Why brothel creepers are rad’der than you think
Wednesday 23 October 2013, 8.17am HKT
P O P C U L T U R E
SHOES are the thing that really sets off one generation from the rest of the other rodents.
Brothel creepers … a more risqué name there never was
(From my collection)
Nothing says ‘alternative’ or ‘subculture’ more than a pair of brothel creepers. They make quite a statement and the sight of them will cause people to do a double take about your tastes in things, if not sanity. Those who have a penchant for them are considered gnomes and weird by the equally weird ‘normal’ and fashion-disabled crowd.
Everybody remembers these “I’m-more-rad-than-you-could-ever-be” stacked shoes with their inch-thick soles and all manners of styling. But practically nobody (in Hong Kong anyway) knows what to actually call them, much less appreciate the rockabilly and punk-rock heritage behind them.
Twenty- and thirtysomethings today routinely misname them platforms, which are a different ballgame altogether. Online articles routinely recycle a plainly untrue story of its origins from WW2 crepe-soled combat boots.
A hint of every subculture you could name
(and those you’d rather forget)
Guys, too, can wear like this … razor underbust corset top and all
These beauts are for occasional, not daily, wearing. Wear for impact, not for comfort (which it has too, by the way).
A muted solid colour is best at bringing out the shoe’s oddball shape, that being the whole point of wearing creepers. ‘Grunge’ look works best too — carefully crafted messy hair, leather bits, tight bottoms, slack tops. The most-favoured styling today is leopard print with or without black trim — but be warned, creeper aficionados generally consider leopard print ‘camp.’ Be a rebel, but stick to the rules too.
Need instant ‘different’? Instant ‘young’? Whack on some creepers, and you’ve got the best outfit ever, instantly — even if it’s with just a tee and a boring pair of jeans.
The creeper is for the young to look young and to ‘youngify’ the young-at-heart. If wearing creepers couldn’t shave at least a couple of years off your looks, then you’re probably the no-return-no-refund kind of physical wreck anyway.
A wearable idiom
The very essence of the creeper is ‘counterculture.’ A wearable idiom meant to be seen. A meaning that’s hidden and obvious at the same time.
In our marketing-driven world where almost anything mass-produced is billed as ‘an aesthetic of individuality and expressive originality,’ the creeper at least pre-dates the media invention of ‘teenager’ or the emergence of organised youth subcultures. The creeper style is the result of a rich history of music, art and youth ideals that reflected the social shifts and anxieties of the past but fully embedded in the present.
Deep down, the creeper style is about attitude — preferably having one too. With any other shoe on, your attitude merely stinks. With a creeper on, your attitude stinks with individuality.
“Our memories of our school-years were populated, in part, with punks, skinheads, metallers, psychobillies and second-generation mods, with small groups of ageing teddy-boys thrown in for good measure, sitting around (in my case) in Lion Yard, and looking anachronistic in drape-coats, brothel-creepers and fluorescent socks (all of which, to greater or lesser degrees, were ‘borrowed’ by the punks, but re-invented in that less than subtle but stunningly effective form of bricolage [that] Dick Hebdige (1979) refers to as ‘semiotic guerrilla warfare’. Subcultural styles meant something, and although people did move from one style to another, they didn’t appear to do so on a casual, day-to-day basis. Subcultures were firmly associated with particular musical styles and tastes, and with particular forms of behaviour. You knew where you were with them and what to do — more or less — if you saw some of them coming. Skinheads, for instance, were generally unfriendly to the point of violence, and had moved a long way from the ‘hard-mods’ […] Psychobillies were just plain nuts.”
— Paul Sweetman | “Everything Is Fragmenting Beautifully: Post-subcultures and everyday life” | in Ladda Vzw, “Talkie Walkie: Jongerensubcultur, 4 believers/non-believers” (Leuven, Belgium: Uitgeverlj Acco, 2007, pages 106–107) | ISBN 90-334-6435-7
Glam-sham pussyfooters definitely need to avoid creepers at all costs — they’re anything but glamorous.
Attitude it may have, but price is another story. At around £100 (US$160) a pair, brothel creepers are investment pieces.
The creeper rapidly became fused into the staple and vibe of alternative youth fashion. Once briefly the signature of the grunge, mainstream ‘alternative’ fashion has long co-opted it — just as the Doc Martens (“DMs”) has been since its surfacing in Sixties London. Today, both are eminently wearable by anyone, regardless of age or fashion bent.
Not meant for increasing height, stupid
Gnomes wear them for ‘visual impact’ value
Still making headlines 50 years on
It is surprising that a trend from at least 50 years ago can still be making fashion headlines today.
Rather like studded clothing coming back in fashion this year, no?
No longer the footwear’s black sheep on amphetamines and barbiturates washed down with household bleach, creepers are now acceptable for all occasions and people — from supermodels to straitlaced housewives with shifty outside boyfriends, from idiot savants to your local favourite business entrepreneur or office worker siphoning off company capital and employee retirement funds. Your mother-in-law also included.
Meanwhile, it seems Americans are still playing catchup in all of this, judging from the reactions a Maryland high-schooler she got wearing creepers. Indeed, I’ve found a lot of Europeans and Americans have never heard of creepers:—
“… I have, for many years, always tried to buy Barkers shoes and my children have consistently worn Start-rite; and who has not heard of ‘brothel creepers’ — even if they know nothing of George Cox, the company which produces them.”
—Prof. David Storey of Warwick University (UK) | 2000 | Link
Be surprised. The creeper is in fact one of the 10 best gifts for teen girls, according to Parent Dish.
Brit to the core, and more
The Naked Listener’s own pair of Oxford Town™ brothel creepers
To complement drainpipe jeans with white trim … and fluorescent red socks
(From my collection)
The heavy guns in the global creeper-shoe market nowadays are all British brandnames.
- George Cox, the brand credited with inventing the modern creeper style in 1949
- Robot of Covent Garden, beloved of New Wavers and the New Romantics in the 1980s London
- Doc Martens and its associated lines Solovair and Tredair
- Grinders and Gladiator ‘bovver boy’ combat boots beloved of skinheads for National Front marches and kicking in foreigners
- Gripfast weirdo combat girly shoes favoured by punk chicks (or transvestites!) with super pale complexion, jet-black lips and NO TITS
- … and the neo-Mods’ favourite — monkey boots.
Shellys of London was a cult brand in Eighties London. Founded in 1946, Shellys was quickly seen as a fashion-forward brand with its first store opened on Carnaby Street in West End London (the shop is now long gone). It was one of the earliest retailers of creepers, platforms, winklepickers (or “goth pikes” to the young ones now), and Chelsea boots.
Personally speaking, I think Shellys today has become terribly mainstream, producing weird get-ups more suited to Lady Gaga or the cast of “Twilight” or the likes of John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier, Katherine Hamnett and Vivienne Westwood.
I guess the ability to pay rent for expensive shop space really is more rad than we presume.
Nothing like what you’ve been told
Wikipedia’s editors clearly have never worn anything other than flipflops.
No offence, Wikipedia, but this is sheer nonsense and fiction:—
“They found their beginnings in the years following World War II, as soldiers based in the deserts in North Africa wore suede boots with hard-wearing crepe rubber soles because of the climate and environment. Having left the army, many of these ex-soldiers found their way to the nightspots of London wearing the same crepe-soled shoes and these became known as ‘brothel creepers’.”
— Wikipedia | Last updated 19 SEP 2013 at 08.30 | Link
That sad, misinformed, misled, misguided, misplaced, misstated, misdirected (and badly edited) tosh has been recycled and replicated to death in all sorts of articles practically everywhere online.
Either the editors are clueless about creepers in general, or they weren’t even born in the Seventies or Eighties — or, more likely, taken on a royal ride with invented information. Try talking to real, live Teddy Boys, I suppose.
A fulsome Grenson’s creepers for Fall 2013
The original brothel creepers of prewar days
looked very much like these, minus the suede
JUST READ THE SMACKDOWNS IN MY SIDEBAR THAT FOLLOWS THIS POST.
AN ISLAND WITH MANY ISLANDS INSIDE
One of the best things about growing up in London during the 1970s and ’80s was the sheer number of subcultures you run into in daily life, plus the regular government-issued normal folk.
1950s: Ready, steady, go, Teddy, GO!
The brothel creeper is still the trademark of the Teddy Boys subculture of 1950s Britain, along with their street-cred rebel uniform—
‘Stovepipe’ (drainpipe) trousers
Mock frock coats
Drape jackets with original black velvet collars
White only shirt
Flat-bottomed Slim Jim knitted (not woven) silk neckties
Fitted waistcoats (or ‘vests’ to our American cousins)
Bulgey hairstyles (the pompadour ‘quiff’) smothered in Brylcreem and Brilliantine
Oxford shoes (originally)
Constant smoking to look cool
… and the Ford Zephyr motorcar
Original 1950s Teddy Boy brothel creepers
Made in England, red suede vamp, black leather trim,
proper black crepe rubber soles
(Photo from my collection)
In the 1950s, the main creeper brands were Denson, Ladd’s, Eaton and George Cox — all venerable British firms that are STILL making this stuff alongside more mainstream shoe lines.
“As an extreme look[,] it is remembered and all conventional looks of the day tend to be overlooked. It is worth remembering that when costume history documents a look[,] it is almost [al]ways in retrospect and hones in on the final extremes of any look.”
— patt’s blog | Link
Interestingly, the first murder in the UK that involved Teddy Boy styled clothing was the Clapham Common Murder of 1953.
Original George Cox brothel creepers are now so rare
that even a worn pair can fetch astronomical prices
(Photo from my collection)
The last time I actually saw authentic Teddy Boys in the flesh was in a London pub in 1983 or 1984. Four or five damn old men, wrinkled skin and wrinkled garb, fallen teeth and fallen spirits, quietly quaffing their pint, swinging stiffly to the beats coming from an ageing corner jukebox that cost 25p a pop. Now that’s dedication to a cause.
The rockabilly subculture of the 1960s also took to wearing brothel creepers, this time in duotone (usually black and white but sometimes in two other colours).
Rockabilly — for those ‘musical’ types in Asia (outside of Japan) who think they know (but don’t) — is a mixture of rock ’n’ roll, country and western, R&B, swing and boogie-woogie.
Rockabilly telltale signs (musically speaking) are lots of bass and energy, and (fashion-wise) pompadour hairstyles, bolo ties (the string and silver pendant around a cowboy’s neck) and creepers.
Yet for those who still actually remember the Sixties without the aid of the Interwebz or sociologically themed picture books, it was the time of—
The era of the Mods more than anything else
Tight two-piece suits with crotch-restraining trousers
Miniskirts on rail-thin chicks who wear black knickers
Leggings or legging-like slacks on chicks who don’t wear knickers
Silver-coloured ‘spacey’ crap on people who can’t even figure out the light switch
Winklepicker shoes (or ankle boot versions of it with zippered sides)
Equestrian-flavoured jodhpur boots or Chelsea boots
Mophead hairdo of pre-hippie Beatles
John Steed and Emma Peel-my-balls-dry from “The Avengers” (1961–69)
Super upper-class warble
Gawdon Bennet! It’s Cockney English, innit? Okai?
— all best seen in the movie “Blow-Up” (1966) and others from that time.
Mary Quant IS STILL living and STILL the name to drop when asked who was the instrumental figure in Sixties youth fashion movements.
Mods from ‘Quadrophenia’
Please don’t call them ‘bikers’ because they ride only Vespa scooters and mopeds
Then everybody went to ’Nam for their filial and dutiful tour of baby-killing, jungle-napalming, peace-lovin’, acid-trippin’, hearts-and-minds VC Charlie commie-bustin’ — and everything just went Sunflower Starlight Cosmic Karma Transcendental Lovepeace hippie style.
The Age of ‘Camp’
Supersonic comeback for the creeper in the 1970s!
Teddy Boys along King’s Road, London, 1978
Not real Teddy Boys anymore — but they knew how to kick your teeth in
Photo by Howard Grey (via Handbag Fairy Blog)
The creeper was popular with psychobillies, greasers, goths, punk rockers, the New Wave, the New Romantics and the ska crowd — more or less as a counterpunch to the skinhead subculture created by Malcolm McLaren.
For more pictures from Howard Grey, visit his site: http://www.howardgrey.com/archive/.
Styles straight from the laughing lips of the Seventies, a.k.a. The Lost Decade
Styling changed. More (and weirder) styles kept coming out — just like the music and youth subcultures spraying out in dozens of directions.
For much of the ’70s (and ’80s as well), Robot of 37 Floral Street, Covent Garden, London WC2 was THE shop for creepers. A creeper shoe was meaningless unless it’s a Robot.
‘Over the top’ was the name of the game (the leopard print being the famous example) — but some just went downscale spastic. For instance, the 1971 “Joke” model by Danish shoemaker Ecco:—
“It’s an orthopedic-looking shoe that you might have seen your grandparents wearing. Apparently every little kid in Denmark grew up wearing them, too.”
— Fashionista | March 2011 | Link
While the youth in the UK and Europe were carving out cultural beachheads for themselves, America seemed lost at sea:—
“In the seventies, youth culture waved the white flag. Alternative culture still existed, but it retreated from the mainstream until it was almost powerless. […] By mid-decade […] drugs and long hair were no longer a form of protest. Instead, they became a fashion accessory and a means of escaping reality.”
— “1970’s Decade Overview” | American Hit Network | Link
The Alaska VI model by Robot of Covent Garden, London
Made in England, white woven-style fronts,
perfect with Brylcreemed DA’s, drapes, drainpipes and roll-ups…
(Photo from my collection)
Vivienne Westwood was largely responsible for warping the original Teddy Boy look when she started producing glam-rock versions of it in 1971 for Malcolm McLaren‘s shop Let It Rock at 430 King’s Road, Fulham, London SW1.
Paradoxically, McLaren and Westwood were also the pair most responsible for bringing about the non-skinhead subcultures in the UK. Beat that for creativity.
But the Seventies was out and out Disco Era. Those were the days of—
Funky-coloured gaberdine suits with rolled lapels
Flares with white belts
Polyester casual or safari suits in sky blue
Lacrosse polo shirts
Mary Quant makeup
Girard Perregaux wristwatches
John Player Special logos on racecars
Doc Martens arising
“Who’s the motherf—” Shaft
Military surplus clothing
Money off the gold and silver standards
Height of the Cultural Revolution in China
Cheap, badly made products from Japan
… and the goddamn oil crisis
So wearing creepers in the ’70s really was making a ‘statement.’
The world is not enough
The Greedy Eighties (a.k.a. the Decade of Decadence) was when most things in life (good and bad) got bastardised and FUBAR’ised.
Can’t decide if the trousers or the shoes are more OTT
Might have been better just to name it the Ectoplasmic Eighties, because it was so UN-effing-REAL.
In those days, anybody in the UK who had more than £1.25 in the pocket and not on the dole wanted—
To be a New Yorker
Failing that, an American
Failing that too, a Sloane Ranger with green Hunter wellies (now made in China)
A double-barrelled surname
For English people, an overplummed upper-class English accent
Failing those, F.I.L.T.H. (“Failed in London, Try Hongkong”)
Shellys creepers with Doc Martens soles,
made in London, very rare, 1980s
(Photo from my collection)
If you’re none of the above in Eighties UK, then you’re—
— a punk
— or a skinhead
— or a Human League fan
— or a militant Labourite in a raincoat with round Ulster sleeves
— or a CND supporter wearing an anorak and socks with sandals
— or a Thatcherite Tory ‘drip’
— or a Hooray Henry/Henrietta in town in green wellies
— or some twerp with that thing called a Walkman that you wank to nightly, with a technique developed from constantly rewinding the cassette with a pencil
Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” was thought to be making a profound statement (not sure what, though) and “The Hunger” was a lame-arsed gay-shite vampire movie (until you now saw “Twilight).
By the Eighties, underground fashion wasn’t a safe harbour anymore to park your yi-yi-ass personal drama or constantly altering ‘altered states.’ Subculture garments were hitting high-street mainstream now in a big way.
Steel-toecapped boots were coming to the fore. Creepers were now sporting a wide variety of finishes and soles. The Underground brand of London started trading in the 1980s and ever since then has produced many iconic pieces of anarchy-flavoured footwear. All of the old favourites became ‘altered’ in the Eighties.
The punk-rock combat dolly-molly shoe that first appeared in the ’80s
For ugly hags or svelte beauties, there being no in-betweens
Bottom line, though, the Eighties were really the era of the Doc Martens.
And it’s been DMs from here on out, hasn’t it?
That’s because nobody under 39 years old seems to even know what the eff are brogues, clogs, creepers, pixie boots, ropers, cryospheres (the big round sunglasses typically associated with hippies), Ra-Ra skirts, or literally hundreds of other cool stuff of subcultures. Everybody’s wearing trainers and nobody knows what the hell plimsolls are.
If Doc Martens wasn’t the signature of the Egregious Eighties, then surely studded clothing says it more than anything else.
The real common denominator
The only fashionably lowest common denominator of all the subcultures was that nobody had money — they’re all skint! Practically all of them were on the UB40 (the dole form number in the UK, not the music band).
The bunch that didn’t change
The classic rock crowd are the only ones who remained pretty consistent with their ‘biker’ style. Leather biker jackets. Tight, low-cut jeans. Biker or cowboy boots. Long hair, facial hair. And badass demeanour that fizzled in the face of Cockney-speaking coppers wearing black Doc Martens.
Lost, or just (a)pathetic?
Chicks in Hong Kong
Left-winger wearing all-black brothel creepers … and looking the part
Right-winger wearing Princess Diana/Sloane Ranger flats … looking the part too
Hong Kong people have a particularly warped idea and/or understanding of the brothel creeper — or, indeed, ANY kind of subculture fashion.
Once in a while, as the picture above shows, you too could bump into something (or some THING) that looks the part … like once a year or less.
The idea — the principle, the rationale — of ‘unity’ of a fashion look seems most lost on us Hongkongers, whatever the age.
Come to my city — feel the exhilaration of seeing a person wearing:—
Brothel creepers with…
… Evisu jeans with Japanese goldfish embroidery on the bum pockets
… studded Moschino belt in RED
… Christian Dior handbag (in fuchsia!) or a Prada not in house black
… Hugo Boss or Karl Lagerfeld jacket (jeez…)
… Hermés foulard silk scarf
… and an H&M faux-fur cap
And you thought hippies were on bad motherfathering acid, man.
All photos by me unless indicated differently.
© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2013. (B13352)