Wednesday, 3 November 2010


Something very interesting has been happening in London recently...the stranglehold of the 80s revival seems to be easing and a more 90s look seems to be coming into the shops and street. This is partly refreshing after a decade of ra ra skirts and flouro (as long as satin and chenille don't come back), but also deeply terrifying for someone like me who wore this stuff first time round. This is what it feels like to not be the youth of today anymore...

I feel very lucky to have gone through my teens in the Nineties. It was a low maintenance decade where fashion and comfort were not mutually exclusive and apart from the Ally McBeal effect toward the end of the decade when actresses on American TV seemed to shrink before our eyes, I found it to be less filled with pressure about looks and appearance than popular culture seems to be today. The desirable size was a 'perfect ten' rather than the size six that all famous females seem to have to be this days (yes, I'm looking at you Cheryl Cole and Katie Price.) Strappy dresses weren't accessorised with perfectly perky fake boobs, but short sleeved tee-shirts. Maxi skirts and baggy trousers were pratically
de rigeur. Heroin chic was only really seen in the edgier magazines that we just couldn't afford each month. Foot wear was practical, bordering on the stout. It was a great time to dress around an ever changing body yet still being trendy and deliciously warm, living somewhere like Belfast.

I think it might be the footwear I loved the most. Like many girls who came of age in the late 90s, the heels of Sex and The City seemed utterly magical in comparison to the clumpy numbers we had been wearing and with the fickleness of youth, I abandoned my Converse One Stars, army boots and Doc Martens in a flash and spent the next few years tottering round in a pair of Patrick Cox's or a pair of wedges so precipitous you could have developed vertigo wearing them. I loved the extra height, but they never held my heart the same way as my DMs did...

Everyone seemed to have a pair of Doc Martens when I was a teenager. Thanks to grunge, they had lost their racist skinheads connotations in most part and now become associated with the slouchy fashions of the day. Both my best friends had a pair and I begged my parents every Christmas, birthday and new school year for a pair of proper boots to replace my DM shoes that had been bought for school, but got worn all the time. They weren't keen on the idea, partly because they didn't see them as terribly ladylike and partly because they were bloody expensive, but just before my 15th birthday, my cajoling and coaxing paid off and my mum took me to Moore's Shoes on the Lisburn Road to get a pair of boots.

Moore's was the place to buy DMs in Belfast. It had been selling them for years to coppers and postman and builders, but had discovered a whole new clientele since the boots had become the footwear must-have amongst the youth. They stocked every kind you could imagine and it was here that I found the pair that became my constant companion for the next 3 or 4 years. Aware that I was following the crowd to a certain extent, I wanted something just a little bit different to everyone else's black 8 holes with yellow stitching and I found them amongst the piles of boxes.

My eye was drawn to a pair of black 9 hole boots*. Slightly higher on the ankle, they didn't gape the same way as the 8 holes did. They had a steel bump toe and less noticeable stitching than the standard boot and to me they looked cuter and more feminine. With beseeching eyes on her, my mother paid up and I couldn't wait to wear them in.

But within about ten minutes I couldn't wait to take them off again. While the Airwair soles bounced like I was walking on clouds serenaded by angels as I went, the sturdy leather was less malleable and everything seemed to rub, chafe and refuse to bend in a way that didn't cause my feet to either hurt or go numb. Other Doc wearers sympathised and I was immensely grateful that my mother had put her foot down about 12 or 14 hole pairs. But having begged for the boots for so long, I refused to be defeated by the unwieldy leather and I soldiered on til they either stopped hurting or I simply didn't notice it anymore.

I wore those boots probably every single day for the next 3 years, even taking them to Boston in the summer heat. I wore them with everything from patchwork tie dye dungarees to layered leggings and hotpants with striped tights. On the odd occasion that I was going to a gig or social event after school, I wore them with my woolly school socks folded over them to save carrying an extra bag. I thought I was the bee's knees with bells on when I was wearing those boots, even though recently unearthed photographic evidence suggests otherwise.

I also added a pair of yellow eight holes to my collection, but they made me look a bit like a kids' TV presenter dressing up as a wasp so I never really wore them that much, preferring my 9 holes to everything else. It was a sad day when I realised that the already notoriously slippy soles had worn down to a nubbin and were becoming positively life threatening in the Belfast rain. It was time to replace them, but I think it says a lot that I honestly cannot for the life of me remember if I did this with another pair of DMs or whether this was the time that I bought a pair of steel toed capped army style boots instead. Turns out that although I'd never seen Tank Girl, she was firmly my footwear icon!

Despite having retired them from everyday use, I couldn't quit my 9 holes completely and decided to give them a new lease of life by spraying them silver with car paint and adding some rather natty red tartan laces and wearing them on special occasions that needed a bit of glitz and glamour rather than army chic. In a fit of kindness I now regret deeply, I gave the now silver 9 holes to my then best friend on her 18th birthday. She had coveted them for years and was at the time becoming frighteningly ill with anorexia. Not quite understanding how insidious and powerful this illness was, I was desperate to show my support and try and help her, but not knowing what to say, I conveyed it by giving her probably my favourite things in the world instead.

The friendship didn't survive the severity of her anorexia and the change in circumstances in my life when I also fell seriously ill a few months later. I have no idea what happened to the boots and while I don't regret expressing my feelings to my friend as I did, I do regret that the boots came to be associated with such an emotionally painful time in my life that I find it hard to look back on the years that I did wear them all time and loved them without a reminder of less happy times. It may seem strange to have such feelings about a pair of boots, but they were such a constant presence in my adolescence that it's impossible to think about that time without them.

In all honesty, I haven't thought about those boots that much for years until the recent revival of Docs that seem to be hitting London's streets, in part thanks to their 50th anniversary. Suddenly lovely young girls have been appearing wearing pairs of DMs I could only have dreamed of in 1993. Seeing a pair of white patent numbers with skinny dark jeans on the Tube a few weeks ago brought back a wave of nostalgia (and envy) like no other. Since I remember the grunge trend first time round, I guess that makes me too old to try it again this time, but the sulky teenager in me covets a pair of those white boots and makes me bitterly regret not holding onto any of my clumpy steel toe capped boots from the 90s. I guess I'll just have to pin my hopes on the neoprene soled Swear boots favoured by the Spice Girls coming back into fashion...because I've still got those!

*These boots were rare even then and I cannot find any images of them now even in family photographs. I'm starting to think the fairies brought them.

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