It’s hard to imagine that a pair of functional desert boots worn by British soldiers in World War Two would become iconic footwear of the vintage scene as well as crossing boundaries into the world of the fashionista and beyond. But, believe it or not, this is exactly the case for the instantly recognisable Creeper shoes! Transcending styles and sexes to adorn the feet of rockabillies, vintage fans, punks, scene-kids and musicians alike; Creepers shoes are truly a unique shoe in terms of its appeal and look and has an intriguing history reaching back as far as the late 1940s.
Originally worn in the North African deserts, these thick-soled crepe boots were ideal for helping deal with the extremities of the heat and the sandy terrain of the area. As the troops returned home, the boots followed and found their way back to the shores of merry old England, where they slowly caught on as a new fashionable design of footwear of the time.
Shoe manufactures, including Denson and Ladd's, noticed the increasing numbers of ex-soldiers as well as civilians wearing them and developed the Creepers or ‘Brothel Creeper’ as they became known. ‘Hamilton’, a brand created by George Hamilton Cox, shortly joined them. Cox joined his father’s shoe making company in 1949 and got to work pioneering the company’s signature shoe, the Creeper. To this day, Cox is one of the top manufacturers of the shoe. There is some speculation as to where these shoes inherited the nickname of ‘Brothel Creepers’ but rumour has it that after their return from the war a number of soldiers in London wanted to experience some fun after years away fighting and found themselves in the dim neon-lit backstreets of Soho to enjoy its labyrinth of seedy adult entertainment. Whether true or not, it adds wonderfully decadent grit to the shoe’s 60 plus year history. Around the early 50s a new youth scene, the Edwardians (later to be known as the Teddy Boys), quickly adopted this new, innovative shoe design. As the popularity of the Teddy Boys grew, so in turn did their distinctive style of dress that incorporated the Creepers and thrust them into the limelight. As this scene grew ever more popular, clothing and footwear manufactures were quick to jump on the bandwagon and produce their own adaptions of the Teddy Boy uniform and in turn, made it easier to obtain the drape suits and Creepers. Towards the end of the 50s and early 60s a number of other rocking youth scenes – rockabillies, bikers and rockers – developed from the influence of US music and films which were increasingly popular in the UK. These groups, along with the Teddy Boys, were very much intertwined, all inhabiting the anti-social outskirts of teenage youth cultures and sharing a common bond: their love of rock ‘n’ roll music. Although each group has their own distinctive style, one often borrowed from the other and people in the scenes often moved from one to another as the years passed. This resulted in a cross-pollination of styles to a certain degree and one element of clothing which transgressed each of these scenes with great ease was the ever distinctive Creeper.
As fashions changed along with music and as the years moved into the 60s, Creepers were all but resigned to the dustbin of fashion’s history, except for a small army of die-hards who soldiered on with their scenes. In the early 70s two young disenfranchised Londoners, Vivian Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, who both had an interest in 1950s rebellious culture, opened the now infamous ‘Let It Rock’ shop at 430 Kings Road, London. Westwood started making Teddy Boy clothing for McLaren to sell, but this time with a modern, more ‘in your face’ appearance than its 50s predecessor. George Cox, as an already established shoe manufacturer, still existed, and soon realised that there was a growing interest in a newly-popularised Teddy Boy scene and with this came an interest in their Creepers, which were also sold in the shop. By 1972 ‘Let It Rock’ had become `Too fast to Live, Too Young to Die’ and changed its prominent stock from the neo-Edwardian wear of the Teddy Boys to the leather jackets and t-shirts of the rocker, but still keeping a stock of Creepers and ordering in drape jackets for those who required them. In a bid to push the mantel of fashion and tastes to the extremes, by 1974 ‘Too Fast…’ became the infamous ‘Sex’ and shortly afterwards, via the Sex Pistols and British punk, McLaren turned music and fashion on its head and spat in the face of anyone who wasn’t willing to surrender to its spiky attitudes. Although at this time the unique and unisex ‘uniform’ of the punk wasn’t wholly formulated as it was to become in later years, the Creeper became, for some time, the punk’s footwear of choice. During this time however, punk wasn’t the only music/fashion subculture on the rise. The reintroduction of the Teddy Boys some years previously had kickstarted the rock ‘n’ roll revival which pulled together legions of Teddy Boys, rockers and rockabillies, who as before donned the Creepers as they had always done. At the time the two subcultures went nose to nose and their fights became headline grabbing news stories, with gangs of rock ‘n’ rollers, specifically the Teds, both male and female, fighting punks in the streets of London and then further afield, due in part to the ever-sensationalised stories carried by the press.
Since the late 70s and early 80s the growth in interest of black creepers remained on a steady incline, being utilized by the rocking communities and punks alike. The new millennium saw the light of day – it opened up a huge chasm in the world of fashion and musical- based subcultures, where one borrowed heavily from the other. With this there has a been a tremendous growth of interest in vintage shoes from the 20s through to the early 80s, which has seen legions of vintage enthusiasts, rockabilly revivalists and those with a love of yesteryear rediscovering the fashions and styles of the age and with this once again the interest in the wonderful Creeper shoe has grown tremendously. With this growth of attention it’s now even easier to find a pair of Creepers. There is a dizzying array to suit all tastes, including the newly emerged wedge-heeled Creeper, which has given the shoe a truly feminine appearance. You can find endless styles and variations online and more than the odd pair on the high street. Original late 50s/early 60s pairs do from time to time appear for sale online but disappear into the arms of collectors and vintage aficionados.
There are still a number of shoe manufacturers which specialise in Creepers and this has slowly increased. Yet throughout the melee of change one scene has remained as true to the creepers as they were in the 50s and today these wonderfully distinctive shoes still form a core element in the look of rockabillys, 50s enthusiasts, rock ‘n’ rollers and Teds all over the world. There are a head-spinning amount of Creepers available online and on the high street, varying from company to company as well as price-point and quality. Although cheaper Creepers can act as a good introduction, you’d be advised to invest in a pair from one of the three mentioned on the right, as they are more likely to last years longer than some of the cheaper, fashion-based designs. So if you haven’t already, slip into those Capri jeans or swing dress and pop on a pair of Creepers.