How the Chelsea Boot Ditched Its Royal Roots for Rock ’n Roll
The day was February 9, 1964. Four shaggy-haired twentysomethings dressed in suits and Chelsea boots were about to take the stage on The Ed Sullivan Show and change rock history forever with the opening chords of “All My Loving.” That’s right—it was the Beatles.
“It was just such an explosion, culturally,” says Tim Hibbs, a Nashville-based rock historian who has worked for Gibson Guitars and the Country Music Hall of Fame. “Hairstyles, everything started to shift at that moment. Everything was there, and the Beatles were the spark that turned that whole thing.”
The Beatles put the Chelsea boot on the map. When Beatles manager Brian Epstein had to give the band a makeover (they were previously living the rock lifestyle in Hamburg, Germany), he turned to the Chelsea district of London, rife with affluent fashion houses and home to its namesake boot. After Sullivan, the shoe became so indelibly linked to the band that it was colloquially called the “Beatle boot.”
But step back another 100+ years, and the rockstar footwear had a completely different image. To begin with, the Chelsea boot was pretty highbrow. Picture Queen Victoria in a billowing gown, gracefully horseback riding over the expansive grounds of Buckingham Palace in 19th-century Great Britain. The Chelsea boot was originally created in 1851 so that equestrians—such as the queen herself—could wear boots without getting their laces tangled in the stirrups.
You see, any history of the Chelsea boot has two obligations: its stodgy roots in British aristocracy (yawn) and the Beatles (oh, yes). If it weren’t for the former, the latter wouldn’t have worn them. But if it weren’t for the latter, you’d never hear of them.
Since the ‘60s, the Chelsea boot often resurged in the music scene by way of bands like the Strokes and the White Stripes. “An obvious guy for me is Jack White [of the White Stripes],” says Hibbs, “a guy who’s always had a very precise idea of not only how he wants his music to sound but how he wants to present himself.” Even Kanye West is a fan of the Chelsea boot.
Today, you can find them in many forms, from sharp handmade Italian boots to rugged, hardworking Blunnies. In the past 168 years, the Chelsea boot has proven itself to be remarkably adaptable, and if its track record is any indication, it’ll be in style for another century at least.
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