It must have been in the late 60s or early 70s. I was a kid aboard a Melbourne to Dandenong train at peak hour. I was probably with my big sister and the train was stuffed to the gills. I held the rails tightly, sniffing armpits and facing tweeded and woollied backs and boobs, as the train lurched and lumped us to our destinations.
She boarded the train at around the midway point of our journey. It was as though the sun had burst into that cavernous wintery carriage of sleepy troglodytes. Amid the assembly of conservative houndstooth sports jackets, grainy worsted suits, restricting pencil skirts and prim twin sets she defiantly swept in.
I couldn’t take my eyes off her attire. It was ok, I was a kid; I had an excuse to be rude. In a world of confined lines and set rules her dress was audacious. It was amazing. I sported black pull on slacks of the polyester type – elasticised, synthetic and forged in the crucible of the plastics industry. Against her youthful impudence I probably resembled an ancient turtle peeping out of my turtleneck top.
Her coat was an absurdly dramatic maxi, unashamedly tumbling almost to the ground. It gaped tantalisingly, revealing a shocking, matching mini and a good set of pins. The fabric was herringbone and the style of her outfit mocked the history and rigid formality that was represented by such cloth. But that wasn’t all that sent my head spinning out of orbit, like a planet smashed by a meteorite.
It was the boots. Lace up boots. All the way up to her knee. Like nothing I had seen before.
I don’t remember what her face was like. She could have had a face like Mary Quant or a fish head. What mattered were the boots.
Those boots could stamp. Those boots could kick. They were assertive, as no other piece of female footwear that I knew of had had the temerity to be.
From that day I have been on a quest for boots. I am not a rampant consumer of fashion. I like to look presentable – with a nasty twist – just like the next person. What dictates my fashion, since I am not a woman of means, is dear-less-ness. That’s right, I’m a cheapskate. Cheap. Special. Reduced. They are the clarion calls of my buying habits.
But for boots I will make an exception. On Monday I needed a new pair of boots. I found the perfect ones. They may or may not have been on special. They suited my criteria. Comfort? Nah. Leather? Nup. Heels? Nope. Be fashionable? Are you kidding? The criteria are that they are boots and that they need to be a little bit different to the ones I bought last time. Oh yes, and that I need them.
I gawk at shoe store brochures. I especially like the ones from exclusive footwear shops which feature snug soft leather booties, or outrageously coloured boots, or classic styles sporting unexpected studs, or… I could go on. And I endlessly search for black lace-up boots.
My obsession will go on. I even recently urged a total stranger in an op shop to buy some boots, simply because they fitted her. It gave me some sort of perverse pleasure. I can’t help it.
That girl, that woman, whoever she was who so stylishly entered a crowded, drab train, turned my safe, predictable world on its head. For she not only opened me up to new ideas about fashion, but also to art, to new ideas and questions about social norms. And I thank her for it.
I showed Jack my new boots. He sniffed them obligingly, but was generally unimpressed. He said in his dog way that he preferred my runners, because when he sees me wearing them, it means that it is time for a walk. That is his obsession.