Every generation has its beat – the rhythm of the time – and with it an era defining dance craze.
From the days of dancehall to the newly emerging rock ‘n’ roll of the 1950s, and from 1960s Beatles Britpop to1970s Northern Soul and beyond.
Here we take a look at the music that ruled the airwaves, the dance styles of the times and the mens shoes that completed the look.
1930s & 1940s: Dance hall brogues
“Can’t sing. Can’t act. Slightly balding. Can dance a little.” That’s what one studio exec’s opinion of Fred Astaire’s screen test. But the dancing actor went on to dominate the silver screen during the 1930s and 40s, starring in movies like Top Hat, Swing Time and Holiday Inn. His was a performance that was emulated weekly at dance halls across the Western World – the style, tap and ballroom.
To complete the look, patent leather brogues were the order of the day, but though Astaire wore them for film work, his shoes of choice were actually dark brown suede. Not what you’d expect, but then neither were the silk scarves he used to hold his trousers up!
1950s: Teddy boy creepers
Newly demobbed servicemen returning from North Africa were known in red light districts by the swish of their rubber soled desert boots. During the 1950s those boots became rubber soled ‘brothel creepers’; bright, garish footwear synonymous with the teddyboy subculture.
The teddy boy’s Edwardian look was reminiscent of the American ‘zoot suit’, the bright, dandyish look provoked by a desire to cast off the austerity of wartime and embrace the new fangled rock ‘n’ roll music. But the teddy’s reputation was anything but cuddly. In 1953, a Teddy Boy gang murdered a teenager after a fight that started on Clapham common. Unsurprisingly, the tabloids leapt on the story – tarnishing forever what was largely a harmless youth fad.
1960s: Rock ‘n’ roll Chelsea boots
In the USA, they called it the ‘British Invasion’; it was started by Liverpool’s Fab Four, the Beatles. When the American rock ‘n’ roll blues sound swept the UK, homegrown imitations began to spring up; British bands who put their own spin on the new music. These UK bands re-exported their sound to America. At their peak, bands like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Cream, Yardbirds and many more were huge in the US. In April of 1964, songs by the Beatles occupied the entire top five of the Billboard Hot 100, an achievement that’s never been equalled.
Rock ‘n’ roll is a dance style in its own right. Highly athletic and acrobatic, think flips, throws, jumps and twirls. The look of the time aped the Beatles’ sharp suits and thin ties. But when it came to footwear, dancers needed something supportive with a sole that combined slip with grip – and of course it had to look snappy too. The boys from Liverpool wore Chelsea boots by Anello and Davide.
Get a dancing style for yourself!
1970s: Northern Soul solatio shoes
The Twisted Wheel in Manchester, the Catacombs in Wolverhampton and the iconic Wigan Casino were among the venues that spawned an underground music and dance craze that swept the North of England, Wales and Scotland from the late sixties, and has never really gone away. We’re talking Northern Soul.
The beats were mid sixties black American soul. Up tempo, heavy rhythms, characterised the sound and bands were often regional acts from the US signed by local labels like Ric Tic and Golden World Records. Northern soul dancing is fast, slick and athletic, with spins, karate kicks and backdrops. Solatio shoes were top choices for men who kept the faith.
1980s: Punk Doc Martens
Rebellious, hard edged and fast, punk was a major transatlantic cultural phenomenon that gave rise to iconic British bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned. And in America it spawned the Ramones and of course who could forget role of the ‘Godfather’ of Punk, Iggy Pop himself.
When the Sex Pistols released God Save the Queen, in 1977, it was banned by both the BBC and Independent Broadcasting Authority. It song still peaked at number two in the UK singles chart, but many thought the only reason it didn’t make number one was that the chart had been rigged by the authorities. Anti authoritarian and wild by nature, if you’re dancing to punk, anything goes – but you’ll probably be wearing Doc Martens