My first experience with combat boots was a bit like Mia from The Princess Diaries. The teenage years are cumbersome in and of themselves, but the day I wore combat boots to school I was on a whole new level of awkward.
My boots were black hand-me-down Clarks, complete with eyelets and hooks. My dad has a particular sentiment for that type of shoe, and he finally convinced me that Clarks are what quality is made of. For a whole six months, I stuck with the hefty laces and the bulky features until I decided wearing black flats to school was not just more socially acceptable, but also faster to put on.
And so I was surprised that, several years later, one of my first splurges on a clothing article was a pair of leather, lace-up boots with thick soles and structure. I found them in the men’s section of a store in New York (50% discount) during my first Thanksgiving as a freshman in college. A friend said they were too masculine for me, but I packed the boots and brought them to the counter, welcoming the somewhat androgynous look.
But it is not just me who is embracing this trend. Laced-up boots inspired by the military look have adorned storefronts for quite a while, from the imitation leather ones that falter after five days of Lookout Mountain fog, the smooth, leathery ones that somehow age well, to the edgy, shiny Dr. Martens in all kinds of colors and patterns. While the trends come and go, the combat boot has been around since before it became a fashion statement.
According to Examiner.com, combat boots originated from Assyrian foot soldiers who needed stable and strong footing. The Roman Empire was also into these strong boots. Theirs were called “Hobnail Combat Boots.” Hobnails, or small metal nails, studded the soles of these sturdy boots, giving an extra grip on soil, ice, mud and snow. Combat boots were worn throughout World War I and II, becoming an essential part of, well, combat.
During World War I, General John Pershing approved an improvement on the footwear. The previous shoes’ stiffness and “un-breathability” caused necrosis as soldiers fought in wet trenches. Thankfully for the soldiers (and for those of us who wear boots day-in and day-out), Pershing approved for thicker leather, soles, and waterproof toe boxes.
The “Pershing Boot” became an American classic. It became a staple for “good honest working-class men—postmen, factory workers and the like,” according to Sophia Stuart, writing for Huffington Post Women. Andrew Burmon in “How WWI Changed Men’s Style Forever” said, “We go to work in shoes designed to go to war.”
It’s the shoe you’d probably find in your grandfather’s attic and your brother’s wardrobe—or your sister’s wardrobe, for that matter. Because the evolution went even further: The shiny Doc Martens are now part of a counterculture, signifying flair, freedom, and youth rebellion. The less-bulky laced-up boots add an air of practicality to the floral dress. Clunky combat boots with eyelets and school uniforms, though, will forever remind me of middle-school disaster.
Stylish or practical, counter-cultural or nerdy, the combat boot continues to evolve. This classic and functional shoe does not seem to be leaving us just yet. Maybe I should tell my middle school best friends I was only being fashion-forward.