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Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The Crowd in White Boots

In Tying Down The Lion, young narrator Jacqueline longs for a pair of white patent boots. Also known as go-go boots, these were an important trend in the sixties, or 'all the rage', as they termed it then. 

A friend of mine recently unearthed a photograph of herself posing on a motorbike in the centre of London. She was wearing a pair of these marshmallow-soft, long, gleaming boots and I said how much I would have loved a pair in those days. "Never mind those days," she said. "I want them now."

But she couldn't recall the photograph being taken, nor could she recollect owning the lovely boots.

Fashions come, go and return again, in and out of our lives like passing acquaintances, quickly consigned to oblivion and then re-embraced. Or, as in my friend's case, completely forgotten. And yet our garments define the times, drawing an outline around our past. When we see old pictures of ourselves, we focus on the clothes, recalling our loathing of a dreaded hand-knitted balaclava our mothers forced us to wear or cringing at neon-yellow trousers with embroidered flares the size of a ship's billowing sails.

Does this mean we identify ourselves by fashions - not just in clothing, but by other shifts and fluctuations? Over the years, home furnishings change in style, certain colours are 'in' or 'out' and hairstyles vary. Then there are the wider changes. 

During the austere years immediately following World War II, people in the UK suffered continued rationing and conscription while war-rubble and ruins silhouetted the landscape of towns and cities with no sign of any major rebuilding work. Britain was almost bankrupt. 

But in the sixties - the era of the white patent boot - the outlook altered. The country was being patched together, living standards rose and unemployment was comparatively low. People owned cars and drove them on the new motorways. They shopped in supermarkets instead of at the corner shop. The era had Carnaby Street, pop music and its own 'Swinging Sixties' identity, a sharp contrast with the bleaker days of eking out rations, making underwear from parachute silk and queuing for food.

But how do people catch up with who they are inside when the outside world frequently and persistently changes its mind, its course and its moods?

Jacqueline, on the cusp of adulthood and still too young to have much say in how she looks, talks of the Identity Crisis of adolescence when she considers her longing to be one of the crowd in white boots. Her father likens them to 'Nazi jackboots', his own bad memories putting paid to her dreams. She can no longer feel like one of the in-crowd. All her plans of sophistication and glamour must be put on hold. She is left wondering where she fits in until the day of her transformation through the golden gates of adulthood dawns.

But does an identity crisis occur because of an unfulfilled, burning need to pull on the same boots as everyone else? Or does it originate from the longing to tug out the piece of you that you carry around inside, the hidden part that makes you different? 

Perhaps our lack of ease with ourselves, especially during the pre-adult years, stems from repressing our true identity in favour of following the trends. The friend I envied most during the teenage years was the one who refused to blend with the the crowd. While we listened to pop on our transistors, she chose to play opera records. And when we danced around our clutch bags in the discos, she stayed at home with her canvas and easel, creating marvellous paintings. Without doubt she was fully in tune with the interior part of her that made her different.

We have a peculiar relationship with the mirror, odder than any we have with another living soul. Do we look at our reflection in the hope of seeing someone who will fit in, adapting our appearance at the dictate of fashion in order to ensure it? Or do we see ourselves as we really are, rather than how we would like to be?

Times change, fashions rotate, but it is never clear whether we buy the white boots because we love them, or because we want to be loved. Whichever way it goes, I can't imagine how my friend could have forgotten she owned a pair. Jacqueline would have slept with them under her pillow.


  1. Lovely interesting post, Joanna - lots to think about there. I love all the different fashions as defining the eras when we look back on them. Although I didn't own any white boots, I was one of the first in my class to buy (and wear) white lacy tights to the school dance. Don't know where I saw them but I didn't mind being the first to try them. I gradually lost some of that confidence in my later teens though.

  2. I remember really wanting white lacy tights - well done for being first to try them, Rosemary! I think I had more confidence in the early teens too. There is something unsettling about the later years unrolling into young adulthood and the quest to become who you are destined to be. Thanks so much for