What color are those brown boots?

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What color are those brown boots?

Post by Pat Holscher » Wed Feb 26, 2003 10:55 am

If U.S. Army boots, prior to the change to black boots after WWII, are russet, what color were English boots? The British Army did wear brown, not black, riding boots in the 20th Century prior to WWII did it not?

And what color are those RCMP Stratcona boots? They aren't russet, or do not appear to be.

Indeed, even in the US Army I wonder if this is another area where there was a lack of uniformity. Black boots are going to be black, but russet boots will not necessarily all be the same color, will they?

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Post by Joseph Sullivan » Wed Feb 26, 2003 11:05 am

Russet boots are going to fall into a range of tan and brown and reddish brown, depending on age and leather. Remember that some used real cordovan, which is distinctly reddish.

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Post by Ron Smith » Wed Feb 26, 2003 11:21 am

Pat,
I can not cite all the technical aspects of tanning and the results of various dyes, and I don' think it has any real relavancy to the question, at least not in getting into serious debate about that now.

Although, the type of hide, the tanning process and the amount and type of dye will make a vast difference. As with the uniforms, there was no absolute uniformity. There was regs regarding the basic format but that is about all that was enforced, and that could have been loosley interpreted. Many of the boots made for the brown shoe Army were also Cordovan, that is enlisted and officer.

If Dehner (Titzler) made them from waxed calf, it would look very different than a pair by Luchesse made from local matured hides. Hollicks in College Station made some very nice specimens and they are decidedly different than some made by Dehner, although Hollicks is now a maker for Dehner.

No two hides will ever dye the same even when dyed in the same vat, especially if they are anolin dyed and/or vegetable tanned. Strathconas are Russett, but have also been noted in the boot industry as brown.

Russett is a shade and nothing more, as in all the OD uniforms. Add in effects by UV rays, moisture variances, and chemical reactions, it is impossible to stay uniform.

The company that makes the boots I sell has been making military boots for many years, and we make a Russett riding boot in several styles. No two pair are alike in color. There is always a variant in the shade.

In my opinion it has become a common way of thinking that the color of an item we see today means that "all" military items were of the same appearance and construction. Think of the variations in a Springfield made M1 and a model by Singer. Same weapon, and interchangeable but still different. Russet is a shade in this application as is dirt is all brown.

Regards,
Ron

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Post by kris » Wed Feb 26, 2003 11:22 am

Boot color would also vary based on the polishing technique. Dehner still makes custom boots on the Officer's pattern and the boots tend to be a nice warm brown, much like the '04 McClellens get after years of use. We use a lot of brown leather items and one of the first things done is to polish or treat them so as they darken, that way one does not look like a "newby". Cordovan, or horse hide, can range in toned from reddish to a warmer dark mahogany color, but darken with age.

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Post by Pat Holscher » Wed Feb 26, 2003 12:44 pm

Just to demonstrate my complete ignorance on certain topics (which comes as no surprise to any frequent participant here) I've always thought it a bit odd that black riding boots so predominate in the English disciplines. I'm sure there is a reason for it, but the brown boots, with so much individuality, and a pleasing warm shade, look better to me. Perhaps it is a matter of formality.

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Post by Kelton Oliver » Wed Feb 26, 2003 12:54 pm

It has also always seemed odd to me that in the English disciplines (except dressage) the boots, belts, and other leather objects on the rider are typically black while the saddles, bridles, and other leather objects on the horse are typically brown. Perhaps it's just my "lifer" gene showing through, but that has always struck a discordant note with me.

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Post by Jim Ottevaere » Wed Feb 26, 2003 2:14 pm

When I was drafted in 1961, many recruits were still being issued brown combat boots and low quarter shoes. Those unlucky enough to be issued these were required to dye them black, to match the regulations. I recall that it was almost impossible to get the boots to hold the black dye and polish for any length of time. Especially during the rigors of basic training.

Looking back, I think that these brown boots were manufactured from chrome tanned leather as was/is nearly all footwear today. One of the characteristics of chrome tanning is that there is only one chance to dye the leather. That is before it has dried completely from the tanning process. That is why garment, shoe and upolstery leathers, most all of which are chrome tanned are "painted" or "coated" and not dyed, after the tanning process is completed. This also permits exact color matching for mass produced products, like shoes, furniture, clothing and auto seats.

I have several pairs of bespoke polo and riding boots (Ron has seen some of these) and as high quality as these boots are they are made from chrome tanned leather, lined with kid or calf. I think that this is the case with most riding boots today. Although I'm sure one could order boots made from veg tanned leather, it seems not a wise choice, except for some uppers. Chrome tanned leather is more water resistant will wear longer and will not crack in the way that veg tanned leather will.

In my collection I have more than forty pairs of cavalry boots from the 1860s to 1940s many of them contactor marked. I have not checked these, but it would be intersting to see when chrome tanned leather entered into use for cavalry boots and shoes. It would, of course, be sometime after 1900, since chrome tanning was not invented until the late 1890s.

Also terms like "Genuine Cowhide" "Top Grain" and "Oil Tanned" can be either veg tanned or chrome tanned. These terms and several others that were once specific to processes in the tanning and leather industry have been usurped by the marketeers and are no longer ligitimate descriptions of the true character or processing of the leather.

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Post by Tim Roth » Wed Feb 26, 2003 2:38 pm

In that regard, I recently reviewed some samples of Shell Cordovan (or "Burgundy Gold" as I refer to it when the bill comes!)

This was from a tanner other than Horween's and it had a surface sprayed finish which when subjected to hot water did not hold up at all. I found it totally unusable.

With the exit from this country of the shoe manufacturers, I wonder if the bespoke boot makers will still be able to aquire decent product.

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Post by Jim Ottevaere » Wed Feb 26, 2003 6:05 pm

Tim,

I would think that the bespoke boot makers would likely stick to dyed vs. coated chrome tanned leather, while the mass producers would opt for the cheaper coated material. At least that is my experience.

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Post by Ron Smith » Wed Feb 26, 2003 7:55 pm

<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"><i>Originally posted by Kelton Oliver</i>
<br />It has also always seemed odd to me that in the English disciplines (except dressage) the boots, belts, and other leather objects on the rider are typically black while the saddles, bridles, and other leather objects on the horse are typically brown. Perhaps it's just my "lifer" gene showing through, but that has always struck a discordant note with me.
<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"></blockquote id="quote"></font id="quote">

The observations I offer are based on what I have seen and what industry information/stats offer. There is no set rule for leather color on boots and tack in the English disciplines except for Dressage which requires black boots. Uniformed personnel of the Armed Forces and Law Enforcement are exempt from this rule.

In most parts of the US the colors of saddles are as follows:
3 Day: Dressage-Black Stadium & Cross Country-Browns, Tans, & Havana
Hunter-Jumper & Show Jumping: Honey, Tan & Light Brown,some Havana
Breed Riders: SAA
Dressage:Primarily black

Now if you ride in the US and train in one of the Jumping disciplines with a German, Austrian or Belgian coach you will most likely ride in a black saddle. This is not set in stone or written in some book. But 90% of the barns I do fittings in are run this way. Also in Europe and at higher level Dressage barns (US & abroad) it is quite common to see riders on Brown, Havana other similar color saddles.

Boots is an interesting proposition; many of the boots you see on International riders that look black on a screen are in actuality dark brown in many disciplines. But just as many if not more are black.

Jim brought up a good point about boot leather. Generally the higher quality boots are of veg. tan leather and the low end are of chrome tanned leather. The same can be said of English saddles.

Military adaptations of leather color is based more on "military fashion" than anything from what I can determine. The Brits (officers) were using black field boots in the late 1890's as a matter of referance.

As I wrote, this is not set in stone and you might see some variances where you are, but overall this seems to be the way it is from "my" observations.

Regards,
Ron Smith

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Post by elcutachero » Thu Feb 27, 2003 12:07 am

I was in the brown shoe Army for one month Aug 1956. Enough of the common sizes had been run out so that for service wide uniformity all had to dye their shoes. If one took a new pair then it could be directly dyed black with a concoction named Dyanshine. Then a liberal application of elbow grease, polish, and spit would result in a mirror finish on the toes and heel counters. As the vamp flexes, it can not be spit shined. The shoes worn in the last twenty years are made of Corfam synthetic and thus the spit shines of the sixties and earlier, are a thing of the past.
Of course, none of this discussion relates to saddlery. I do not believe tack was ever treated except with saddle soap and neatafoot oil, as polish would stain the clothes. Correct me if I am wrong.
But the conversion of existing boots polished many times was a much more difficult task. One of the fetishes of the fifties army was the "spit shined" boot with a mirror finish.
Prior to the change to black boots which took place Oct 1, 1958 to coincide with the issue of one and one OD and green winter service uniform and the wearing of black belts and green caps with the khakis, the individual's preference usually ruled.
To start, the reddish russet issue color which had been regulation since 1904 was not available in any commercial polish. The most popular after WWII was Kiwi, brought back by vets from the Pacific, along with Shinola, an American brand, which had been more common in WWII and before. The only way to keep a russet shoe from darkening was to use neutral, a colorless polish, and once the leather was broken by scratches in use, that use became no longer viable. The closest commercial shade was ox blood which was deeper in tone, next was mahogany, and others mixed black with either of them. I preferred the darker mahogany to oxblood.
When the time came to dye the boots, the only way to get an even finish was to get down to raw leather and start over. This meant scrubbing with some sort of sink cleaner, with bleach in it. Next the fuzz was removed by pouring lighter fluid on the boots and lighting it. If you have ever had an over filled Zippo go off in your hand you know that the flash will not burn you. We also nipped off Irish pennants on our knakis with matches but that is another story. [:I] Then restoring the finish by boning with a bone to lay the grain. Then you rubbed it down with saddle soap and applied the dye. We took care not to scrub too deeply the upper four inches of the leg as we "legs" wore boots with service uniforms only on parade and guard and the polish would stain the cuffs of the khakis and greens when bloused if it was applied too heavily.
The real work was to reapply the spit shine. I saw grown men cry when they had had to destroy the painstakingly applied polish jobs they had spent hours on in order to make the change. :( [:(!]
The heel counters and the back straps were spit shined along with the toe caps. The polish was ladled on and then the boots were set alight again to melt the polish down into the leather. Then some used water, actual spit, after shave, or rubbing alcohol on a rag wrapped around the first two fingers to vigorously rub in the polish using little circular motions. A brush was used on the vamp and leg to buff down the excess.
Finally the use of the shoe strop so familiar to all was used to top off the mirror finish. The application of sole dressing was the last step. This was simply a kind of quick dry paint that came in a bottle.
After all that, you were standing tall again. Certainly the use of black leather footwear made for uniformity in the ranks.
The cheap smooth toe boots introduced in the early sixties were, I believe. chrome tanned, as the inside appears to be gray rather than the tan of the earlier boots.

El Cutachero

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Post by Pat Holscher » Thu Feb 27, 2003 7:27 am

While I'm straying off topic, I have a question that either Jim or Carter can answer.

I had thought for some reason the lace up black combat boot has been first introduced in the Korean War. For some odd reason I had it in mind that during the early part of the Korean War the old M1943 boot was common, but as the war went on, the black combat boot came in. Incorrect?

When we read here of attempts to dye russet boots black which boot are we speaking of? I wouldn't think much could be done with the M1943 boot as it was a rough out boot. Was it some other boot?

Finally, I have a basic training "annual" that was my uncles from 1948. They all have black boots, but I note that a lot of them are actually wearing black jump boots, which is surprising. Did the Army have a bunch of these dyed black, from an old brown stock?



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Post by dallas » Fri Feb 28, 2003 4:10 pm

Pat: The 1943 roughout two buckle combat boot was the standard boot during much of the Korean War. Later in the war, a russet lace up boot with a cap toe was issued. This boot looked somewhat like the jump boot but was actually much different. This is the boot that was dyed black in the late 1950s.

Incidentally, after WWII, some commands required the polishing of the roughout boots for wear bloused with Class A or B uniforms. That was a chore to remove the rough flesh side and apply enough polish to form a base so that some semblance of a spit shine could be obtained. I know it could be done because I had to do it.

That picture you mentioned that showed black boots in 1948 had to be russet boots dyed cordovan because black didn't come in until the late 1950's. I had a pair of Corcoran jump boots dyed cordovan and spit shined with a fancy lace job for wear on parades and guard duty.
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Post by Pat Holscher » Fri Feb 28, 2003 5:59 pm

Originally posted by dallas

That picture you mentioned that showed black boots in 1948 had to be russet boots dyed cordovan because black didn't come in until the late 1950's.
Oops, that was a typo, I should have typed 1958. But your explanation, and the other ones, are pretty clear so it helped a great deal in spite of my typo.

I was unaware of a brown boot with a toe cap, other than the russet jump boot. I wonder if the boots I saw in the 58 annual are actually the toe cap boot dyed black.

Pat

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Post by wkambic » Sat Mar 01, 2003 9:55 am

I did a some research recently to help a friend look for clothing syles and patterns. She is a member of the DAR and Daughters of the Confederacy and needed some ball gowns and something suitable for her husband so they could participate in some of the balls and cottillions these organizations put on.

From my research it's my impression that, at least prior to the ACW, military fashion and civilian fashion were not so divergent, at least in the U.S. Europeans, always having a penchant for "military theater", were more likely to have uniforms with "flair" or "panache." Even up to WWI, I see a lot of parallels between military uniforms and general civilian wear. After WWI there seems to be a movement toward "uniformity" in the application of regulations and a real divergence from general civilian wear. One reason to go from brown to black as a boot/shoe color is that black is an easy color for uniformity ("black is black") and brown/cordovan/russet can be a virtual rainbow of shades. Not a Good Thing if what you want is "uniformity!"[:)]

This can even extend to modern times. When I was commissioned in '68 with orders for flight training I needed brown shoes (officers and chiefs assigned to aviation commands wear brown shoes; everybody else in the Navy wears black shoes). I bought a pair of darkish, cordovan Corfams (easy to keep shined; got rid of them in less than a year for real leather as they made my feet sweat VERY badly; have never again worn "phony leather" shoes![:)]). There were two other types being offered, each of a different shade. The guys from Annapolis all showed up with a different shade again (kind of a "baby s**t brown"). We stood inspection once a week in preflight. Of the roughly twelve inspections I stood I was told "get a regulation pair of shoes" in nine of them. But we were never inspected by the same officer twice so it was not a problem![8D]

I have also been doing some research on early Naval Aviation clothing and have found many photo and film clips of pilots wearing the aviation green blouse (either choker collar or with shirt and tie), pegged riding breeches, and either riding boots or low cuts with leggins/half chaps. (Have not yet found any spurs, though![:D]) It looks to me like this stuff came right from some suttler who regularly supplied Cavalry officers. Some of these varients persist into the mid-'30s. By then I see a clear trend to "uniformity" in this form of "organizational clothing" (contrary to Chair Farce, er, I mean "Air Force", practice flight gear in the Navy is "organizational clothing" not a uniform; it is only to be worn on the flight line, but regulations have been relaxed over the past decade or so allowing it to be worn to and from home and during "minimal" stops like getting gas or hitting the "quick stop").

Military clothing today is VERY different from the civilian clothing you see on the street and MUCH more uniform than at any time I have researched. Modern production and administration methods have combined to permit this high level of uniformity. And, since "black is black," the trend to black in leather foot gear is completely understandable.

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Post by Kelton Oliver » Sat Mar 01, 2003 1:11 pm

FYI, Bill, brown shoes are now optional for all navy personnel with khaki uniforms. My own service followed suit, although I have never seen anyone except me wearing them. I think they look more "correct" with a khaki uniform than black shoes, even though they are a bit of a pain to color-match.

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Post by Grant » Sat Mar 01, 2003 2:08 pm

With reference to the color of the "Mounties' boots", check <www.copboots.com> An Edmonton, Alberta firm making Strathcona pattern RCMP type boots among others. They have an interesting discussion on how the recruits actually treat their boots on issue. For some reason (probably recruit training) these come pebble grained as new & have to be hot-spooned to a plain surface & then the fun begins. Staff of course relish darker or more expertly maintained boots. But there are differences seen among recruits boots. There's a memoir written by a former US miltary man, whose name escapes me at the moment & he muses on the color of riding boots in the US cavalry. Instructors & senior men had very pale ones, much admired. Will try to get his name as I have the book at home on my shelves. The Mounties really are experts at attaining the desired color! There was a time our Ontario Provincial Police dickered with a black Mountie style boot, but equipped with zippers, which of course gummed up with mud or road dirt. I got a pair once from the distributor I used to use riding a BMW. But of course any decent boot, like a Dehner, was subject to having its left toe cap spit-shine ruined by the gear change lever rubber! A mounted man with stirrups has no such problems. Incidentally check out <www.vintagevideo.com> for actual US army/Air Force training films, now declassified and transferred by the owner to VHS videos. He has the full set of the prewar cavalry training films made by the US Signal Corps which are well worth a look, reflecting the way soldiers were taught to ride prior to the axing of horses when WWII began. Sincerely, Grant.

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Post by Todd » Sat Mar 01, 2003 2:28 pm

Originally posted by Grant
A mounted man with stirrups has no such problems.
If you don't count the entire inner calf surface with its semi-permanent sweat funk! [:D]

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Post by Grant » Mon Mar 03, 2003 1:33 pm

Further to my last posting. The author I couldn't immediately recall was Charles Willeford - "Something About A Soldier" - Random House - 1986 NY - ISBN 0-394-55022-6. A somewhat salty memoirs of his army time, but interesting. He wrote other books , but this is the only one I have. Grant.

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Post by Step Tyner » Wed Jun 18, 2003 3:49 pm

My father's recollections of National Guard service from 1925-40 may be pertinent to the brown leather discussion. While he was infantry, not cavalry, almost all Army officers wore field boots (riding boots w/ lace at instep) or field shoes with leather puttees both in garrison and in the field, and the Sam Browne belt was, of course, ubiquitous.

It was not unusual in those days for different regiments, or even different battalions/squadrons of the same regiment to adopt "deviant" hues of leather. By the time he was integrated into the regular army in 1941, Dad had three complete sets of belts/boots/accoutrements -- oxblood, chestnut, and a medium reddish tan. In the days before massing of units on large installations, a regimental commander was God and a squadron commander, some sort of arkangel -- and lieutenants didn't argue with the heavenly host back then. (One pair of Peels cost him more than his first automobile).

Interestingly, the first order he received as a regular was to obtain "regulation" russet leather, an expenditure from which he was saved by a War Department directive putting those items, along with campaign hats, dress blues, and the saber, into limbo for the duration.

I don't suggest that such eccentricities were as common in the Regular force, yet cannot believe that some unit variations did not exist. besides, a lot of the "mounted" items one finds on e-bay or the like may never have heard a horse fart in anger.

It is also true that dispair over finding a "standard" color of brown was the main reason that the US Army adopted black leather. I still remember with fond regret the Marines' cordovan shoes, casualties of McNamara's penchant for uniformity across our "unified" services.

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