Monday, November 21, 2016

Munson Last Boots, or how I became a hipster and didn't even know it. And reflections what hipster affectations mean.

 My old, old Maine Engineer Boots.  Based closely on Army Service Shoes, these were introduced by numerous civilian makers for civilian use under a variety of names quite early on.  This pair was made by Chippewa, which still makes them and related boots, but L. L. Bean's boot is now made by another manufacturer.

Last week I went to Denver for the day. Flew down and back.  I hit the train from the airport and rode downtown, and hiked to where I was working for the day.

I was accordingly walking downtown and saw a young man, dressed hipster style (Levis, work shirt, heavy beard) wearing Munson last, Service Shoe, type boots.  

"Huh, . . . .", I thought.

On my way back to the train, I was walking down 16th Street, which provides as fine of cross section of humanity as anywhere on Earth, and there was a young couple walking next to me.  I looked over, and he too had affected the anti style of Hipster.  Heavy beard (waxed mustache, one of at least two I'd see that day), ratty sweater (its been freakishly warm, we should all be wearing coats), dark blue Levi 501s, and Munson last boots.

Hmmmm. . . . .

Finally, in the airport, while I was waiting in the TSA line I saw a bearded young guy several lines over who had removed his boots to run them through the detector.

Munson last boots.

And he too was a hipster.

"Whoa!" thought I.  I am, clearly, a trendsetter.

Well, actually I just favor classic simple stuff, as a rule, and don't go in for trendy.  Fashions cycle back around to the durable over time, and that's a lot of this.  So, over time, I've found the simple round glasses I wear, the horsehide A2 flight jacket I wear, etc., go in and out of style in cycles.

And I've had a pair of ankle high Munson last boots for about 30 years.  The same pair, that is.  That pair depicted above.

But Munson last boots, as a trendy item, I'll confess, really surprises me.  Indeed, at least at one itme, I'd gets some sort of "where did you get those boots" comments that were of the, "where did you get those weird boots" vein.

Okay, what are Munson Last boots?

Well, the old pattern of Army Service Shoe.

Yeah, big help, right?

And what, pray tell, is a Munson Last?

Well, a really good description of that is provided here:
So that tells you what the last is, but it doesn't really tell you what the look of the boot I'm referring to is.

Shortly after Lt. Col Munson, M.D. designed his last with the welfare of the soldier in mind, the Army adopted its ankle high pattern of boot to it, or, more properly, designed a new ankle high pattern of boot using it. The Army itself had been suing ankle high boots for most things since, well, since it quite using shoes in the late 19th Century for everything.  The boot was, and is, extremely utilitarian.

 I'm not familiar with the U.S. National Army Shoe Company, but there were, and indeed there are, quite a few companies that make things for serviceman but which also offer them to any buyer.  Often forgotten, officers have to buy their own clothing, including  their boots, so there's a natural market here.  The boots depicted in this advertisement are virtually identical, and indeed probably are identical, to some of the Munson Last "engineer" boots that are out there today, right down to the little holes on the toe caps that some still feature.

Sticking with the term "shoe", Army boots became "Service Shoes".  Following the adoption of the Munson Last, and coming in a time of now unappreciated military technological innovation.

This doesn't tell you much about the appearance, however, of the boot, and indeed, adoption of the Munson last itself really didn't change its appearance. That goes back to 1902.

In 1902 the U.S. Army replaced the last of its 19th Century type of box toes boots with a new, more modern "shoe".  That year, the Army adopted more modern, round toe, boot with a toe cap.  It also adopted it in a new color, or actually an absence of a color, in that the leather for the new "shoe" was "neat", i.e., no color at all, other than the natural one.  Polishing rapidly gave it a light brown color which people generally think is russet and indeed it does resemble the color of a russet potato.

One of the best recruiting poster of World War One, in my view, this James Montgomery Flagg poster shows the Marine Corps uniform of the period that was very close to the Army's, including the use of the same pattern of boot. These boots show the russet color, but they are actually of the pre Munson Last pattern.

Thereafter there was a rapid series of boot evolution, and generally two pairs of boots for each soldier, a "marching" pair and a "garrison" pair. The garrison boots were ankle high and meant for everyday wear in garrison and on parade.  Today they're sometimes referred to as "dress" shoes, which they were, but they were not dress in the same way dress shoes in the Service are today.  Soldiers wearing their garrison boots did a lot of work wearing them.

The field boot, or "marching boot" was higher, basically the same approximate height as combat boots are today.

Either pair were intended to be worn with leggings, and soldiers did indeed do that.  Indeed, up until some point in the mid 20th Century, puttees and leggings were fairly common in general, even though they are a pain.  It wasn't until World War Two that they really disappeared in the US, including in military use, although they carried on in some other armies well after that.

Anyhow, in 1912 the Munson Last came in and was adopted for the Army boot, and a new boot, ankle high, came out for garrison and marching.  That boot has basically never left us.

The M1912 and M1917 saw use in World War One, and of course in the Punitive Expedition which we've been following here.  Following the Great War, the Service Shoe kept on keeping on, with some modifications such as eventually incorporating rubber half soles. The last two versions came in as the Type I and Type II Service Shoe and served all the way through World War Two.  In appearance, they're virtually identical to the M1912 and M1917 Service shoes.

 Solder getting a shave in Mexico, 1916.  This photo is interesting in that it shows the soldier wearing a M1912 pair of boots, made with the Munson Last, but the soldier is not wearing his leggings.  His socks are pulled up over his breeches.  All soldiers, not just cavalrymen, wore breeches at the time.

The boot, or rather Service Show, did receive some challengers during its long period of service, however.   Given the conditions of World War One, which was hard on footgear of any kind, the Army adopted the M1917 and M1918 Trench boots, which were influenced by British and French boots of the period. These latter boots had hobnails and were made of split leather, making them durable tough boots for fighting, but which also meant that they couldn't really be shined. 

 Pershing boots.  This varied significantly from the M1912 and M1917 boots in having split leather, a different last for construction, and an external heel counter.

Those boots left after the Great War, but following that huge conflict the Army began to adopt some specialized boots for specialized troops.  The Service Shoe was phased out for cavalrymen starting in 1931 in favor of a calf high riding boot that also used the Munson last and also featured a toe cap.  Lacing that boot up must have been a pain, as in 1940, the Army adopted another new pattern for cavalrymen, that being the M1940, which also featured use of the Munson last.  That boot went out of production after the last Type II Service shoe did, lasting all the way in to the late 1940s.  The last two patterns of Service Shoes, Type I and Type II, featured external heel counters, a change to the design.

 A pair of unused M1940 mounted service boots, as worn by cavalrymen, mounted artillerymen, and others who had the need to ride horses in the U.S. Army during the war. . . and yes there were those who fit that definition throughout the entire war.  These belong to me, and a person would be well within their rights to ask why.  The reason is that this pattern of boot is highly regarded by horsemen and I got them cheap, but as can be seen, I've never worn them.  I stick to packers and cowboy boots pretty much.  This boot is also made with the Munson last.  Note that the heel counter is internal,  not external, as was the case with most Service Shoes until the end.  Note also the fancy toe cap, which was a feature of Service Shoes, Paratrooper Boots, and mounted service boots, but which my L. L. Bean boots omit.  The boots I'm seeing Hipsters wear reincorporates that feature.

The Service Shoe itself fell victim to the M1943 Combat Boot, which replaced it in production during World War Two but which never managed to fully replace it.  The M1943 Combat Boot was a higher boot which buckled at the top.  It was itself based on the concept of combining the Service Shoes with reverse upper, a wartime pattern, with a buckle top, but that design strongly recalled civilian hunting boots of the same period.  The reverse upper boot was a wartime pattern itself, as noted, that was adopted to make use of the nonshinable, but more durable, roughout side of the leather and recalled, to some extent, the Pershing boots of World War One.  Anyhow, the M1943 boot officially was set to replace the M1943 but never managed to do so.  After World War Two, both were replaced by the M1948.

 This is a very famous poster advertising the Remington Model 1908 autoloading rifle.  No matter what Remington may have claimed, this guy is in a really bad spot  Anyhow, this poster is interesting in that it shows the concept of a two buckle hunting boot was already around by 1908, and really the Army's 1943 adoption of that idea merely incorporated a concept that was already around.

The M1948 was another Munson last boot but it was based on the M1942 Paratrooper boot.  That boot was, yet again, a Monson last boot and is widely regarded by many as one of the most comfortable military boots every made.  A highly coveted boot, it technically was slated for replacement after being in use for only a year by the M1943 Combat Boot.  However, its close association with paratroopers managed to keep the boot from going into extinction and its still around as a dress item, but not a combat item, for paratroopers today.

 U.S. Paratroopers during World War Two, in training. Their high M1941 paratrooper boots are clearly visible in this photograph.  Paratrooper boots became iconic for U.S. Paratroopers and oddly enough even Canadian paratroopers were sometimes equipped with American jump boots. The Army attempted to phase these out with the M1943 boots but where never really successful.  Paratroopers feared that  the buckles on the M1943 boots would catch their shroud lines.  This type of boot continued to be a functional working boot for paratroopers into the 1970s but but better parachutes (softer landings) and the adoption of a basic combat boot that accommodated the concerns of paratroopers on various things meant they were not longer really necessary by that time, and they became, and remain, a dress item.

Okay, so what, is this a history of the Combat Boot or something about Hipsters?

Well, yes, I guess.

The reason that I gave all that history is that it ties into something curious, and I think perhaps worth noting in a peculiar way. But first back to our ankle high Munson boot.

 French post World War Two version of the US M1943 boots.  These boots came via Sportsman's Warehouse and I got them as they were incredibly cheap and had vibram soles so I can wear them in gross weather without caring whether I wreck them or not. So far, they seem pretty impervious to wearing out.  These boots differ from the American ones in having Vibram soles (these were made in the late 1950s) and the upper portion is also split leather, which was not the case for the US ones.

After Dr. Monson designed his last its advantages were noted and the boot soon was offered to civilians.  L. L. Bean, the famous outdoor clothier, introduced the boot, with heavier leather than the Army variant, as the Maine Engineering Boot, ostensibly pitched to civil engineers.  When I bought my pair, all the way back in the late 1980s, they were still called that and they still may be.

But they're hardly alone.  Mine were made by Chippewa for LL Bean, and Chippewa still makes them, including variants under its own name.  Chippewa calls what it made for L. L. Bean the Renegade Homestead Boot, but interestingly, it also makes a Service Shoe variant in roughout leather, just like the Army used during World War Two, and markets it as a "Service Boot".

They aren't the only marketers, however, and some of the companies now offering a Service Shoe variant offers ones that are exceedingly close in appearance to the post World War One variants.  The Katahdin Iron Works boot strongly resembles the Chippewa boot made for L. L. Bean.  Red Wing makes one as well.  A company called Thorogood makes them, at a premium price, but which appear to be so close to the M1912 variant that it isn't funny.  And, as noted, at least one other manufacturer makes them, and it appears to be that variant that I saw on the sidewalks of Denver the other day.

Of course simply wearing a pair of boots a style does not affect.  What I otherwise saw was a selection of clothes that really had that throw back appearance, and which leaned on the old working world.  It's odd for me to see, as I've worn that clothing so often myself.

Taking again our young hipster friend on 16th Street in Denver, he was also wearing a fairly nondescript sweater, a type man of us have, but perhaps more significantly a pair of dark blue, nearly new, Levi 501s.  The cuffs were turned up to expose the top of the boots.

Turned up.

Man alive, I haven't seen that on anyone since I was a kid and our parents bought our pant too long, for a reason. Adults haven't worn their blue jeans that way since the 1950s, although it was common in the 1930s and 1940s.

From our old thread on Levis.  Photograph taken about 1940, or maybe the very late 1930s.

And Levi 501s!

I love Levi 501s, although I normally wear Lees, or at least often do.  I like Lees better, which were a more popular brand until after World War Two, and always have. Part of that, however, is that as I've grown over a half century old, Lees just fit a bit better.  They're a bit higher wasted. And they seem somewhat inconsistent on sizes since they started making Levis overseas.  Still, Levi 501s are the first clothing item I recall, as earlier related here, going out and buying for definite stylistic reasons:
In the popular imagination for those of a certain age, the Levi 501 has always been around. That's not really true, the jeans archetype actually took a real pounding in the late 1960s, when bell bottom jeans became inexplicably popular.  But they rebounded in the mid 1970s.  I can actually recall the exact moment when I knew that you could get them again here, locally.  I didn't like bell bottoms at all, but they were the only jeans you could get.  Walking one day in the hallway of the junior high I saw another student with the straight legged 501.  I went home that day and had my parents take me downtown and buy a pair.  That's probably the one and only time I ever had my parents go right out and get clothing for the reasons of "fashion.".  But I hated those bell bottoms and the 501s looked so much better.
Levies became the victim of fashion in the 1980s.  Denim is still around in strength, but an odd thing is that save for Levis, Lees and Wranglers, all of which have been around for a long time, and those jeans in their original or near original variants, a lot of the blue jeans in circulation now days amongst men affect an appearance that is characterized by a slur I hear teenagers use all the time, but which I will not repeat here.  Perhaps they're best summed up by a slam I heard hte other day for the first day, that being "dad jeans".  They don't look, well, very manly.

Lees, Levis, and Wranglers sure do.

And dark blue Levi 501s most definitely do.

So what's going on here?

Something most certainly is.

Young hirsute men, with semi ratty sweaters and plaid flannel shirts, wearing 501s with ankle high service shoes?

I mean, these young men sort of look like me on any given Sunday (I usually don't shave on Sundays unless I'm a lector, as I don't like shaving).  What gives.

Why, that is, do they look like they're working on a the Alaska Highway in 1942?

Alcan highway crew, 1942.  This crew is clearly an Army crew, which many were, based on their dress.  Indeed, these are African American engineers in the then segregated Army.  Of note, FWIW, the engineer on the right is wearing the very high boots that the Army purchased for engineers working on this project, something that was unique to them.

Okay, maybe not the Alcan in 42, but the style they're affecting definitely recalls an earlier, and much, much, more blue collar era.  One with in eye-shot of us now, looking back into the past, so familiar to us, but one that also definitely isn't our current era.

And I don't think that's an accident.

And it isn't the first time within the last seventy years this has happened, but you can't find examples of this, before that, of which I'm aware.

In the 1950s, now thought of as the epitome of clean cut, there was something going on that angled in this direction, although imperfectly.  Blue jeans had generally been the trousers of manual and agricultural labor.  Men wearing only t-shirts were generally hard at work.  Leather jackets had a strong association with the working class (leather was obviously much cheaper then) and, due to World War Two, with pilots. Cowboy boots retained their association (as they still do) with cowboys.  All of these items came into the affectation of rebellious youth at that time.  So, at a time when American industry was still very strong, but the World War Two generation was moving rapidly towards urbanization and while collar employment, American youth was affecting a rural and industrial style, and this at the same time that their immediate elders were becoming "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit".

This continued in the 1960s.  Looked back at now styles of the 1960s and early 1970s were outlandish, but they're also a bit of a clue on how what was started in the 1950s kept on keeping on.  An easy, if not perfect, way to look at this is to view the film Easy Rider, which came out in 1969.  Quite a few of the styles depicted in the film, while 60ish, are highly rural. Broad brimmed hats, jeans recalling Spanish America, and cowboy boots are found throughout the film.  Taking another example, Jimi Hendrix, the high point of music form the 1960s, wore a style that very heavily recalled the appearance of the Californio, i.e., Caballero, of the 19th Century.

By the late 1970s and early 1980s, this style had yielded, in some youth circles, to a style based on hiking gear, which is an odd thing to consider now.  The style was so common that when I was at the University of Wyoming in the 1980s I recall seeing an Army ROTC recruiting advertisement in the student newspaper showing three cartoon students, two men and one woman, wearing down vests, jeans, and classic mountaineering boots (of the type I still have, but which we don't see much anymore, and which we called "waffle stompers") with the catchphrase "And you say you don't like uniforms?".  That this clothing style was so dominant amongst some youth that Army ROTC could use it as a recruiting platform says something.

But what does it say?

Well, to get back to theme that's occurred here quite a bit in recent months, or even in the last couple of years, I think it expresses a desire to go back.

And I think that's because people don't much like the glass and steel world they built.

When a young man, with a possible intended, is walking down 16th Street in Denver looking like he's on the way to the cook shack at a Michigan lumber camp in 1928, or on his way to the feed store in 1939, I think it's saying something, and saying it pretty loudly.

Even if he doesn't realize it.

 Reproduction Service Shoes, Reverse Upper, sported by me at work, when I no doubt should have been wearing more formal clothes.  I have these as I have really small feet and some manufacturer was stuck with this pair, as a result, making them really, really cheap.  Look for a hipster trend here soon.

1 comment:

aaronloki said...

I recently bought some Corcoran tanker boots utilizing the garrison Munson lasts and they are super comfortable and the are a flesh out leather. Nice and sturdy very well made and great looking ta boot. Pun intended.