Earth Shoes

I n the late 1960s and early 1970s, young people began dressing less formally. Even footwear became more casual, as girls and women shunned high heels and boys and men avoided dress shoes even for formal occasions. Out of this desire for attire that was more comfortable came the advent of the earth shoe: footwear, often made of soft tanned leather, which featured a heel that was positioned lower than the toes. This design was said to align the body so that the pelvis and shoulders naturally swayed back, enhancing posture and permitting deeper, improved breathing.

Earth shoes were created for men and women, often hand-sewn, and came in various styles. They were designed as a traditional shoe but with as few as two or as many as eight pairs of holes for laces. They sometimes were backless and were fastened by buckles or straps instead of laces. They came as boots, high-tops, and even sandals. Whatever their style, they stretched and bended with the shape and movement of the foot. They were touted as ideal walking shoes.

The first earth shoes were designed in the 1950s and 1960s by Anne Kalso, a Danish yoga instructor. (Yoga is a type of exercise that enhances both the mind and the body.) Supposedly earth shoes were first commercially sold in the United States on April 22, 1970, the very first Earth Day, a yearly observance that spotlights the importance of environmental conservation. This explains how

they came to be called earth shoes, which even became one of the popular brand names for this style of footwear.


Lawlor, Laurie. Where Will This Shoe Take You?: A Walk Through the History of Footwear. New York: Walker and Co., 1996.

Yue, Charlotte, and David Yue. Shoes: Their History in Words and Pictures. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

In the swinging mid-1960s a stylish young woman would never be caught on a discotheque dance floor without her go-go boots: bold, white, or candy-colored vinyl or leather boots of various heights. Usually worn with miniskirts or dresses, go-go boots were pulled on, laced up, or zippered up, and featured a wide range of heels. The height of the leg-hugging boot was determined by the length of the skirt to be worn with it. Often the shorter the skirt was, the taller the accompanying boot.

The term "go-go boots" emerged from the popularity of discotheques. The first American discotheque was the Whisky a Go-Go, which opened in Hollywood, California, in 1963. At Whisky a Go-Go young women wearing miniskirts danced on platforms or in cages suspended high above the dance floor. They were called go-go dancers. Soon young women across the nation started to dress like them. French designer André Courreges (1923—) introduced what would become go-go boots in 1964. His white ankle-high boot featured a square toe and low, square heel and was worn with dresses hemmed three inches above the knee. It was not long until go-go dancers

The rule of thumb for wearing gogo boots: the shorter the skirt, the taller the boot. Reproduced by permission of © H. Armstrong Roberts/CORBIS.

The rule of thumb for wearing gogo boots: the shorter the skirt, the taller the boot. Reproduced by permission of © H. Armstrong Roberts/CORBIS.

1960s Fashion Gogo

and then other fashionable young women were clad in variations of the Courreges boot.

Nancy Sinatra (1940—), the singer-daughter of celebrated singer-actor Frank Sinatra (1915—1998), was the queen of go-go boots. Her 1965 pop hit, "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," sold just under four million copies. Photographs and record album covers from the 1960s feature Sinatra wearing white go-go boots and matching white minidress, brown boots accompanying a daring, hip-hugging sweater, and an ensemble of red boots and matching red minidress.

Go-go boots, like go-go dancers, were just a fad. Despite the success of Sinatra's song in 1965, that same year the go-go boot lost its fashion appeal. However, variations of go-go boots remained a part of young women's wardrobes into the 1970s.


Beard, Tyler. Art of the Boot. Salt Lake City, UT: Gibbs Smith Publishers, 1999.

■ Patent Leather Shoes

In 1818 creative New Jersey inventor Seth Boyd en (1788—1870) discovered a special finishing process during which several layers of dyes, oils, varnishes, or resins were applied to unfinished leather, giving it a hard, glossy finish. Shoe factories near his home in Newark soon began producing fashionable shoes from the new leather. By the end of the nineteenth century young boys and girls of wealthy families wore black patent leather slippers, and they were also a popular choice for adult formal wear. In the 1920s a popular men's hairstyle where the hair was slicked down flat with oil was known as the patent leather look.

Patent leather saw a surge in popularity during the 1950s and 1960s, when it was used for young girls' formal shoes. Following the difficulties of World War II (1939-45), the 1950s and early 1960s were booming economic times. The introduction of television and many new electric appliances were part of a general at

mosphere that valued things that were modern, shiny, and new. Glossy black, and sometimes white, patent leather shoes were a standard part of the wardrobe of girls from all classes and ethnic backgrounds, to be worn for special occasions or to places of worship. In fact, one of the most enduring popular stories about patent leather shoes comes from a religious source. It is commonly reported by those who grew up during the 1960s that Roman Catholic priests and nuns warned girls away from patent leather, telling them that the glossy surface of the shoes would reflect their underpants. This bit of folklore, whether true or not, has led to many popular jokes and at least one theatrical production, Bill McHale's 1985 musical play Do Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?, a humorous examination of a Catholic childhood.

Toward the end of the twentieth century dress became more casual, and patent leather shoes were no longer a required part of a young girl's wardrobe. They are still worn by children and adults as formal shoes, however, and 2001 saw a modern twist on the classic leather when the shoe manufacturer Nike introduced "retro" Air Jordan patent leather sneakers, selling for $125.


Pratt, Lucy, and Linda Woolley. Shoes. London: V&A, 1999.

Yue, Charlotte, and David Yue. Shoes: Their History in Words and Pictures. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

■ Platform Shoes

Platforms are shoes with heavy soles that can range from half-an-inch to six-inches thick and made their first memorable appearance during the 1600s, when shoes with high platform soles called chopines were popular among wealthy women in Venice, Italy. During the 1930s cork-soled shoes with wedge-shaped platform soles became popular among many women, but these shoes were fairly conservative, usually having a platform of an inch or less.

During the 1960s rebellious youth began to wear ragged thrift shop and homemade clothes, which evolved into a very col

Platform shoes were considered a symbol of 1970s excess in dress.

permission of © Gary Houlder/CORBIS.

orful, flamboyant fashion. Clothing manufacturers had caught up with youthful trends and had begun making stylish, flashy clothes by the end of the decade. Wide-leg bell-bottom pants and short skirts were worn with platform shoes, often several inches tall. The platforms of the 1970s were very high, often brightly colored, and made of shiny material or plastic, and, for the first time, both women and men wore them. The new shoes were seen on such popular American rock stars as the members of KISS and British singer Elton John (1947-), as well as in the successful 1977 disco film Saturday Night Fever.

While the new tall platform shoes may have looked good on the disco dance floor, they were not always easy to dance in. Doctors began to call them "ankle busters," because they treated so many injuries caused by platforms. Once they went out of style, many were sure that the impractical shoe would never return. However, after the conservative 1980s came to an end, many people had fond feelings for the styles of the 1970s, and platform shoes came back into fashion by the mid-1990s. In the early twenty-first century some young Japanese women adopted a style that included spiked hair, miniskirts, and tall platform shoes.

1990s Fashion For Women Shoes

Platform shoes were considered a symbol of 1970s excess in dress.

permission of © Gary Houlder/CORBIS.


Ellsworth, Ray. Platform Shoes: A Big Step in Fashion. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1998.

[See also Volume 3, Sixteenth Century: Chopines]

The first tennis shoe, called the plimsoll, was a rubber-soled canvas shoe designed during the nineteenth century for playing croquet or tennis. By 1916 the United States Rubber Company introduced its own brand of rubber-soled canvas shoe called Keds and was followed in 1917 by the Converse Rubber Company with its All-Star shoe. Though other brands of tennis shoes appeared, the essential design did not change much until the 1960s, when a huge variety of tennis shoe designs appeared.

During the late 1960s many shoe designers began to experiment to improve athletic shoes. One of the most influential of these was a University of Oregon track coach named Bill Bowerman (1909—). Bowerman wanted to design a lightweight shoe with a traction sole especially for running. His improvements included providing shoes with a cushioned insole (a soft sole insert), replacing heavy canvas uppers (the portion of the shoe above the sole) with lighter nylon, and introducing the waffle outer sole, which he created by molding latex rubber with a kitchen waffle iron. Bowerman named his shoes and eventually named his company Nike, for the Greek goddess of victory.

Nike and other shoe manufacturers, such as Adidas and Spalding, made further developments to tennis shoes that not only made the shoes specialized for sports but made them more appealing as a fashion item. Thousands of amateur runners bought tennis

Keds Tennis Shoes 1963

Though tennis shoes were developed for wear on European croquet lawns during the late 1800s, Americans adopted them for all-occasion use in the 1970s. Reproduced by permission of © Royalty-Free/CORBIS.

shoes during the jogging craze of the 1970s but soon began wearing tennis shoes for all occasions. Brightly colored nylon uppers and big, but lightweight, waffle soles became accepted as part of everyday wear. Fashion designers, such as Calvin Klein (1942—), began designing stylish tennis shoes. Soon the flashy tastes of the 1970s could be seen in tennis shoe designs; tennis shoes with sequins and satin uppers with high heels or platform soles were useless for sports but trendy on the disco dance floor.

The tennis shoe has remained an item of high fashion into the twenty-first century and is sold throughout the world. People in many countries across the globe wear tennis shoes for sports, as well as for comfortable everyday shoes. Many Europeans, however, do not wear sneakers as street shoes and consider the practice a vulgar American habit. Prices have risen dramatically since the first Keds tennis shoe was introduced in 1916, and many popular athletic shoes cost well over one hundred dollars. In spite of the high price tag, the shoes remain in high demand. The popularity of high-priced sneakers has even led to crime in rare instances, as some young people have been attacked and had their shoes stolen.


Cheskin, Melvyn P. The Complete Handbook of Athletic Footwear. New York: Fairchild, 1987.

Kiefer, Michael. "Ode to the Sneaker: A Discourse on Laces, Lore and Sole With Soul." Chicago (May 1986): 164-68.

Vanderbilt, Tom. The Sneaker Book. New York: New York Press, 1998. [See also Volume 3, Nineteenth Century: Tennis Shoes]

1970s Earth Shoes

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  • Louie
    Why are earth shoes called earth shoes?
    8 years ago
  • reiss
    What were women wearing in 1960?
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  • Cristiano
    What were boots called in the 1960s?
    8 years ago
  • daniel
    How much did earth shoes cost in the 1970s?
    5 years ago
  • stephanie schultz
    What shoes were worn in the 1960?
    4 years ago

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