Winklepicker

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Winklepickers (also known as Winkle Pickers) are a style of shoe or boot worn from the 1950s onward by male and female United Kingdom / British rock and roll fans. The feature which gives both the boot and shoe their name is the very sharp and quite long pointed toe, reminiscent of medieval footwear and approximately the same as the long pointed toes on some women's fashion shoes and boots today. This pointed toe was called the winkle picker toe because, in England, periwinkles (a small mollusc/snail} are eaten with a pin or pointed object to get the winkle out of the shell (hence the term "to winkle something out").

History

Origins

Winklepicker shoes were a conspicuous contrast to the Creepers worn by Teddy Boys (youth culture). The male shoes were lace-up Oxford style with a low heel and an exaggerated pointed toe. A Chelsea Boot style (elastic-sided with a two-inch, and later as much as two and one half inch, Cuban heel was notably worn by the Beatles, but although it had a pointed toe, was not considered to be a Winklepicker. Winklepicker shoes from Stan's of Battersea were also worn by the Teddy Girls as well as being a fleeting fashion for young women generally.

1960s

In the early 1960s the winklepicker toe was popular with modernists, the forerunners of the mods. In the early 1960's the point was effectively chopped off (they hung on for longer than that in the UK) and gave rise to the "chisel toe" on the footwear of both genders. However, winklepickers with traditional sharp-point styles made a comeback of sorts in the late 1970s and early 1980s (either as previously unworn old-stock, second-hand originals, or contemporary-production attempted copies) when they were sold at London indoor markets like Kensington Market and Chelsea's Great Gear Market and worn by several subculture groups including Mods, Rockabillies, Punks, Rock'n'Roll Revivalists, and in the goth scene, where they are known as "pikes".

Winklepickers with stiletto heels for women swept the UK in the late fifties and at one stage the High Street versions were worn by virtually all the female English population who wore high heeled shoes. They were often manufactured in Italy, but the handmade versions, notably those from Stan's Shoes of Battersea were the most extreme, if somewhat bulky-looking at the toe compared with the Italian styles.

The original 1960s winkle picker stilettos were similar to the long pointed toe which has been fashionable on women's shoes and boots in Europe of late. The long sharp toe was always teamed with a stiletto heel (or spike heel) which, as today, could be as low as one and a half inches or as high as five inches, though most were in the three to four inch range. The stiletto heels on the original 1960s styles were, however, much more curved-in at the rear (also sometimes sharply-waisted and slightly flared out at the top piece) than most of the recent pointy-toed fashion shoes, which often have straighter, thicker, more set-back heels, rather at odds with the look of the pointed toe. In most cases, too, the modern shoe toes lack the length of the true 1960s winklepicker, and bear more resemblance to the less pointed mass-produced versions of the era.

They attained some notoriety, when they first appeared, as a result of being worn in gang fights (sometimes by both sexes) though it seems that contemporary newspaper reports of such clashes were, as ever, sensationalised flights of the imagination on the part of bored journalists with nothing better to write about. In fact, although the Winklepicker looks lethal, it would be far more likely for damage to be caused to the delicately pointed shoe than to the opponent in any serious kicking incident, and it would be highly unlikely that a fashion-conscious person of the 1960s would have subjected a prized pair of expensive Italian imports or custom-made Stan's originals to this sort of abuse.

There seems also to have been a practice, among increasingly liberated and forward young women, of using the pointed toes of their footwear to surprise and perhaps embarrass their male partners by prodding their private parts under tables in public places. Thus effectively turning the historical tables, as in the 14th and 15th century, long pointed male footwear called poulaines or Cracowes were allegedly used to do the same to females! A practice that was also allegedly revisited by some males wearing winklepickers.

Modern day

Winklepicker boots are very popular among the modern Vogue Goth and Punk sub-cultures. They are worn by many band members, such as the members of Kings of Leon, The Horrors, Neils Children, Klaxons and My Passion. They are also worn by English comedian Noel Fielding; English DJ and TV presenter Alex Zane; and Kaiser Chiefs' lead singer: Ricky Wilson.

Although slightly pointed toes are often a feature of women's fashion shoes, they are usually nowadays "tamed down" or shortened (often with a sacrifice of comfortable toe space) for a more common appeal. The really extended Winklepicker toe stiletto-heeled shoe for women has been reintroduced most recently by English shoe designers Roger and Sarah Adams for their Italian-made RoSa Shoes collection http://www.rosashoes.com which aims to satisfy a perceived continuing niche market rather than following seasonal fashion trends. The shoes have extremely thin medium or high steel-stemmed stiletto heels, authentically curved in at the rear, and winklepicker toes extending some three inches beyond the foot.

See also


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