of the visionary Czechoslovakian designer. The exhibits including shoes and drawings, are divided into six thematic sections, examining the recurring topics of the designer’s inspiration, such architecture, art, botany, or geography. Visitors can also learn how the shoes are created from films that show the designer working in his studio. On display are Blahnik’s iconic shoes some from Sex and the City and Marie Antoinette, The Prague exhibition s open until November 12, then it will move on to Madrid, before terminating at the Bata Museum in Toronto.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

These Shoes Are Killing Me!

These Shoes Are Killing Me!
Source: Freakonomics Radio

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Zeitgeist and a potted history of shoes

Zeitgeist means a sign of the times and shoe fashions are not determined by chance alone, but by the times and technology we live in. That is as true today, as it ever was. No one can be 100% sure when our ancestors started wearing shoes but we remain the only species to have prolonged bipedal gait and, to date, no other mammal has yet evolved, to make shoes.

Discovery of awls and needles made from bone or flint, marked the first milestone in the development of bespoke footwear. Estimated to be around 60k years ago, our ancestors started making rough shoes to acclimatise themselves to their changing environment. During the Upper Palaeolithic era (40k- 25k years ago), needles with eyes become precision tools used for sewing skins and furs. A long-held belief is the sandal was the first shoe, although that remains unverified, but there are evidence sandals were worn about 10,000 years ago which coincides with the Neolithic Age (or New Stone Age). Earlier footprints speculatively indicate the presence of shoes before this time, but because animal and vegetable materials rarely survived, archaeological evidence is scant.

Shoes dating to 7.5k year-ago, surprisingly demonstrate a range of styles that would not be out place in a modern shoe store. Some had pointed toes others rounded, and all appeared with decorative flourishes. Even then, shoes had taken on a social ritual, the knowledge of which indicated, breeding, status and personality. Preferred hides were prioritised according to the more revered elements of the animals such as swiftness and courage. To the true believers these held magical powers. Nothing seems to have changed if we can give credence to some of today’s marketing rhetoric. By 6.5k years ago, there was clear evidence sown animal hides were used in robust footwear as worn by Otzi the Iceman. Shoe finds come from a wide variety of geographical locations (including America, China, Egypt and Mesopotamia) supporting the theory shoe styles were spontaneous innovations made from available resources and consistent with the development of local crafts.

It took until the Romans before the next step in footwear evolution. During the Bronze Age, the Etruscans had discovered how to make small brass tacks which the Roman sandal makers cleverly incorporated into the soles of their military sandals. This secured not only a better bond between the upper and sole but also gave the sandal traction. A better shod army marched further across rougher terrain, and the Empire expanded beyond any other. When the supply chain from Roman became impractical local shoemakers were introduced to Roman shoemaking and vegetable tanning. Parochial artisans soon incorporated their local shoe making skills to further embellish and extend the range of shoes available. Often triumphant Roman soldiers celebrated their return to Rome by substituting bronze tacks with gold and silver in their highly decorated shoes. After the Fall of the Empire, these local shoemakers carried on the Roman traditions keeping the trades alive. Other examples in history, of how one culture superimposed itself upon another include: the Moorish influence on Cordoba (Spain) and the introduction of quality leathers; and the Mongol invasions with archer horseman wearing heels. Henceforth, the privileged classes of Europe indulged their superiority by wearing sumptuous clothing and heeled shoes. Many regents became tanners by trade including William the Conqueror. Shoes became symbols, serving to indicate standards of conduct as well as emotional states.

The three important functions of shoes were: decoration, modesty and protection. Long been debated, as to what came first, with the common consensus it was protection, yet the evidence to support this hypothesis is scant. Modesty as a concept, is also comparatively new in the history of the west, and has no more linage than a couple of millennium. This leaves the primary function of footwear as decoration. Decoration as we know beautifies bodily appearance, attracting admiring glances and fortifies self-esteem. Simply put shoes, outwardly represented a very important non-verbal sign of gender, presence, and personality. This truly made the role of shoemakers and shoe designers, very important.

According to Freud we became seeing beings and clothing provided the safest distance to assess a stranger. Many of the early Christian converts in Roman Times were sandal makers. Frequently disinherited by their families they worked by night to make and sell sumptuous sandals. This conveniently left them daylight hours to spread the gospel.

In the 11th century, Fulk le Réchin, (you have to watch how you say that especially with cheap dental adhesive) was a courtier in Anjou, France. By all accounts, he was a bad tempered, quarrelsome fellow and according to Rossi, suffered painful bunions and ingrown toenails. He commissioned his cordwainer to craft him a designer pair of shoes to accommodate these deformities. The clever shoemaker came up with poulaines – triangular shoes with long extension beyond the toes. The belle figure was nicknamed ‘Cornadus’ or horned one, as he strutted about the court. Now whether this is fact or fiction, no one knows but something very strange did happened in the 11th century. Across Europe, the length of men’s shoes got longer and longer until they were 24 inches longer than the foot. Despite papal laws to prevent lower classes from wearing poulaines, the fashion continued unabated for another four hundred years. No clear explanation has ever been proffered to explain this strange phenomenon.

Modern scholars acknowledge, the Influence of Islam on European culture at this time, and believe it formed the basis for European Chivalry and Courtly Love. These conventions taught young men to sublimate their desires and channel their energies into socially useful behaviour. To do otherwise, might threatened social stability especially at a time when the feudal lords and knights were engaged in the Crusades.

European courtly love flourished in the early 12th century and high-minded ideals of true romance were spread throughout when troubadours sang openly of love’s joys and heartbreaks in daringly personalised terms, extolling the ennobling effects of the lover’s’ selfless devotion. Troubadour’s songs promoted a love yearned for, and at times rewarded by, the solace of every delight of the beloved except physical possession by sexual union. The relationship was always illicit i.e. the woman was usually older, the spouse of another, often a lord or patron, and consummation was not possible. Could it possibly be there was a connection to long toed shoes?

Young men stuffed their long-toed shoes with moss and grass and under the circumstances, with no stretch of the imagination, a 24" long extension on the end of each foot, could be put to very practical use. Small hawk bells were sewn on the end of the shoe to audibly indicate, the wearer was interested in sexual frolic. Two "intimate ceremonies" of courtship were commonly practised. Woman worship (or domnei) was where the would-be suitor gazed on the partly or fully undressed lady; and naked courting couples were allowed to lie side by side sometimes separated by only a pillow. Kissing and embracing were encouraged but the lovers proved their depth of love by avoiding sexual intercourse. These behaviours were highly sensual and carnal and at a time in history when married couples were parted or marriage was delayed, masturbation provided the perfect solution. By the same token, heavy petting provided a practical form of birth control especially when neither religious nor civil authorities rarely interfered with women’s business. Breaking these taboos reinforced the strength and drive for sexual pleasure which as we know, transcends any moral precept hence promiscuous sex among the privileged classes in Europe became prevalent. In Occidental Society, long toed shoes may have provided the ideal means of birth control and later provide protection from sexually transmitted disease. A historical corollary, if required, was foot binding in Oriental Society, and at precisely the same time, the bound (Lotus) foot became incorporated into sexual practice.

Crown heads were the fashion doyens of the time and inter marriage between countries (or courts) the main reason for change of costume. One fashion was superimposed upon another with a trickle down to ensure courtiers and courtesans were kept à la mode. This languid fashion exchange meant costume took many years to change. Syphilis has long been thought to be a disease introduced to Europe in the 15th century (carried back by Christopher Columbus’s crew). However, most authorities now accept treponmeal disease existed in Europe prior to this time and was spread by sexual contact. The presence of the pox and the knowledge of its transmission gave reason to influence sexual practises.

The outcome of untreated neurosyphilis is tabes dorsalis, characterised by a progressive locomotor ataxia (due to loss of proprioception); a sensory ataxia causes a wide based, "high-stepping" gait. A further complication of neurosyphilis is general paresis caused by brain damage which presents as impaired mental function with personality disorders including grandiose delusions. Was it a coincidence poulaines caused fashionable courtiers to adopt a wide based, high stepping gait (similar to advanced tabes dorsalis)?.

About this time too, European courts were introduced to the Court Jester (or professional fool). Leaving Willeford to let us to ponder: "When the king was a syphilitic semi-imbecile, a jester even more grotesque may have served as a useful stage prop, disarming criticism by making the king look more nearly normal by comparison and thus making the make-believe of kingship possible." In any event shoe makers continued to craft long toed shoes.

Towards the end of the 15th century, the fashion for long toed shoes became passé, almost overnight. An absence of written documentation means the reasons remain unclear, but from contemporary paintings, the only evidence available, the style was quickly replaced by shoes which were so broad across the ball of the foot as to boast of individual compartments for each toe. The podiatrist’s delight was called the Duck Bill or Bears Paws.

By this time, a more virulent form of syphilis was in pandemic across Europe, Russia, China, India and Africa. Initially physicians were helpless and refused to treat the suffering leaving them to barbers, bath attendants and quacks (many of which were corn cutters). As we know, another complication of neurosyphilis is Charcot foot where trophic ulceration decimates the sole of the foot. Decreased sensation and loss of ability to feel temperature, pain or trauma, follows, leaving the feet insensate and unprotected. What better way to protect them than encasing them within the Bears Paw. The fashion prevailed for another two hundred years which coincidently happen to mirror the worst of the syphilis epidemics. Could it possibly be these Tudor Moon Boots, were the first orthopaedic shoes?

By the end of the 15th century, the Italian city states like Florence had become the centre of world trade. Fine goods were in abundance and local craftsmen made merry. To show off the wealth of their rich husbands, successful merchant’s wives wore platform shoes (chopines), lifting them off the ground, to highlight their rich sumptuous costume. Quickly the fashion for taller platforms became vogue until they were 24 inches high. Walking required two servants for support, (or at least a silver top walking stick), and rarely did the lady ever travel outside without a sedan chair. The fashion came to an abrupt end in 1519 after it was discovered more and more injuries were reported particularly among pregnant fashionista. The term miscarriage originally is thought to relate to falling over platform shoes. Cobblers soon discovered the shoe became more stable and easier to walk by carving out the forefoot section of the platform leaving the heel elevated.

The Medici’s were a particularly powerful family throughout the Renaissance, and had made their fortune through banking and commerce. Catherine di Medici was born in the same year sumptuary laws prevented chopines from being worn. As an adult, she was petite but despite her small stature became a giant in European history. The young teenage Catherine married the future king of France but was widowed early. For the duration of her lifetime, she had a tremendous influence of the French way of life. Not all good, but she did arrive in Paris wearing high heeled mules which instantly took the attention of the fashion conscious and became vogue for both women and men. The fashion remained popular for about fifty years before it was considered déclassé. This is the first time a particular piece of costume had been associated with a living person and many believe this marks the beginning of women’s fashion. Some women still wore them but by this time the style was more associated with “depraved and dissolute women”. Misogynistic medicos have never been able to forgive them.

Throughout the Middle Ages shoe makers were industrious trades people keen to follow the fads of their patrons and quick to form unions gaining themselves reputations for being socially rebellious. During the 17th century shoe makers were often depicted satirically in fairy tales as goblin like change agents sometimes with naughty, or ulterior motives.

By the 17th century boots were once again part of military attire and soon became fashionable across Europe. Boots were distinctively men's fashion and worn outside the trousers in salons as well as on the dance floor. High boots were first soaked in water then allowed to dry on the leg. The flexion of the knee made them ideal for horse riding but once dismounted the horsemen walked with stiffened legs and a distinctive swaggering gait. This was considered very macho at the time. Charles, I, suffered osteomalacia (rickets) as a child and learned to walk with the aid of callipers cleverly concealed into his boots made by the Royal shoemaker. Gentlemen wore light coloured boots with red heels and the edges of the soles stained red. The Cavalier boot had a very wide top which could be turned down for town wear, showing silk or coloured leather lining. The width of the leg had increased and the boots were worn wide across the toes. Toes became square and this fashion remained popular till the end of the century.

During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries boots surpassed shoes as the fashionable footwear for men. Now more refined, styles were trimmer and worn with turned down tops. The two-tone boots were lined in brown which contrasted with the outer black leather of the rest of the boot. Two-tone top boots were worn below the knee for outdoors with tans and pale shades popular with the gentry. In the Regency Period, Dandies like, George Beau Brummell had his patent leather boots polished with champagne. The Duke of Wellington instructed his shoemaker, Hoby of St. James's Street, London, to modify his Hessian boots and make them suitably hard-wearing for riding, yet smart enough for informal evening wear. The master bootmakers created the Wellington. After he defeated Napoleon in 1815, he became a national hero and the wellington boot proved so popular they were worn by patriotic civilians eager to emulate their war hero. Talk about celebrity endorsement.

The Wellington also became standard cavalry issue to Union troops, during the American Civil War. However, unscrupulous contractors supplied below par footwear made of reinforced carboard and many horse soldiers suffered deep cuts to their feet. A Chiropodist General to the US cavalry was appointed at this time. After hostilities, troops were sent to the Western frontier to fight in the Indian Wars. Unfortunately, due to the surplus of shoddy boots, they were issued with inferior footwear and as a result priority was given to skilled leather workers from Germany and other European Countries to craft "kips", which were more hard-wearing boots. By the end of the 19th century a more practical cowboy boot was beginning to emerge as a distinctive style. Life has its ironies, by the time of the Hollywood cowboy featured, the preferred boot style was not a wellington but a Tejas. The significance, being as The Duke of Wellington championed his boot, his nemesis Emperor Napoleon wore Tejas.

In recent modern history, the three most important influences on footwear have been: Hollywood and the mass media; World Wars; and The Space Race. In the 20th century, resurgence of nostalgia came first with the Hollywood epics ensuring millions of the world’s populations could not just see but also wear the fashions of their icons. This was the beginning of today’s fashion industry. Changing Theatres of War enforced new developments in footwear, first with mass production, then right and left fittings, with further innovations to allow foot comfort in changing global settings. Finally, and arguably the greatest singular influence on today’s footwear industry is, the aftermath of the Space Race and the Age of the new polymer. Human beings had to put someone on the moon before they could have ever make the shoes that may just one day, allow us all to run a marathon in under two hours.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A brief history of Rock Shoes (1956-1990)

If there was ever an item of clothing to epitomise the style and fashion of an era, it would have to be shoes (or their absence). Visit any cd store and you can pick up a dozen covers of compilation hits and three quarters of them will depict the age with fashionable shoes of the time. What's more these are instantly recognisable. This very sentiment was caught in the lyrics of the pop song "It's still rock and roll to me"

How about a pair of pink sidewinders (sandals)
And a bright orange pair of pants?
You could really be a Beau Brummel baby
If you just give it half a chance.
Don't waste your money on a new set of speakers,
You get more mileage from a cheap pair of sneakers."
Next phase, new wave, dance craze, anyways
It's still rock and roll to me.
Billy Joel

The most famous shoes of the rock and roll era were Carl Perkin's Blue Suede shoes. Although Elvis Presley had the big hit the credit was always given to Perkins. The idea for the song came from his early days when he and Johnny Cash were queuing for some tucker. Someone in front cried a warning to another in the queue not to tread on his foot. 'Hey don't step on my blue suede shoes". Cash was moved to say to his companion that would be a good title for a song. Later, when Perkins was playing in a dance hall he noticed one of the dancers gesticulating to his partner not to stand on his feet. The following morning, or so the story goes, he woke up with the song lyrics in his head. Unfortunately a road accident prevented him from performing the hit and Elvis, in need of a follow-up to Heartbreak Hotel took 'Shoes' to the top of the charts and the rest, as they say is history.

Buddy Holly, by contrast wore brown suede shoes.

The American youth culture of the post war period was obsessed with their freedom and had the affluence to indulge in the merging fashion industry. This had a major impact around the world. By the fifties jive was established and the frankest portrayal of sex yet performed. Kids no longer needed the dress as their forebears did but instead needed to be free to jive. The war babies had for the first time money to spend on themselves. Clothes records and cosmetics were now available for teenagers, which suited their style and not their parents. At first nothing changed. The young had money but manufacturers had not woken up to the potential sales. In the UK styles filtered down from Belgravie and young people were expected to become young ladies and gentlemen with any reference to sex in dress completely played down. Similarly the North American youth followed conservative fashion but the world was in for a rude awakening. Blue Suede Shoes united the kids in this youthful rebellion, or so you might think. In truth Carl Perkins was singing about up market Penny Loafers much favoured by the Ivy League in the US. Loafers are essentially a two-piece moccasin with a hard sole and a strap or saddle, made of leather, over the instep. The name 'loafer' comes from the German 'landlaufer' meaning a wanderer, or vagabond. The Penny Loafer was also known as Kerrybrooke Teenright Smoothies
and had a good luck penny stuck in the leather saddle. Worn by "Preppies", the style was popular with both sexes. Suede was a shoe cover preferred by effeminate men so the kids took to them, to flaunt convention.

Meantime the rebellious Teddyboys in the UK; Halbstarke in Germany; and Blousans noirs in France were wearing Brothel Creepers. By comparison a cheaper suede shoe worn with two inch thick crepe soles. A hybrid of the desert shoe their appeal lay in their deliberate crudeness and the name, demonstratively spelling out the sexuality of the shoe. Officers during the desert campaign in North Africa originally wore the humble desert boot. These were suede bootees made with lightweight and hardwearing crepe soles. The origins are blurred but it is thought Egyptian cobblers made the shoes for the soldiers. The fashion was developed by Clarke's of England and when treated suede became available (ie Hush Puppies) then desert boots became popular with middle class smoothies. Many were single men who had for one reason or other not been married (perhaps because of the war). In any event they were often see around the nites spots of Soho and Kings Cross and hence the name brothel creeper.

The new Teddyboy brothel creepers were as aggressive as desert boots were urbane. Worn originally with drapes and drainpipe trousers they were a variation of the sartorial style of Prince Edward, hence the name teddy boy. An interesting innovation was the unconventional use of a bootlace, Emerging youth culture appeared across the world and Bodgies or widgies (girls) became the new Larrikins of Australia. The Bodgies combined the US & UK fashion, adding a hint of Italian, the juveniles appeared in Spiv suits worn with pointy, white shoes. Later with crossover rockabilly, crocodile skin shoes became the business, especially worn with black satin shirts. Dress codes became very important in public places like dance halls and pubs. All in all the style was the right image for angry young men and women and made up the post war generation, which were about to burst into life. No shrinking violet, Little Richard combined the flash with the brash and spearheaded the glamorous sartorial style we now associate with early Rock 'n Roll. Brothel Creepers made a brief reappearance two decades later but were no longer the sign of youthful rebellion. Instead they were rather a shade of their former glory and like the imitation crocodile and leopard skins they became contrived bad taste of the post glitter era.

The Chicago jug bands of the 20's with their make shift instruments became the inspiration for a short lived fad in the fifties, called skiffle. Probably outside the US, Lonnie Donnigan became one of the first guitar heroes of modern music. He started life in an English jazz combo run by Chris Barber. In keeping with their off the wall music, skiffle bands wore non conventional clothing including sandals (thongs) on stage. The fashion was made popular at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics when the Japanese swimming team, wore getas as sports sandals. The new hip generation or Bohemian Beatniks were ‘cool dadio’ in their open toed sandals or bare feet.

By 1957, Sydney's bodgies & widgies (Teddyboys and Teddygirls) abandoned their restrictive "St Louis Blues" (rhyming slang for shoes), and came to rumble in their bare feet.

The famous 'duckwalk ' was invented by Chuck Berry was a rouse to distract the audiences' attention from his poor quality, wrinkled suits. However it did not stop other artists from incorporating similar silly walks into their stage presentations. Despite his massive hit with Blue Suede Shoes, Presley seldom, if ever appeared in public wearing them. In Jailhouse Rock his adoring fans caught 'The Pelvis' sporting sneakers and saddle shoes (a close relative to the penny loafer). The fashion was officially sanctioned when James Dean was photographed wearing Levi jeans and white Converse Jack Purcell's. Jack Purcell was a badminton player who endorsed the only trainers with smiles.

Later, when West Side Story depicted the Jets and Sharks about to rumble, wearing their sneakers this was art imitating real life. Overnight sneakers were cool and just as well because the jive was especially energetic dance. Its spasmodic body movements interspersed with vigorous gyrations meant lightweight durable footwear was ideal. These both encouraged freedom of movement as well as offering greater traction on the dance floor. As fast as you could sing "High Heeled Sneakers" canvas topped shoes replaced "Blue Suede Shoes" as the symbol of youthful rebellion.

The word sneaker was first used in 1875 and it referred to an early croquet shoe, which was developed in the US. Because they were cheap (originally made from rubber off cuts), the shoes was worn by high school students around the world.

In the 50's young ladies were not encouraged to participate in contact sports instead North American High Schools encouraged them to become cheerleaders and support the young men engaged in active sport. Teenage cheerleaders wore tight sweaters, short skirts, ankle or bobby socks with canvas topped shoes produced by the US Rubber Co. Originally these were called Peds but the name had already been copyrighted and was changed to Keds.

Young men wore chucks, which were a sneaker designed for basketball. Chuck Taylor played for the Buffalo Germans and Akron Firestones, his association with "Converse All Stars" was so great the shoes became known as 'Chucks'. Chucks had been available since 1921. Soon the sole pattern of sneakers became every bit as important as the upper designs. This US dominated fashion was reflected across the globe primarily through the emerging teenage cinema and television. Needless to say parents and authorities condemned every new fad vehemently, which only endorsed, in the minds of the youth, the way to go.

'Ton Up Boys' or bikies were considered outlaws and tougher than the Bodgies (or Teds). Their main obsession was motor bikes and they wore leather jackets (with or without gang colours), white Ts, blue jeans, studded belts, and engineer's boots. The significance of the above the ankle boot was very sensible as it protected the lower leg from the damaging heat of the bike's exhaust. The heavy boots also, by coincidence provided a useful offensive weapon to use in the ubiquitous rumble with sworn enemies.

The fashion was crystallised in every would be rebel, by the film 'The Wild One" starring Marlon Brando. So powerful was censorship at the time, this film was not screened in some counties until the 1970s. Later cowboy boots replaced the dull engineer's boots as the fad for Rodeo swept US & Australia. Based on the design of Mexican riding boots (or vaquero) these sat well on the bike but the shoe portion was made tight making walking very difficult and often painful. Two distinctive physical characteristics of the new breed of juvenile delinquent became apparent. Their walking style and their language. Every country had their own "Wild man of Rock", the original was Jerry Lee Lewis, all others paled into insignificance.

No self-respecting rocker went without their distinctive pompadour quaff with Duck's Arse (DA). This required the ubiquitous hair comb as an accessory and emphasis on the macho meant, 'Flickcombs' were essential. This was eminently better than the flick knives favoured by the bad boys or juvenile delinquents. By the late fifties the anger was taken out of the first wave of the rock generation and conservative Tin Pan Alley again produced novelty records to the eager masses. "Tan shoes with pink shoe laces" was one such effort and many early rockers became enveloped into the silly season of pop. Suede shoes (ie Hush Puppies) become the preferred fashion of the university students with their duffle coats, commitment to the Campaign of Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and love for Trad Jazz. This thinking generation were the new moderns and forerunners of the Mods.

In the States the emergence of the "Preppy Cool Set", (over 25s) and their continental influenced Peppermint Lounge meant the venue for listening and dancing to music changed. Smaller venues with movement restriction necessitated popular dance took place standing in one spot. The deeply sexual coupling of rock'n’roll changed to one where there was now no body contact whatsoever. The Twist required shoes to be twisted, circular fashion, against the floor in a left and right manner, as if flattening a cigarette butt. This was combined with swinging the arms and hips as if an imaginary towel was drying the back. These gyrations were best viewed when the dancers wore tighter clothing showing off their long legs. Winkle pickers or needlepoint shoes replaced the cumbersome crepe soled shoes for men. The pointed toes were a reworking of the scandalous poulaines of the Middle Ages. These were outrageously phallic and distinctly male only to be worn during permissive times. The stiletto heel, which had been around since the early fifties, was given a new lease of life with the introduction of pantyhose and mini skirts. Courtship took place on the dance floor and ability 'swing right' was caught in many of the contemporary lyrics e.g. "Let's dance" by Chris Montez and "Twisting the Night Away" by Sam Cooke. By the time "Lets Twist Again" was released, Chubby Checker shot to popularity. Chubby wore two tone basket weave styled boots on stage and this became his show business trademark. The significance of the basket weave design was to keep the singer's feet cool, whilst demonstration the new dance.

Between the years 1960-63 Tin Pan Alley moguls kept cash registers filled by adhering to the tried and tested systems of previous decades. Stifling originality a return to tailored suits and patent leather shoes was the stage fashion as the beat generation metamorphosed into the new Mersey Beat. The new innovative pantihose meant women's hemlines became even shorter matching the length of men's jackets. Tight fitting bolero jackets (or bum freezers) were worn by men and two piece tailored outfits for women. During the early sixties the instrumental made a popular come back. The preferred instrument was the electric guitar and the music had a strong beat with an obvious percussion driving it. Foot tapping replaced hand jiving as the acceptable form of music appreciation as beat music and the transistor radio became more available. New instrumental groups began to spring up led initially by the Ventures in the US, and The Shadows in the UK. Techno-music made a brief appearance in the mono works of The Tornados celebrating the new space age with their international hit "Telstar". Sharp-toed shoes were worn as trendy slip-ons usually with high heels for women.

The Stomp was inspired by the actions of walking on hot sand. It became the official surfie dance of the 60s in Australia. To do the dance properly, dancers had to be barefoot. Away from the beach and dance floor, surfies wore dessert boots. Thongs, then were distinctly, uncool. To get boots ready for wearing, real surfies dragged them behind their woodies for a couple of miles. In California, the Beachboys wore sneakers, but of course, only one of them, was a real surfer. The sworn enemy of the Australian surfie was the sandkickers or boot wearing, Rockers. At every opportunity the two groups would have a blue (Australian slang for rumble). No surfing community (to speak of) in the UK, teenagers met at the seaside and fought, usually Moderns verses the Greasers. The infamous Mods and Rocker riots would come later.

When the Beatles arrived, they came wearing boots with Cuban heels. The inspiration had came from Brian Epstien who commissioned the Mayfair firm of ballet shoes makers, Anello and Davide to make the Fab Four, distinctive footwear. Beatle boots were high heeled, Chelsea Boots which instantly became vogue. Chisel toes soon relaced the sharp toe and for the price of one pound, local cobblers would oblige you by converting your peaks into the new chisel toe fashion. They just chopped off the end. A point of interest the Beatle Boot was less macho and resembled the style of boot favoured by Victorian ladies. Whilst not effeminate it was distinctly a softer less aggressive style than brothel creepers and winkle pickers. The boots often incorporated a French seem or central stitch running from ankle to toe on the upper. In the convention of symbols this referred to female genitalia rather the phallus of long toed or winklepicker shoes.

If the Beatles were the 'boy next door' image of the British Invasion then the Stones had to be different. For a short time the lads wore Clarke's dessert boots to counteract the Beatles leather, Chelsea boots. However anarchy ruled, and the scruffy London, five piece group appeared on stage wearing the clothes they wanted to wear (and not that of their management). No Saville Row suits for them (albeit Charlie Watts is reported to have houses full of them). The order of their day was casual and not necessarily smart. Something which did bind them together however was their footwear, because they all sported sneakers. Mick Jagger was such a devotee he even wore his Chucks (Chuck Taylor Converse All Star's) to his wedding with Bianca. Now there is dedication. The Stones epitomised the Chicago Blues revival and captured the music so well as to be acceptable to the blues greats and their many fans. There is a lovely irony however and that is many of the original blues greats would, even at the height of their creativity, be unable to afford a decent pair of shoes. Keith Richards on the other foot has his footwear wardrobe made to his personal lasts and these he orders in bulk.

Tights and mini skirts meant female legs became the focus of attention with the sixties generation. The longer the leg the better and girl singing groups like The Shangri-las captured the sultry look perfectly by wearing slacks and high heeled ankle boots. The Vietnam War meant many conscripts were off shore and pin up images of sexy girls waiting at home were very much in vogue.

Jim Proby (AKA PJ Proby) will probably be best remembered for his trouser splitting performances in 1965. His sartorial style was inspired by the film of the season, 'Tom Jones', the Henry Fielding classic. Albert Finney played the lead role in this raunchy tale of a larrikin. Proby wore his hair in a bow and the tight pants and high heeled court shoes with silver buckles. Similar in style to those worn by the Sun King (Louis XIV). The style for Regency buckles on slip on shoes was short lived but not before a certain Welshman was quick to put it to good use. The singer's management (Gordon Mills) were equally as quick to drop the style, but keep the name, Tom Jones.

The nouveaux moderns (or mods), followed the black music of Motown and wore expensive designer clothing. As in Australia where the surfies hated the rockers, mods and rockers were sworn enemies and took every opportunity, according to the popular press, to terrorise English coastal towns by fighting on the beach. Mods wore lightweight dessert boots (Chukka Boots) top protect their ankles from the exhaust pipes of their Italian scooters. The Who became the Mod band and wore Italian made bowling shoes, which by coincidence are coming back into fashion. Roger Daltry was, for many, the definitive mod yet he was a self confesed Ted who allowed himself to be manipulated into the new fashion. Who said we won't get fooled again?

Sandie Shaw seldom appeared on stage in shoes and preferred to sing barefoot. A habit she shared with many young idealists now following the road to enlightenment and self discovery. Perhaps as a reaction to Vietnam and rejection of western materialism, Hippies symbolically went without shoes. Thongs, kaftans, bells, loons and Afghan coats were the uniform of the love generation. The cream of pop culture came together for three days of love, peace and music at Yasgor's Farm. Hippies and rockers united to show it could be done.

Towards the end of the sixties as music went underground (heavy metal) an alternative culture grew and listened to the music of Jamaican Ska. Blue beat suited the small clubs where the early ravers danced the night away. Robust footwear was the order of fashion and Doc Martin became the shoes to wear. Servicable yet fashionable the heavy duty boots were useful in a rumble and could be worn by either sex. Unisex was definately in fashion. The counter movement to Hippies brought first suede heads, then skin heads to the fore. These were urban bad boys and girls who were the remnants of the mods. Docs soon grew a bad reputation, with the eight eyelet 1460 DM, very much part of the 60s skinhead apparel.

By the seventies British Glam rock had arrived with larger than life groups parading on stage wearing platform shoes. The androgyny unisex style of the glam rockers popstars such as Bowie, Shirley and Elton John made them a firm fixture with men and women. The Face of 'The Faces', Rod Stewart, Scottish football fan extraordinaire, was a humble boot boy at Brentford Soccer Club long before he became gravel voiced lead singer. Rod, unlike his music chum, Elton John wore platform shoes on stage to look sexy. Tiny Elton on the other hand needed the extra leverage his boots gave him to reach the piano keys on his Steinway during live performances. The bands kept on coming with Bowie the Thin White Duke (AKA Ziggy Stardust) in high camp and platforms. Kiss, Sweet, Slade, the Double G and Skyhooks all tried to out tall each other. One exception in all this Glitterati was the Electric Warrior, Marc Bolan, who preferred to wear ballet pumps to emphasise his delicate frame. The most enduring performers to climb down from their giant platforms were Queen.

In ancient Greece actors wore raised shoes to tower over their audience and the resulting swaggering gait was understood to send females into sexual ecstasy. Platform shoes were first introduced in the Middle Ages and were worn by court ladies but the fashion was short lived and fell to the prerogative of the height challenged. Paul Gadd (or the Double G) was certainly the latter and used his glitter platforms to achieve the former. He was, in his heyday, an act to catch. His platforms were specially made for his feet and allowed him to achieve quite spectacular choreography during his live shows.

More sophisticated sounds meant nightclubs and lavish clothing. As always when you need to flaunt it is necessary to accentuate the leg and platform boots and shoes were worn to outlandish lengths. During the seventies Abba , from Sweden, became the toast of the Disco. Eagerly followed and lavishly copied the outlandish costumes soon became the focus of cross dressers. Probably most people will associate the platform boot with Swedish supergroup Abba but of course the style has become an evergreen principally through, drag sartoria. A firm favourite of female impersonators and cross dressers, the longevity of the glam platform is in no short measure due to many Australian drag artists influenced by Abba. Platform sneakers made a re-appearance in early 1990s, when ravers wore them with layers of rubber (or PVC) decorated with logos or insignia.

By the mid seventies the kids from the suburbs rejected the sophistication of studio music preferring instead to peruse an alternative life style which meant back to basic rock. The new rockers were punk and wore clothes more suited to bondage. Unemployment prevailed and Thatcher's no future generation took to wear heavy-duty industrial style boots. The once ultra conservative, Dr Martens shoes became the trademark of urban youth excited by violence. Dr Klause Martens of Munich invented his air condition soles in 1945. The inspiration came from a personal injury he experienced when skiing and wanted to wear a comfortable shoe. He started to produce the air sole in 1947 but its popularity took until 1960 to peak. As in the 60s the DM became the uniform of youth harnessing the aggression of the storm trooper into the macho urban dwellers of punk to shatter the complacency of the bourgeoisie. Punks and Skinheads were not the first to do this and in the seventeenth century young men called 'footpads' terrorised the highways and byways. Soon DM's were readily adopted by all and became a youth phenomenon. Many psychologists believe the aggressive boot presented the ultimate paradox of style especially when worn by women and gay men the shoes at one level projected a macho aggressiveness, which belied the real feelings of the wearer. This was perhaps indicative of the confusion of roles and the blurring of distinctions within contemporary society.

A quiet revolution in the shoe fashion industry did take place in the late Seventies and was ironically brought about because teenagers had rejected the sophisticated sounds of the studio. The mothers of the teenagers found a new outlet for music and thanks to exercise innovators, such as Jane Fonda, a new aerobic revolution began. Out went the old sweatshirts and daks and in came designer Ath Fashion including seventies, sheek trainers or sport shoes. In the 1970 informality became intertwined with the cult of health which had a marked effect on footwear. Keeping fit set in motion a movement which affected all ages being fit and trim this meant looking and feeling good all of which could be simply associated with a new sartorial awareness. Shoes needed to match the outfit and a hungry market was created. To keep demand high, the giants like Adders, Puma and Nikka produced what were virtually fashion ranges. Each season brought new design modifications, colour combinations and logos, most of which were sales promotion ruses and had little to do with improving the efficiency of the shoe for exercise. The fad for keeping fit passed but the trainer market was established. The young enjoyed the exclusive, designer element and older people found the broad based cushioned footwear comfortable fit. Costs were cheaper than traditional footwear and fashion accompaniment such as tracksuits became popular with young and old alike. Celebrity endorsement and support from medical experts has also enhanced the trainer in its various guises. Marketing was targeted firmly towards inner city youth, mainly Afro-American, Hispanic or Asian. The shelf live of designer trainers is very short and rarely lasts more than three months. Anything the youth market deems passe, dies quickly.

The sport shoe took a major step forward when in the seventies and eighties, designer sport shoes became available. Sport's crossover, particularly from baseball, had always been popular with youth but now expensive footwear became the ubiquitous outward trapping of coolness. This was especially true in inner city ethnic populations. No street kid could be seen in anything other than the latest fashion. Prices of quality footwear rose to meet the expectation yet most kids wearing latest fashion had no visible means of income. The drug shoes for the drug culture were born. A combination of clever marketing and the desire to rebel against conservatism has assured the sneaker culture endured. Hip Hop Rappers and sports personalities extolled the virtues of being cool in them and peer pressure ensured parents parted with enormous amounts of money to get the latest styles. Truly space age shoes these ath footwear were definitely the new age shoe and incorporated many man made polymers which were not of the natural world. Trainers were often referred to as 'drug shoes' or 'Chronics'. Research indicates many drug pushers were paid with new sneakers. 'Chronic" is a slang term for a drug user and is used synonymously with 'hemp' which in street talk mean trainer. Some companies were accused of cashing in on the easy drug money picked up by inner city kids. This included using street slang as names for their wears. Some manufacturers tried to quell negative publicity by putting some of their profits back into developing inner city recreational area. Many multi-nationals were also been accused of mass producing their footwear in sweatshops, using developing countries and employing cheap labour. The term 'gang sneaker' refers to become their trademark. In Chicago for example, gang members wear 'Chucks' with the blue star changed to a different colour. In Los Angeles gangs wear Nike Cortex, whereas gangs in Wisconsin wear either red or black laces in their black sneakers. In the 1980s the sneaker became associated with the hip hop culture and break-dancers proudly were seen sporting suede topped trainers. This reached its zenith in 1987 when Run-DMC recorded My Adidas. Now it is commonplace for shoe companies to endorse recording artists to wear their footwear on stage, such is the influence they have with the buying public.

Despite an economic global down turn, the importance to look cool continued and when the English Soccer Youths savoured the Continental styles during their frequent forages to follow their national Soccer team, they soon discovered Italian designer's shoes and trainers which were proudly worn as a badge of office. The fashion caught on and no self respecting Casual of the eighties would be seen in public, unless they were wearing expensive designer footwear. Many of these kids had no visible means of income and hence association was made with criminal activities including illicit drug trafficking.

Like no other part of costume, the shoe (or its absence) remains evergreen in the minds of our youth. The cycle of fashion does have a logic however which follows a simple pattern that whatever comes next will be so different from its predecessor, as to make it obvious. Close inspection of some of the more outlandish styles also reveal a pragmatic attempt to deal with some of the practicalities of being young and doing things that kids do. So the cycle continues, always, it has to be said in tandem with the full support of the fashion industries and shoe manufacturers keen to capture the lucrative market of teenagers and below. The fastest shoes in the world today belong to skate boarders. These are the ultra cool footwear of the 21 st century. The four wheel drive footwear represent the accumulated knowledge of shoe design since the beginning of time with the new technologies of polymer chemistry. A real product of alchemy, these are truely out of this world. The humble Californian beach shoe (worn by the Beachboys) has now metamorphosed into today's sophicstcated shoes which are sported by the poperati including All Saints, Blur, Jamiroquai and the Prodigy.

Next phase, new wave, dance craze, anyways
It's still rock and roll to me."

Reviewed 12/01/2016

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