Those boots weren’t made for walkin’: Boots, material culture and Georgian masculinities.

Those boots weren’t made for walkin’: Boots, material culture and Georgian masculinities.

Written by Dr. Graham Lampard

Our very own Dr. Graham Lampard attended a lecture by Matthew McCormack at the University of Northampton. Here he reflects upon the lecture, offering insight into the objects presented and thoughts on the topic.

This week I attended a very interesting lecture by Matthew McCormack, Associate Professor of History at the University of Northampton. He gave a lecture on footwear in the long 18th Century, and used three of the National Leather Collection’s boots as physical examples.

L-R: 758-59 – Wellington long boots, 1261-65 – box-calf boots, 284-53 – Trooper’s boot.

He said that writings on footwear tend to emphasise a fundamental division between those made for men and women: men’s are plain, sturdy and functional, such as the trooper’s boots in the collection (two, but not a pair), English mid 1700s [Ref 284-53]. Women’s, however, are decorative, flimsy and impractical. Of all male footwear, boots are typically the plainest, sturdiest and most functional of all. They are often substantial in construction, offering support to the foot and lower leg, and protecting them against the elements or foreign objects, enabling the wearer to carry out practical tasks.

Images from Matthew McCormack’s lecture at the University of Northampton.

In the eighteenth century boots were emphatically outdoor wear, and scholars have noted their rustic and unrefined image. The talk re-evaluated the male boot of the long eighteenth century, emphasising its complex symbolic associations and its significance for the gendered lives of men. Boots were associated with equestrianism, social status, such as the single boot in black box-calf with brown, turn down top, which was probably made in 1808 and marked Peal 34/192/08 [Ref 1261-65]; and the military, such as the pair of men’s ‘Wellington’ long boots of black glazed goatskin, lined for about 4” down with green roan leather which is carried over the top edge to the front for about 1”; about 1800 [Ref 758-59]. He suggested they were key markers of gender, class and national identity – the Duke of Wellington, for instance. Furthermore, the lecturer talked about boots as material objects and what this told us about their use and the impact that they had upon the bodies of their wearers, again comparing 284-53 with 758-59. Based on research in three key shoe archives, the paper used boots to think about Georgian notions of masculinity, the body and the self.

Further lecture dates in the series can be found here.

These boots are just a few examples of the countless treasures in the National Leather Collection. To learn more about the collection, please visit our website. All support is greatly appreciated, so find out how you can get involved by visiting our support page.