Someone made this comment recently on this blog, and I have received email over the years asking the same question, “why don’t men wear boots any more?”
I have three theories…
So why don’t men wear boots like the good-old days?
Theory 1: The rise of the automobile, replacing horses for transportation
Back in the day of horse-drawn carriages and riding horseback to get from place to place, men (and women) wore boots for practical reasons. Boots better help control the animal when riding it; boots provide protection to legs and ankles of the wearer; and since most roads were dirt and gravel, boots could take getting dirty, muddy, and wet while keeping the wearer’s clothing generally protected from exposure and damage.
However, once the automobile took hold and more and more people started using the “horseless carriage” to travel, they discovered two things about boots: 1) sometimes boots made it more difficult to operate a vehicle’s controls in tightly-confined areas. That is, boots did not flex or bend easily, so it was difficult to move between pedals quickly. 2) the vehicle protected the occupants from dirt, dust, mud, rain, and grime, so they could wear more fashionable dress, including short boots (first versions of modern dress boots) and regular shoes without much worry to their footwear or clothing being soiled or damaged.
Theory 2: War-time boots and the rise of the middle class
During World War II, boots were viewed as necessary but very uncomfortable, hard-to-wear footwear worn by members of military units. Have you ever tried to wear authentic WWII-vintage boots? I have no idea how soldiers, sailors, and marines withstood the pain and agony of their boots! I have tried to wear several pairs of 1940s-era boots, and they all killed my feet. Many of my older family members who served in WWII told me how uncomfortable their military-issue boots were.
So as soon as men returned from War, the last thing they chose to wear was boots. If you look back at marketing and advertising of the late 40s and throughout the 50s, you see many ads for “new” types of footwear. The penny loafer. Tennis shoes (“Chuck Taylors” or “Chucks”). Moccasins.
Also of the 1950s era, boys (children) all wanted cowboy boots to emulate their TV-heroes such as Roy Rogers. But thus began in their adult father’s mind (and males older than 12) that wearing cowboy boots in the cities and suburbs were a child’s thing, and not something that real men would wear.
There are also many articles in the sociological journals that examined society of the era that many men wanted to assume a lifestyle of the emerging middle class — house in the suburbs, sedan in the drive, kids, dog, etc. Millions assumed that lifestyle as populations in cities and suburbs exploded in the 50s. Men believed that wearing boots was what rural ranchers and farmers wore, but not men of the middle class. Boots fell into disfavor as a lot of men associated boots with a less-favored rural lifestyle.
Theory 3: Disposable shoes, rebels, and the rise of the yuppie
As the strong middle class moved into the 60s and 70s, children of the post-wartime baby boom were fitted with sneakers, which generally matched two perceived needs: 1) sneakers were relatively cheap (back then) so as children’s feet grew, it was not terribly expensive to get a new pair of sneakers, so parents on a budget appreciated that. 2) Sneakers were much more comfortable than leather shoes which were not replaced as often, so near the end of their life, they pinched feet and hurt. Also, dress for school relaxed in the ’60s (at least for those of us who went to public school), so wearing sneakers to more than the gym class in school was accepted, and practically became de rigueur as guys adopted the clone-look.
Teens of the 60s and 70s, like teens of all eras, rebelled in choices of style of dress, hair, and footwear. “Greasers” and other rebels idolized the image of James Dean and others by choosing to wear boots again, as well as blue jeans, leather jackets, and long hair. Frye boots became the choice for high-school males in the suburbs (me being among millions.) Thus, the winds of fashion blew more boots, at least during this era, onto guys’ feet.
But the boot-wearing by rebellious male teens was short-lived for most. As they grew up, most of the rebels began conforming again to societal norming pressure and ditched the boots for shoes and more-and-more choices of sneakers. Sneakers began to be marketed for different uses — to wear during “P.E.” in school (cheap Chucks worked), then running shoes, athletic-specialty shoes, and fashion-icon footwear adopted by certain groups who idolized basketball players.
In the ’80s and beyond came the rise of the Young Upwardly-Mobile Professional (aka “yuppie.”) Yuppies were very concerned with their choices of clothing and fashion. They had to have “just the right thing” to wear to work, at home/casually, on the athletic field, everywhere. They had the “right shoes” for the “right occasion.” Yuppies despised boots because the general perception as noted in the literature was that boots were unacceptable for an upwardly-mobile male.
It was also during this era that books such as “Dress for Success” became the Yuppie bible. That book stated in very clear terms that men should absolutely not wear boots, and only made exceptions for men who worked on farms, in construction, or who drove trucks. The book disparaged any type of blue-collar, boot-wearing job. White-collar suit-and-tie yuppies took that to heart and never would consider wearing boots.
These days, the era of the Yuppie has faded, but many of the social and fashion norms remain in place. U.S. society considers boots the choice for blue-collar workers, and perhaps (though not as many) for motorcycle riders.
Further, boots are considered fashionable for women, especially in autumn and winter. Contrast that with typical male thinking — “what real man would wear women’s fashion?” That type of sexist thinking often causes many men to reconsider wearing tall boots, especially worn with pants legs tucked into them. They fear looking “girly.”
Some men also think that boots are uncomfortable to wear. However, application of space-age technology has significantly improved two things about boots: their comfort and their construction. Nowadays, gel insoles and padded insoles in boots make them as easy-on-the-feet as sneakers. Kevlar sole threads, durable plastic boot stays, and carefully-used composite toes make boots more durable and much lighter weight. Today, it is far easier to wear boots all day and choose among hundreds of fashion choices from subdued black/brown for the office to colorful and attractive leather inlays and exotic skins.
I cannot tell you how often I see internet searches that direct people to my website’s Guides on Wearing cowboy boots and Choosing boots, and Motorcycle boots. Most men are afraid to ask others, so they search for information on the internet. Such searches land on those Guides, as well as this blog.
Glad to help reinforce that:
* White-collar men can wear boots effectively with dresswear in an office/professional environment.
* Cowboy boots look good with casual and business wear.
* Men who are confident and “their own man” do not have to conform to social pressures or fear what other people may say. (My mantra: “man up/get over it!”)
* Motorcycle boots are an appropriate choice when operating a motorcycle, period. No sneakers.
Life is short: wear boots!