She saw them first. She always sees them first.
I stared at the rows of over-used shoes, dismal looking in their states of seen-better-days; walked-over heels and cracked leather, if lucky enough to be leather at all. Most bent and arched with the inner imprints of someone else’s feet, the weight of their bodies and their lives; way past their prime, beyond beauty. Long suffering friends and protectors finally outliving their ability to enhance their owners wardrobe.
Rarely, I find a jewel. Even more rarely, I find a pair the price setters have overlooked in their zeal to jack up prices on brand names and designer labels.
Today was my lucky day; I looked up at the sound of her voice, still distracted by the stories I imagined these sad and spent soles telling, and tried to focus on her face, eclipsed by the long, tall, tan forms she held aloft before me.
“Tell me about these boots.” She said, already knowing.
A gasp from me; they were gorgeous.
“Those are Frye’s” say I. “WTF?! WHERE did you find them?” She waved towards the section of black shoes.
“No. No way. No wonder I missed them.”
“8 ½ B” Cat says quietly.
We stare at each other, and then in unspoken tandem, scramble to the dressing room where there’s room to sit.
Cat and I wear the same shoe size—sort of. We both wear an 8—8 ½, but her foot is slightly wider than mine, and mine slightly longer than her own.
A match made in heaven, since sometimes I can wear those Not Quite Right pairs of hers.
The woman has more shoes than I have ever seen in any single building outside a shoe store.
Her boots, you would not believe the boots…
I have reaped the benefits of Cat’s wanton shoe lust on more than one happy occasion. Once a pair of buttery suede taupe ankle boots with stiletto heels. They had just never felt right on her feet. My feet wanted them. She is generous, and once on my own feet, she made a gift of them to me.
Her gifts of shoes have never carried a price tag, but her own delight at my joy in them.
However, the sleeping beast of my own boot fetish has been awakened, never to rest again.
I blame her.
My friend has never required that I trade honesty for politeness. Inches from her face, I hissed “You know I love you, but I sincerely hope those boots do NOT fit you.”
This, to the woman who often hands over her possessions solely because you love them or they look good on you and make you smile. “They’re only things.” She will offer as explanation.
The one wide spot on her foot is telling her they are not for her. I am unabashedly gleeful, and I know she will understand. She is always one to be happy to see another score the perfect pair of boots, even if she loves them herself.
“They must be for you.” She says.
I can hardly wait to pull them on, already knowing they found her themselves—for me.
The triple stitched 15” shaft slides lovingly up my leg, nearly to my knee. With a fine ::plop:: my heel sets down into the heel cup and my foot nestles forward as I stand. “OMG. Ahh…Yeaaahh.” I breathe. “Ohhh…”
I peer into the mirror, marveling. They do look to be made for me.
I am transformed, rustically elegant and indestructible. These are BOOTS. Go anywhere, do anything boots—the originals. Timeless, ageless, shitkickers, suitable for wear with the airiest of dresses, the grungiest of jeans, apropos for the reality of terrain where I tend to live. Reality being unpaved, untamed, and decidedly not dog free.
And I rock these boots. Or they rock me—I don’t care which. I have been coveting these boots for some time, aware that even a pair of knock offs is out of my price range for the present. Still, I could dream. And dreams can come true.
A grin spread over Cat’s face, delightedly. “They’re yours. 5.99.”
Nearby, a pair of designer boots, clearly inferior, sported a price tag of 39.99. “Someone screwed up.”
There’s something special about Frye boots. What exactly is it?
I went in search of words for it.
Upon research, I learned that Frye is the oldest shoe company in the US. Sadly, like Levis, their once American made status is no more. Frye’s are now made in China.
But nonetheless, Frye seems to say American. And these boots are American made.
I learned that Frye began outsourcing in 2003. Curious, I began doing searches on my particular boots. Using the style numbers inside, description and shaft height, I performed search after search to find out when my boots might have been made.
I didn’t get far. Most of what I turned up were ebay sites, and nowhere was an example of my boots. Some of the sites I viewed were fashion blogs or forums, and they seemed to contain two views. Either those commenting proclaimed Frye’s “fugly”, “worse than Uggs” [beg pardon?], or they wanted to figure out how to make them look more “distressed”, “authentically vintage”, like they’d seen in the gossip rags on celebrities feet. One woman suggested running them through the washing machine, then dragging them behind a moving vehicle. LOL. Obviously, the concept of wearing them, really wearing them in real life had not come up as an option. And I gathered this was not a crowd who had ever worn a pair of boots for a decade or two or more as I had—Hell, they weren’t likely so much more than a decade old themselves. Trends were never born to include a pair of boots that would serve you long enough for said trend to be reborn decades later, and this was a trend here. That trend takes nothing away from the fact that the boots themselves are worthy of every bit of the merit that made them INTO a trend today.
These are my first pair of Frye boots. In all the years I have loved boots and worn them I had never so much as tried a pair of Frye’s on. My tastes have always run to dress boots, high heels, stacked heels, stilettos, or to the ruggedly feminine. But most of all, I have loved cowboy boots, and no matter what I see in some of the online commentary on Frye’s, they are not that; they’re a whole different breed. So, I never got around to owning a pair of Frye’s. However, in recent years, I have developed an unreasonable and mysterious craving for a pair of Frye’s that just wouldn’t leave me alone.
In my search to define what is special about Frye’s, why we love them, what makes up the straightforward appeal of the campus and harness boot in particular, I chanced upon the website of a lover of Frye’s; a collector of boots. Here was the info I thought I was looking for. As he handily provided a contact email, I wrote to him. From him I learned that my Boots are from the 70’s or 80’s, most likely the 80’s. To a Frye fan, “True Vintage” Frye’s are considered to be those made in the 70’s, but this was still great news for me; 20 to 30 year old American Frye boots, and in perfect condition?! Yippee!
I learned that those “True” vintage Frye’s have different markings on them. I also learned that inside the shaft there would be a black label if they were made prior to 1978, a white one if made after 1978. Mine have a white label.
My new contact for all things boots, put both my friend Cat and I to absolute shame when it came to being a boot freak. The man had custom build closets, truly whole rooms, just for his boots, and did not even own a pair of shoes. I believe he would shudder to see my closets; vintage boots in various states of disrepair leaning against cheap and garish girly shoes, tumbling beneath whatever else can be crammed into my Pandora’s Box closets. I almost felt like apologizing to the man, for I got the feeling he knew this about me.
I received much invaluable information on caring for leather boots from this boot lover, including storage. Some was quite the opposite of most people’s advice. Considering he still wore most of his prized boots [especially all the Frye’s] after decades of active love, I figured he knew more than the average boot connoisseur. So I’ve kept his list of tips and tricks for care as special boot gospel, for reference. And for anytime the old boot lust hits me and I want to see the unattainable, I view his shelves and racks of luscious boots. Standing, hanging [another tip I’d not considered, keeps creases from taking over the shaft], lit up and all arow like beautiful old soldiers. These are pictures of his boot storage systems, and I am in great appreciation for the time he took to make these available to me, along with numerous other links and resources he sent my way. I really believe he ought to give a class on the subject [and in fact he has released at least one informational video just about Frye boots]. One day I’ll actually give my boots and shoes a respectful place to rest when they’re not on my feet.
After all that, I never did find just the right words for what makes Frye’s so special, unless it’s to say that they are kind of timeless. They’re also well made boots that seem to last forever. But that doesn’t begin to explain the mystique of Frye’s. They just need to be worn to be appreciated.
Yesterday I happened upon a garage sale—one of those you take in for a moment and just know there is nothing there for you. But then something, a tiny voice, beckoned me. I circled again, and saw a russet colored toe, then two toes. And there they were, another pair of Frye Campus Boots, exact same style as my previous find: 15” shank, round toe, white label. This pair obviously well loved by someone, somewhere, once.
Is there no end to my lust? I left hugging them, sized 7B, a full size and a half too small, and I didn’t care. Okay, maybe I cared a little, but not enough to leave them over a 25-cent ransom. If I don’t make myself sell them on ebay, they will be a beautiful gift for some small-footed friend someday.
What can I say? They just found me.