Pause & Review

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Time for another review; we’re not quite at the end of the eighties, but we are about to shift to a new period that will cover the first part of the nineteen nineties, and arguably it begins in 1989. So it’s not a bad place to take a look back at what we’ve seen in the past few posts.

Back in April (yeah, it’s taken me 4 months to do 4 posts on one decade – hopeless, I know) I posed the question of whether the eighties were really marked by a drought as far as fashion boots were concerned. That was certainly my recollection, but the numbers suggested otherwise. And ultimately, the numbers proved right.

It’s true that at first sight, things seem to be dominated by an abundance of not very impressive ankle boots, but there were a couple of significant bursts of enthusiasm for more diverse styles in the fashion press, one in 1981/82, and a second in 1987/88. The latter period saw the high profile return of over-the-knee boots, something that many people, including me, seem to have missed or forgotten.

The one thing most definitely missing from the period was the style of high-heeled dress boots seen in the previous decade, and here I think we can establish a rule – shoulder pads are fashion death for anything other than pumps or ankle boots. The tapering silhouette, from broad shoulders to narrow skirt and on down, does not tolerate anything as heavy as a knee-length boot. It’s possible that the very slim-line dress boots of the late nineties could have worked if they’d been around ten years earlier, but I doubt it. The eighties silhouette was just too extreme.

So instead, boots flourished as casual wear – soft, loose-fitting, low-heeled styles that could be combined with a long-skirt or, for the shorter boots, worn with jeans tucked in. When hemlines rose towards the end of the decade, boots eventually rose too – but only when shoulders began to narrow. It was then that they began to be seen as an alternative to tights or leggings for providing protection to exposed legs – a role that the ultra-high boots of the late 60s had also filled, and one that would be filled in the future by a new breed of over-the-knee boots.

When I first started writing posts on the eighties, one of my regular commenters, DeanG, raised the question of whether boots in the eighties were like those of the sixties, and there’s much to support that observation. Most eighties boots were low-heeled, loose fitting, and either quite short (ankle/calf length) or very high (over-the-knee or thigh-length). In fact, they were much like the first generation of fashion boots from 1962-1964.

As time went by, in the late sixties and into the seventies, boots became more feminine – higher-heeled and tighter-fitting – but there’s a case to be made that the eighties boots represented a throwback to the earlier, more masculine styles of boot. At the time, I would have been skeptical about this, but my somewhat improved knowledge about the early years of the boot in the sixties has convinced me that much of what we think we know about sixties fashion is based on later interpretation and reinterpretation.

Musically at least, one such reinterpretation of sixties culture took place in the late 1980s, with the growth of rave culture and the emergence of neo-psychedelic bands like the Stone Roses, Charlatans, and Happy Mondays. But the real surge of interest in the sixties, and in sixties fashions, took place in the following decade. Which, by happy coincidence, is where we’re going next.

Image Source:

  • VogueUK, 1982, via the Fashion Spot

 

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A Footnote from the Mid-Eighties

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If you’re under the age of 40, you probably have little idea and certainly no recollection of the Iran-Contra scandal of the mid-1980s in which (to summarize briefly) the Reagan administration did a deal whereby (1) Israel would supply arms to Iran (yes, you read that right); (2) Iran would use its influence to obtain the release of American hostages in Lebanon; (3) the US would resupply Israel with weapons; (4)  Israel would pay the U.S. for the weapons; and (5) the U.S. would use the funds from the arms sales to support right wing guerrillas trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua, something the government was prohibited by law from doing. Got it?

Well never mind if you don’t. The critical bit, from our perspective, is the subsequent inquiry held by the U.S. Senate, and in particular the testimony of Fawn Hall, secretary to the architect of the whole scheme, U.S. Marine Colonel Oliver North, a staff member of the National Security Council. Appearing before the Senate Committee on June 8, 1987, Hall made the entertaining admission that she had smuggled top-secret documents out of the NSC hidden in her boots.

North had asked for Hall’s assistance shredding various incriminating papers relating to the various transfers of arms, money, etc., but a few days later she discovered that she had missed several documents. What was she to do? ”I took the copies of the altered documents, folded them, and placed them inside my boots,” she testified. Then she ran into another official’s office and stuffed some computer memos down her back. ”I asked if he could see anything in my back,” she said of Colonel North, whom she had called and insisted that he come to the White House once she discovered that not all the papers had been shredded, ”and he said no.” Later, when she and Colonel North were in a car together, she took the papers out and gave them to him.

I will not pass any judgement on these nefarious activities, or on Fawn Hall, who was given immunity from prosecution on charges of conspiracy and destroying documents in exchange for her testimony. I will merely note that, had this occurred during the Watergate scandal of 12 year’s earlier, Hall would not have been able to fit the documents into her boots, as they would have been much tighter around the legs. It was only the loose fitting boots of the eighties that let her get away with it.

Incidentally (and perhaps not coincidentally) it’s very hard to find any images of Fawn Hall wearing boots. The rather grainy offering above, from 1987, is the best I could do.

And I apologize for the terrible pun in the title of this post.

References:

  • Iran-Contra Affair: Wikipedia article.
  • Dowd, Maureen. 1986. The Fawn Hall Story: A Big Hit On The Hill. New York Times, June 9, 1987

Image Source:

  • Fawn Hall leaving her attorney’s office, 1987: AP/New York Times.