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08 January, 2011

Boot Print Trail

The recent punk posts (ha) included some comment about Doc Martens. That's a brand that in those days helped some punks feel better about themselves. If you had real Docs instead of surplus combat boots, you were harder core, you'd gone the extra mile (and paid the extra buck, hmmm) to prove you were punker than thou. 

Already, I can feel this post veering into rant territory. Maybe not like the one in October 09 (see Evobootion and Boots... posts at, but it seems like what people put on their feet reveals a lot about their cultural assumptions. Where you think you stand in society, look down and there are your shoes.

Evobootion has photos, and this post cannot. My sister assures me that she has snapshots of those days, but the boots are long gone, and all there are are words.

Pre-punk, I wore sneakers. They stunk so bad that little wavy lines emanated visibly. The only boots I had as a kid, I think, were the standard tan leather with a yellowy sole. As the hardcore world opened, I managed to get a pair of army surplus boots. Basic black. There was a rule if you played sports that you had to wear a tie and polished shoes on game days, and so they actually got polished a few times. Weird.

But usually (and eventually) that didn't happen, and partly laced combat boots, scuffle-stepping through the halls were something to set me apart from the sea of docksiders, penny loafers, and sneakers of 1980s Virginia. The preppies had the most bizarre array of footwear I'd ever seen until encountering rich Lon Gislanders in college, strictly defined in terms of a brand and style for every occasion from cotillion to pretending to enjoy the outdoors.

Some punks were just as rigid, and there was defnitely pressure to wear the right stuff, although you were pretty free to ignore it in a small scene like Richmond. I ditched my orange converse hi-tops with the black magic marker tiger stripes when I feared it would look more new wave than hardcore. I bought Sears engineer boots when it seemed cool.

But then, function kicks style aside for me. I thought the untied combat boots looked cool, and enjoyed the free easy feel, but when it came time to cover some ground, or get out on the floor to do some skaning, do-si-do-ing and stage dives, it was time to lace up.

In college, the rigidity and conformity of the DC scene left me cold, and after a year or so I pretty much stopped going to see bands. Meanwhile, I fell in with people who listed to hippy music, and enjoyed a period when nobody I knew could figure me out. Lowery writes abut the same kind of thing happening at the other end of the country in his blog (, simultaneously mocking and appreciating what the old counterculture had wrought. I didn't have the turquoise jewelry, but did pick up a pair of thrift store romeos, those short boots with the zipper like Captan Kirk wore. They were not quite ironic enough, and could have been mistaken for dress shoes, so I got day-glo paints and spruced them up; right atop each one was a turquoise lizard on an orange background. Wearing those with a christmasy plaid pair of trousers, and spiked orangy meringue hair to a Dead show was fun, watching to see which hippies (and young imitators) lit up, blew a fuse, or tuned out as they passed the punk inexplicably appearing in their midst.

But over time, it became less and less important to have footwear that made a statement. More and more my feet wore whatever worked best. The combat boots outlasted the slick-soled romeos. Hush puppies, or desert boots or whatever those things are called made appearances. Stinky sneakers returned.

Then I moved to the tropics, and my feet were freed. But that's another story, already told in the post before Evobootion.


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