Frye-ography

Note from BHD:  the following post was written by “Frye Boot Fan,” a guy with whom I have been corresponding lately.  He grew up in the same county that I did and during the same era, though we did not know each other. With his permission, I am posting his recollections of wearing boots in the late 60s and early 70s in the suburbs of Washington, DC, in one of the most wealthy counties in Maryland.

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Cool boots were part and parcel with bell bottoms and the urge to grow long hair, none of which my parents would tolerate until I entered junior high in 1969.  Junior High was a melting pot of diverse kid-tribes from several elementary schools — [well-to-do Suburb A] with Bohemian [Suburb B] and blue collar and collarless [Suburb C] — as diverse as the United Nations it seemed.  The “freaks”, proto-hippies in-training I fell in with; the “greasers” from the marchlands, plus the clan-less mass of collegiate clean-cut kids.  These three tribes were known as “click, soul, and rock-n-roll,” in reverse order given above, “click”=clean cuts, “soul”=greasers, and “rock-n-roll”=freaks.

Dress, musical tastes and overall demeanor defined one’s tribe, and there was no inter-tribal fraternization, especially between freaks and greasers, amongst who there abided the greatest animosity.  The “click” kids were seen largely viewed as potential recruits for both groups, though some of their more intrepid girls were fair game, dating into either tribe, but I digress. The “greasers” amused themselves with hot-rodding older buddies’ ’57 Chevys, wearing black leather blazers over white tee-shirts, or pastel yellow Banlon polo shirts; cuffed khaki trou worn too short in the legs, and black high-top “Chucks” (Converse All Star sneakers).  They maintained ’50ish coiffures with plenty of hair grease, hence the name I suppose.  They listened to R&B soul music music, and hosted the occasional chain-fight rumble.  Nobody messed with these dudes–bad news.  The “freaks” of course listened to rock, formed garage and basement bands, chased hippie chicks in all their sartorial splendor, and discovered pot.

As 7th graders we of course looked to the 9th graders for fashion guidance in everything cool.  They were two years ahead of us in hair growth, as they had fatigued their parents into accepting a level of hippie dress our parents were still resisting.  This was soon to change as the pressure for hip back-to-school wardrobes and plummage was overwhelming, and parents relented in most cases.  After assorted un-cool boots all my young years, the first cool boots I had to have were Flagg Brothers chocolate brown suede, back-zipped, pointed toe, 8″ Beatle Boots, with an instep strap and antique brass buckle.  These were pure crap, and only available from a Flagg Brothers store in the mall.  With all the walking we did, in all sorts of nasty weather, one pair was blown-out in three months, but they started us on the road to that loose-fitting, clunkity-clunk heel walking soon perfected.  The next boot du jour was a Jarman fashion boot, a pull-on, with a wide square toe, and likewise an instep strap and buckle. These came from a store at the mall too, and were as crap-tastically made as the Flagg Bros. fashion boots.  Snoot toed harness boots, Fryes and cheaper Sears knock-offs for the kids on tighter budgets appeared on the scene overnight it seemed in late ’69–or maybe for back-to-school in ’70-’71.

My first pair were Frye, sans harness, snoot toed, antique stained reddish-brown color, with an added leather 1/2 sole in the front, 3 tacks across the toe and a few at the sides.  These, like all my subsequent Fryes were bought at a Western Wear store in Washington, DC.  Why mom drove all the way down there I have no idea.  Now correctly Frye-booted, and in faded Levi’s “Big Bells,” frayed away at the back from being overly long and trodden under boot heels, from the waist down I was “cool” man! I recall Fryes cost $70 a pair then, a princely sum, so I only got one pair each year for back-to-school.  Consequently, we devolved a taste for beat-up Fryes, to match our beat-up everything else.  The 9D was too short, but the 9-1/2 D boots were always a bit sloppy on me, so the clunkity-clunk heel noise was accentuated. I ran the counters over badly, the heels down, and the snoot toes mushed into amorphous shapes after several months’ hard wear. For us nothing was quite so cool unless it looked like it was about worn out–brand new Fryes were the exception, but they did not hold their shape for long.  It amazes me how many vintage Fryes on Etsy and eBay today have managed to keep in such good shape, especially those snoot toes, as they were usually the first things to go soft.

In 8th grade pair #2, same again, but this time with the more dangerous harness–“Dingo Rings” we called ’em.  During a favorite pastime–dodging gym class by feigning to have no gym clothes–the coach chided me: “if your mom can afford those expensive Frye boots, she can afford to buy you sneakers!”  What an asshole he was–Fryes were cool, high top black Chucks for gym were greaser-gear.

The 9th grade was passed in the harness boot, but it was off to High School in a more daring saddle tan pair.  When that pair were about shot I experimented pulling the heels off and wearing them that way. What a rube. It was back to basic antiqued reddish brown harness Fryes from then on, some with the 1/2 sole added, some without, whatever the store had on the shelf.  After high school, more of the same.  By then I discovered that an spare pack of smokes would slip down in the leg for those long weekend over-nights, parties, and forays with some exotic “B-Town girl” or another.

It seems nothing great lasts forever.  My “last” Fryes were bought in 1977 for a trip to Britain, and it seems the snoot toed harness boot was being supplanted in local popularity, as well as the store stock selection, mostly by the dreaded “Campus” boot.  This pair was an unappealing burgundy-red, with natural colored sole and heel edges, all of which I over-dyed black.  After suffering shin splints because of the 2″ chunky heel, I had the heels lowered.  Other footwear was by then rotating through my young adult wardrobe, but that pair of Fryes held on in occasional wear, clumping through Austria, the Czech Republic, and the UK several times into the late 1990s.  I finally made a gift of them to a 20-something pal who was obsessed with the ’70s cultural revival and dress, and they are still going somewhere up in Connecticut. Interestingly those less than desirable broad blunt Campus toes, and the heel counters, held their shapes better than the 9 or 10 previous pair with snoot toes.  The latter crushed down and looked every bit like the Campus toe eventually, but it was the principle of the thing.  To me the Campus boot hinted of Disco music/culture (I deplored) and platform shoes, and they had none of the danger or cache of the harness with snoot toe in ’70.  Levi’s stopped making those “Big Bells” by 1980, too, and I even cut my hair off short, at shoulder-length, and had it layered.  What were we thinking?

The final chapter–I chanced upon some ’90s vintage used Frye 9-1/2D harness boots in an antique shop in Pennsylvania about four years back, and bought them for $35.  Oh how the mighty had fallen.  The insoles were foam padded, and it took the heaviest socks I could find to even keep them on my feet, meaning they were cold weather boots at best.  They were finally gifted to my ’70s-obsessed young friend too.  Last week on my birthday my wife presented me a nearly-new pair of saddle tan, 15″ Campus Fryes, “Black Label”, and I’ve been clunkity-clunking all over the house ever since, and scoping Etsy and eBay for some antiqued brown harness boots with snoot toes.  The Campus boots still whisper Disco-era to me, and I need to go back to the headier days of Led Zeppelin, Zappa and the Stones, underground comics, and maybe some Levi’s big bells, if I can find them in 33 waist now.

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Frye Boot Fan apologizes that the photos of him do not show him in his Fryes.  Image blurred on purpose, to protect the identity of the guest blogger.  If you wish to comment, you may do so with this post, and he will see it, or you may send me a message and I will forward it to him.

Be sure to read “Observations from a Frye Boot Fan” — Part II of this guest blog series posted 24 January, 2011.