Do the monkey: Eastern Bloc boots for East End kids

We hope this article will shed light on questions you were always afraid to ask, for few topics are more divisive than monkey boots. However, Matt Crombieboy does not pretend that his stab at tracking the history of the boot is comprehensive. It’s just an attempt that heavily relies on word-of-mouth accounts – for few topics are more shrouded in mystery than the history of this fine footwear item. If you know more than he was able to find out, we’d encourage you to enlighten us.

First things first: what is a monkey boot? Answer: an ankle boot that looks more or less like this:

Cebo vintage 40s probably earliest (3)
The earliest monkey boots probably looked like this

Beautifully ugly, true monkey boots have distinctive tractor-like soles like the top left one:

top left monkey boots

Are monkey boots for young kids and girls only, as you often hear nowadays?

Nope. The simplest reason why they were often worn by girls and kids in the 60s is that unlike Dr Marten’s, they were available in children and women’s sizes. Secondly, they were kinder to kids’ wallets than the likes of Air Wair. Even so, they were worn by skinheads of both sexes and all ages up until circa 1969.

coventry monkey boots
Coventry 1969: monkey boots third left

The birth of the monkey boot is difficult to determine. Myth has it that monkey boots were originally Czech army footwear issued in World War 2. This can be dismissed out of hand: there was no Czech army in World War 2. The Nazis had invaded Czechoslovakia a year prior to the official outbreak of the war, and her army remained dissolved until 1945.

Nonetheless, it’s highly likely that the earliest monkey boots were a product of Czechoslovakia, although the birth date remains a mystery. It’s possible that they were made for military use during the interwar period. Back then, every shoe-making factory in Czechoslovakia belonged to the Bata corporation, which had been founded by the early ‘philanthro-capitalist’ Tomáš Bata in the Czech town of Zlín. Bata soon became the world’s biggest boot exporter.

Tomas_Bata
Died in a plane crash in 1932: Tomáš Bata

Production for military use would have ceased after the Nazi invasion of 1938. According to one theory, after the war monkey boots no longer suited modern military needs. The entire pre-war stock stayed in the warehouse until someone decided to sell it – including to British surplus stores.

In 1945, the new Communist regime nationalised the Bata corporation and divided it into several companies. One of them was Svit, whose monkey boots were probably meant for boy scouts. Indeed, you can sometimes find vintage monkey boots by local brands such as Svit referred to as pionýrky (‘for young pioneers’) on Czech auction websites.

Svit retro boty pionýrky
Svit pionýrky boots

Another brand was Cebo, which was merely an export company: ‘Ce’ stood for Czechoslovakian and ‘bo’ for boty (boots). Monkey boots made by companies such as Svit were rebranded ‘Cebo’ for export. According to the Cebo company website, the Communists “transformed the Bata factories into a shoe-making powerhouse” and manufactured boots for both domestic and foreign use.

Alas, the Belgians who own the Cebo brand today know nothing about its monkey boot history or past trade agreements with the UK. In fact, they referred me to the National Archive of Slovakia (!) for further information… I have a feeling the Bata shoe museum in Zlín, Czech Republic, might just offer more pointers.

shoe museum zlin 1
Bata shoe museum in Zlín

While it may seem odd that the United Kingdom traded with Warsaw Pact countries at the height of the Cold War, the world doesn’t always revolve around the strongman rhetoric of political leaders: in fact, there was a western niche market for certain Eastern Bloc products throughout the era. Children’s movies, cameras, scab coal, and – of course – monkey boots spring to mind.

Many who were young mods in early 60s Britain remember Cebo as their earliest monkey boots, although their recollections tend to be vague.

noddy's 'original' monkey boots bu cebo
Supposedly original Cebo boots from the 1960s

Others, meanwhile, have clearer memories of Polish-produced Zuch boots, which became available in the UK around the same time.

Says monkey boot pioneer Austin from Bradford, “My brother and I wore Zuch boots as 12-year olds in 1962. Nobody had ever seen them before, so we were cutting edge – my mates were envious of them. They were heavy duty and in the mid sixties, circa 1964-65, they were bought from a shop called Industrial Footwear in Thornton Road. The shop was well thought of and became a familiar haunt of mods and skins in the same period and beyond. Was I a mod when I wore them? Kind of, but at 12-13 years old all I wanted to be was ‘not a rocker’.”

bradford west yorkshire monkey boot shop
Bradford circa 1970

Thanks to Maciej ‘Magura’ Góralski, ex-drummer of early Warsaw punk band Kryzys, we have a fairly clear idea about Zuch boots: “I remember wearing them as a young kid. They were very popular, even if according to some, they were made out of paper. In Poland, people colloquially called them ‘pionierki’, a reference to the Soviet commie boy scouts they were originally made for”.

Zuchy PRL (2)
Polish 1960s Zuch boots

Alan from London, who was buying his footwear from Blackmans in Brick Lane, seems to remember monkeys with yellow laces – just the way Grafters monkey boots look today. Another London mod, Paul D, recalls different types: “I remember a kid who had a heavy duty pair by Zuch. It would not surprise me if they were army ones, but the monkey boots we had were a copy of the original heavy ones”.

19884023_10213811873954038_5219592862326150652_n
Blackmans back in the day

As has been suggested by original mods and skinheads, a number of local companies jumped on the monkey boot bandwagon and found themselves manufacturing imitations of Eastern Bloc product in the process. Others added twists to boost sales: as some originals remember, a monkey boot with ‘monkey’ spelled along the sole in the tread pattern appeared.

butlins, skegness august 1967
Butlins, Skegness in August 1967: monkey boots with yellow laces first right

One company that started importing a different make of monkey boot straight from Czechoslovakia was W Marlow & Sons Footwear Ltd of Leicester, who had been trading since 1927. Their successor company’s operations director Chris tells me,

“We first imported the monkey boot from Czechoslovakia 48 years ago in 1969. Not sure if they were produced before that, but our catalogue history shows them first depicted in our 1969 brochure. Our original stocks were Marlone branded. In 2001, we became UK Distributors Footwear Ltd, and I think that’s when we changed the branding of the monkey boot to Grafters, at least it was around that time. As far as I know, they are still produced in the same Czech factory to this day, and we are the sole distributors for the boot in the UK”.

grafters possibly early 70s

That’s right – the Grafters monkey boots you can get for about 35 quid today are the exact same product many kids wore in 1969 and still made in the same factory. Even the article number M430BT hasn’t changed since 1969… According to Chris, they were initially only available in dark brown/oxblood with yellow stitching and yellow laces – and a look at the company’s autumn 1969 brochure confirms this. Marlone monkey boots came at a wholesale price of 36 shillings and 9d a pair, which is today’s equivalent of about £1.83.

marlone boots
Marlone catalogue of autumn 1969: note M430BT ‘brown monkey boot’ bottom right

Dave, an original skinhead from the Midlands town of Stafford, also remembers a variety of monkey boots becoming available:

“They came in a couple of different models to us. They were either a solid colour with the same stitching or the more common oxblood with yellow stitching. They were different companies and had a different last and shape. I would have never worn the oxbloods. The leather was thinner, and I never liked the style. The Polish Zuch monkeys were much more substantial, better leather, and less pointed – they were more in line with the Tricker’s style. The shape of the toe, welt, and the wide trim running the length of the boot gave them a distinctive look”.

Zuchy PRL (3)
1960s Zuch boots

It’s interesting that most accounts from British mods and skins contradict how Magura and other Poles remember their ‘paper-thin’ Zuch monkeys: “I wore out a couple of pairs of those Zuch boots”, continues Dave, “in my opinion, they were far superior to the more readily available oxblood yellow-stitched monkey boots of the day”. Perhaps a case of Poland manufacturing one variety for export and another for domestic use?

Clint_Eastwood_(album)
Monkey boots worn on 1970 album by The Upsetters

Paul Thompson, a Blackpool mod who moved to London in 1968 and was there when the style evolved gradually into skinhead, has no recollection of brands: “Like most youngsters at the time, I would have simply had the generic term in my head”.

However, his description of monkey boots as worn by “dozens of blokes” in his Lewisham and Deptford stomping grounds in 1968, including himself, strongly point to Zuch: “They were plain brown – no contrasting stitching or laces. The trim came right down to the sole, which is what gave it its distinctive ‘monkey face’. They looked remarkably like the monkey boots made by Modshoes today, but the ‘treaded’ sole was more like Grafters”.

Zuchy PRL (1)
1960s Zuch boots

It’s fair to say the monkey boot fashion peaked circa 1967-68 – the twilight period sometimes dubbed ‘hard mod’ in retrospect. As Derek Gardner recalls in the Mod Generation forum, “by the time monkey boots became fashionable, mod was just on his way out. Most of us wore monkey boots with jungle greens. We polished them up just the same as our brogues, and they were a softer option than DMs that were also becoming popular – but not with us … monkey boots were worn by the ‘hard mods’ who obviously became skinheads. We were neither skins nor mods, but something in between”.

As the year when ‘skinheads’ gained media notoriety dawned, monkey boots gradually became outmoded – at least as far as London skins were concerned.

George from South East London probably got his pair from Millets, a chain shop selling new surplus-type clothing: “I had a dark brown pair of monkey boots in 1967-68 as a 13-14 year old. They looked good when I wore them with jungle greens and a blue zipper jacket. We wore them back when we had half-inch crops, and three or four I can still clearly see now with long hair but dressed in skinhead clothes. Later, a cherry red monkey boot with yellow stitching appeared, but it was too loud for me. By 69, though, monkey boots were unacceptable as we went into the skinhead era”.

the who monkey boots
Monkey boots: The Who in 1969

As Rob from Dagenham recalls: “I never had a pair of monkey boots, although I liked them. By 1969, my brother got a pair from Dagenham Heathway or the Army and Navy, which was at the Chequers near Ford’s towards Dagenham Dock. Girls also wore them, so for my group of 16-17 year olds they were less interesting. I wasn’t against monkey boots, but it was always about being one step ahead, and if your younger brother and his mates were roaming the streets wearing them, then you and your mates wouldn’t want to be seen wearing them”. Ditto the aforementioned Austin from Bradford, who by 1969, “when the skinhead girls started to wear them, thought to myself: been there, done that”.

John from Chelmsford in Essex confirms, “In my group, we all liked the look of the matt brown ones [probably Zuch – Editor] but, because of the associations with younger kids and so on, we did not indulge – sadly, looking back”.

1969 Bletsoe suede in monkey boots
Bletsoe suedehead with oxblood monkey boots in 1969

Other original skinheads, however, deny it had anything to do with gender or age per se. According to Chris from Bristol, the real reason was that “they were cheap, and that is also why kids wore them. Monkey boots always had a stigma for being cheap. A mate would look at mine and shake his head, saying that they were for lads who couldn’t afford Dr Marten’s. He never mentioned them being girls’ boots”.

Paul Thompson, on the other hand, maintains they plainly became passé by 1969 – much like the surfer jackets everybody had been wearing in the previous summer: “They were simply a fashion item that came and went”. In fact, he got his pair of monkey boots at 18 and never saw any girls wearing them in South East London.

1970 bank holiday sta prest monkey boots
Bristol bank holiday bovver in 1970: Sta Prest and monkey boots

In some places in the UK, monkey boots just happened to be more readily available than Air Wair. As Gerry of Newcastle’s Leazes End Boot Boys recalls in the now sadly defunct Ballroom Blitz blog, “Amazingly, Dr. Marten’s were not available in the frozen tundra of the Northern outpost of Newcastle, and we had to go to London to buy them or get monkey boots from the local army and navy stores”.

1969 newcastle skins gerry tyer and dickie
Newcastle skins Gerry, Tyer and Dickie wearing monkey boots in 1969

Be that as may, by 1970, as skinhead entered his ‘suedehead’ stage[1], male street mods had well and truly moved on to Air Wair, Hawkins Astronauts, Royal longwing brogues and smooths. The fact that monkey boots were now relegated to ‘girls’ boots’ status did not escape British distributors. Says John from Wycombe, “I remember them being advertised as girls’ fashion shoes, and I must admit I never saw boys wearing them. I remember my girlfriend at the time getting a pair from Millets in 1971. She also had a sheepskin coat she wore with them, which must have been the fashion at the time”.

gunners sorts
Early 70s: suedehead girl first right wearing monkeys

If the Retro Dundee blog is to be believed, though, then monkey boots remained “very popular with Dundee’s streetwise teenagers in the early 70s. They were worn by girls as much as the boys, and sometimes were considered to be a cheaper alternative to Dr Marten’s amongst gang types”.

ea45f0a4a9d341d1ca7a53898a018914--skinhead-girl-be-smart
Skinhead girl be smart

Some British schools issued monkey boots as part of schoolboy uniform right through the 1970s. And a popular item they proved: cherished memories of boots leaving black marks everywhere when you slid in them across the floor abound, strongly suggesting that pre-Grafters Marlone boots were the main culprit. Consistently, recollections of ‘Made in Czechoslovakia’ stamps on the inside tongue loom large.

Oh, and apparently coppers wore them by the mid 70s too…

cop monkey boots

It was not until 1978 that monkey boots were seen in a fashion context again. The Jam’s cover picture for All Mod Cons effectively presented Paul Weller as an early skinhead sporting a pair of cropped sta prest and monkey boots. The mod revival scene that formed around the same time was not without its monkey boot aficionados, and another brief vogue was noticeable during the 2 Tone craze the following year.

jam all mod cons

Male Oi skinheads, whose dress sense grew increasingly spartan and militaristic as the 80s progressed, did certainly not adopt monkey boots, though: once again, they were demoted to being girls’ and kids’ boots – ‘hard’ they looked not. In this regard, the scene in This Is England where young Shaun can barely conceal his disappointment when forced to make do with monkey boots is accurate.

this is england

In 1980s Britain, monkey boots survived mainly in fringe subcultures. They were worn, for instance, by the scooterboys who emerged from the mod revival as a separate scene in early 1982. Somewhat disappointingly, the ‘sussed skins’ who coalesced around zines such as Hard as Nails from circa 1984 onward thought of them as girls’ boots too.

jim ferguson
“Girls’ boots”: Jim Ferguson’s fashion drawings became gospel to many

Meanwhile in the US, hardcore punks blissfully unaware of their British subcultural history gave monkey boots a whole lease of new life. When the NaNa shop in Santa Monica began to stock them, they especially caught on in the Los Angeles area. In the mid-80s, the heyday of SST Records and second wave hardcore, many a punk rocker was seen stomping round the pit in a pair of monkey boots from said shop.

There was never any snobbery about them being cheaper than imported Dr Marten’s either. LA hardcore punks largely hailed from middle class suburbia, after all, and the original skinheads’ desire to signal self-betterment by dressing somewhat above their means was alien to them.

1989 nana advert
1989 advert

American hardcore veterans often mention that the monkey boots they got from NaNa’s were Czechoslovakian-made and left those notorious skid marks on kitchen and bathroom floors. While some believe they had ‘NaNa’ tags, others insist they were branded ‘Grafters’ even then. Chris of UK Distributors Footwear Ltd strongly doubts the latter account: “The Czechoslovak factory may well have sold to an American company too, but they would not have been ‘Grafters’ branded as this is our own brand, and our stocks were ‘Marlone’ branded then”.

80s-90s nana suede monkey boots (1)
1980s-90s NaNa suede monkey boots

When skater culture became more distinct from the hardcore punk scene in much the same way as scooterboys had come out of revival mod, skaters took their penchant for monkey boots with them. Indeed, 1980s and early 90s issues of Thrasher magazine carried adverts for ‘NaNa monkey boots’ rather than Grafters. They were available in both leather and suede of various colours.

1992 thrasher
1992 Thrasher ad

In the 90s, it became fashionable for skaters to customise monkey boots with razorblades. This one, for instance, has razored his boots for a ‘loafer fit’. I’ll put this one mildly: to each their own.

90s skater razoring boots to suit needs - loafer fit

So what of monkey boots today? Well, the ‘kids and girls boots’ cliche is still surprisingly widespread among skins, even though most are unaware why monkey boots came to be considered that in the first place – and despite the fact that you can now get Air Wair in baby sizes and monkey boots in UK size 12. Enough of this nonsense, we say. Given that even some top shelf original skins regret having snubbed them back in the day, there really is no excuse for not owning at least one pair.

Cebo still produces footwear roughly along similar lines – yet no longer in Europe, nor for the European market. The boots available on the Japanese trading site Rakuten, for example, are manufactured in the Far East and under a separate licence. In Europe, the Cebo brand is now Belgian-owned and only manufactures trainers in the old factory of Zlín. Monkey boots are almost unknown among Czech skinheads, by the way – and those who do know them are unaware they originated in Czechoslovakia.

ceba work boots 2
Far East produced Cebo work boots

Zuch, it seems, was never a company in the proper sense. The word ‘Zuch’, which simply means ‘boy scout’ or ‘young pioneer’, was engraved in the soles of boots that were probably produced in multiple state-owned factories across the People’s Republic of Poland.

Zuchy PRL (4)

As mentioned earlier, Grafters are still the exact same boots as they were in 1969. You’d pay hundreds for a pair of late 60s DMs, but you’ll only pay 35 quid for a brand new pair of Grafters that are identical to the originals. Many report they had to endure weeks of pain before managing to break them in, but I went through no such ordeal. Maybe it’s that I have eastern European feet, but they’re some of the most comfortable shoes I own. Enough said – get Grafters, they’re the real deal.

grafters black oxblood

Dr Marten’s ‘Vintage Smooth’ Church Boots will set you back about £135 – a ridiculous price to pay for a pair of boots made of inferior leather in a Chinese sweatshop. What’s more, they come with a regular Air Wair sole – and what is a monkey boot without that distinct ‘Soviet tractor’ look?

The commando soles on the Dr. Marten’s/Engineered Garments collaboration below called Church Boot 23816001 Smooth Pebble are a slight improvement. Not enough of an improvement at £210 a pair, though.

DM engineered garments

Solovair have very much the same boot manufactured in Dr Marten’s old NPS factory in Northamptonshire. The quality will be far better than anything DM churn out these days. But monkey boots were never exactly an Air Wair classic, and the sole just ain’t right. £145? It’s a no from me.

solovair monkey boot

There are dozens of pricier monkey boot variations ranging from the Fred Perry and George Cox co-effort through Burberry and Tricker’s on the high end. From my point of view, the only ones worth mentioning are the nut-brown Modshoes boots, if only because they are rather similar to Polish Zuchs from the 1960s. I would consider a pair if they got the soles right.

modshoes boots

To be honest, though, something about posh monkey boots just rubs me the wrong way. Like donkey jackets, these boots were meant to be cheap, rough and ready items that were easily replaced when worn down. Their beauty lies in their awkward ugliness, which is ruined the moment someone decides to sex them up. Only Grafters have stayed true to the original spirit. They are also the only monkeys I know of that still come with ‘tractor soles’.

I want to see a faithful reproduction of dark brown 1960s Zuch monkeys (if you have an original pair looking for a new owner, get in touch pronto). Until then, it’s Grafters all the way.

I’d like to dedicate this track to everybody I have quoted in my piece or who has contributed in some other way (no prizes for guessing where the band have ‘borrowed’ their bassline from):

[1] We’re fully aware that kids didn’t refer to themselves as ‘suedeheads’, let alone ‘hard mods’. Nor did first wave skinheads particularly label themselves ‘skinheads’, which was originally a slur. Still, these terms can be useful shorthands for particular stages in the evolution of the look.

42 thoughts on “Do the monkey: Eastern Bloc boots for East End kids

      • “to each is own” the picture you posted of the ‘razored’ boot is mine. I will say you filled in the blanks with your assumption of ‘skaters in the 90’s razoring their monkey boots” . You’ve connected the dots in all the wrong places. The boot in question is my own. yes I skate, and yes I skated since the 80’s and through the 90s. Did I have Monkey boots then? Yes. did I razor my monkey boots down then? No. I heard of a girl seen at a punk show wearing a pair of customized monkey boots that were cut into low tops then. did she skate? the fuck if I know. *****Back to the beginning. Razoring NEW skate shoes became a fashionable in the 90s. This customizing of skate shoes could be credited to a pro skater that was a juggernaut among late 80s early 90s skate/skinhead culture as Matt Hensley. most notably known as the squeeze box musician from Flogging Molly now, but his trad skin roots crossed over into skate culture due to his popularity of his pro skater status at the time. Function over fashion. Razoring the long tongue on your Adidas Futbol trainers for comfort segued into Matt cutting NEW hightop skate shoes ( he gets for free for endorsements) into low tops for maneuverability. Function over fashion- very skin. Now kids all over are buying shoes and cutting them down! This in turn put mid top skate shoes on the map. throughout the 90s- customizing anything for utilitarian usage was deemed OK. cut off shorts, cut off pants for correct length. etc. now that thats ok- customizing OLD skate shoes was common place because skate shoes would either wear out on top before the soles wore thin or sometimes the top would wear out before the soles. often times you’d be left with one nice shoe and the other looking like a dog chewed through the sides. basically half way decent wearable shoes to walk around in but not good enough to skate in anymore. so it was common to fuck around with a razor and some rubber cement on old skate shoes. ‘garden clog style loafers’ made from old skate shoes was not uncommon during high school among skate rats- you didn’t skate during class so ‘who the fuck cares?’ ***** The boot I cut down was only a few years ago not from the 90s. I ordered an english size too big- so I was left with boots that were entirely too large for me to comfortably wear as a boot. Millennials and their lack of knowledge of Czech monkey boots I found to be a burden trying to sell or trade them anywhere. so in true skate fashion I cut those fuckers down into ‘gardening clogs’ so to put it mildly yeah ‘to each is own’ and yes I ditched the yellow laces and antiqued them with brown shoe polish. that was as worse as explaining traditional skinhead roots. fuckin’ell

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  1. We all rushed out and bought Monkey Boots – after JJ Burnel wore them on the cover of ‘black & white’ by the STRANGLERS….LP

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  2. Wouldn’t the Bletsoe ”suedehead” actually be a skinhead? from what i gather ”suedehead” hair was quite a bit longer then that, more like what was seen in pictures from 71-72 and the crombie boys article.

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  3. Any idea of how it sizes? I’ve got a 6 eyelets pair of Dr Martens (Eu:46, Uk:10). What size should I choose for the Grafters’?

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    • Personally i find them to be a bit tight seeing as im a size 11 and a half so i just recently got a pair in size 12, they seem more comfortable now. always safer to size up imo and if they are too big exchange them.

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      • Gotta say after wearing my monkey boots a size up a few times they are now much more comfortable then my regular size, infact they may be my new favorite boots! this may not work for everyone but its worth considering.

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  4. As a teenager in the early 90’s in California, I remember my punk and goth friends wore Monkey boots.

    I live in Japan now and found a pair of brand new Cebos in a used store for about $100. I think they are $200 new if you can find them. I’ve never owned older grafters, so can’t really compare, but the leather is super thin and cheap feeling. They are really comfortable though. Only thing I wish is that the uppers were smooth. They have a textured look to them.

    I wear them more than my Solovair boots because they are easy to take off and put back on, which you have to do often in Japan.

    Thinking about ordering a pair of the brown grafters.

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  5. Had Na Nas in the eighties and bought some Grafters about six months ago. No problem breaking them in. Feel the exact same as I remember. Solid purchase.

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  6. Rad. Good to know the history. Got my first MB in 1992. Have the Burberry ones and grafters…very similar. I really wanted the Cebo ones but don’t know How to get them in Los Angeles.

    Thanks for the article.

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  7. Hi I think I have a pair of Marlone monkey boots. As new oxblood colour with yellow stitching and laces. Size 9. Looking to sell

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  8. As a post two tone era rude girl/mod I had a pair of black ones in the early 90’s. Black with lug sole. Not durable but very comfy. Ska forever The Who forever.

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  9. No idea where it comes from, or if there is inconsistency in the leather Grafters use on their brown monkey boots, but I received mine yesterday and they need absolutely no break in at all. Slipped in like I would in sneakers. That being said the leather used is pretty thin, I wouldn’t recommend the Grafters for cold season unless you wear thick socks and can’t live without the style. Size wise they fit true to size. I have room for insoles if needed, but it’s pretty comfy as it is. Can’t wait for summer!

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  10. first pair i got from girlfriend in ’91 nana 13 hole baby blue spray painted them black but really too tight to wear
    second pair nana 7 hole ’91 too big wore 3 pairs of socks spray painted them candy apple green my school friends
    thought they looked rad…forward to ’03 found dude in toronto selling 13 hole monkeys on ebay in bright red, navy, and black bought a pair and wore them everyday for 2 years the leather never cracked but had to use mini screws and shoe goo to keep them going i now have 12 pairs of grafters and intend to “trunk up” as el duce would say with more pairs just in case the czech factory closes, god forbid. i hope i bored you with this blatherskite

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  11. I got my first pair at NA NAs in 1984 ish.About the same time I got my first pair of Docs at Posers .Great Article Thx

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  12. Really enjoyed reading this, and appreciate the work you put into it. Grew up in Southern California and likely got my first pair right out of high school either in LA or San Diego. Felt like I couldn’t afford DMs, and they seemed far trendier at the time, so I liked the monkey boot appeal. They are cheap, though. Became obsessed this summer with finding a better quality boot that was true to its origins. Will likely get a pair of Grafters for wearing to shows, and messing about, but I think I’ve found the smarter pair.

    While Solovair has their website up, they’ve also apparently joined with NPS, and at the joint website, they’ve got the proper soles rather than that DM looking sole Solovair offers. Here’s a link: https://www.nps-solovair.com/search?type=product%2C&q=monkey+boot
    I’m digging the ebony boot.

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    • Thanks, mate. Well, the Solovair monkey boots you linked haven’t got quite the ‘proper’ sole, but they’re close. I agree they look great, and I find it very hard to decide whether to go for the burgundy or chestnut ones. At that price, you don’t want to make the wrong choice…

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  13. A fantastic article – many thanks. You are indeed a clothes obsessive of the highest order and for that I salute you. Like many of the posters, I had the Czech made Monkey Boots in the mid – eighties and annoyed my Mam by leaving black marks on the lino in the kitchen 😦 . I now have a few pairs of the Chippewa and Thorogood lace to toe ‘Roofer Boots’ which tick all my Monkey Boot boxes, pricey , but built to last.

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  14. The monkey boots I remember from around 1967/68 in London’s East End laced up extremely close to the toe and had very thin soles, almost like just over the ankle tenpin bowling shoes, only pure brown. Pretty they weren’t. And if you bought a pair when DMs started gaining popularity, you had to like being laughed at.

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  15. I found this very interesting. I am currently writing abut fashion that was made for a function but then became mainstream fashion. I would love to know where you go a lot of your information from.

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  16. Great article – found it when I was trying to tell someone why airwear soles are just plain wrong on monkey boots. My big sister bought some in about 1981, from Millets, oxblood with yellow stitching and laces, I loved them and managed to get them off her about a year later. I swear they had wooden innersoles, like plywood, but didn’t see any mention of that here. Ahh, might have to go and buy myself a pair now.

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  17. This was a wonderful read-thank you for the obvious work that went into it. I write from the perspective of a SoCal punk rock kid in the early 80s and then a skinhead from the early/mid 80s for the next 15 years or so. Subjectively, Monkey Boots were pretty popular-particularly circa 84-86. My few pairs were indeed from Na-Na’s-or a store called Flashfeet of London, or from War Babies. (Shopping at Na-Na’s was always a particular joy-as, being a skinhead, one basically had to contend with getting jumped by a gang called the Suicidal Boys-aka Suis/aka Suicidals-and they were neck deep in Santa Monica, it could be pretty pretty challenging to make it from the store to safety.) Girls frequently wore them-but by no means exclusively. My pairs had the “Made in CZ” print inside. The creasing was terrible and without stuffing the shoes or putting them on a form, it was very difficult to polish them correctly.

    Not to take any issue with a fantastic article; but two subjective points come to mind. One, I rarely saw punks in SoCal wearing them. We saw them as nearly exclusively skinhead boots and would have taken them from them if we had seen them wearing them, (or at least tried/talked about it.) Death Rockers (aka “Goths” nowadays,) were pretty much given a pass on wearing them-as they were not viewed as threat on any level. Second, the vast majority of the folks I knew that were associated with any subcultures at the time were very far removed from suburban/middle class life. We were poor by nearly any measure-I attribute some of the ruinous violence of the scene in SoCal to this.

    Thanks again for the great stuff you produce,
    Billy

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  18. Having first purchased my pair from na nas on Santa Monica then a 2nd pair from poseur ‘s
    .our monkeys came in black and brown.yellow stiches.got a new pair for Xmas.im 51 and my wife just doesn’t understand the rude boy suede look.but it beats walking around with my pants hanging off my ass and wearing tennis shoes.

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  19. The design of what you guys call “monkey boot” as per boots that laces to the toe is a really old design, it goes back from before the middle ages. it is easily found in mountain boots around the alps and the balkans. More modern designs that lace to the toe are made of a single piece of leather but in the past it was not so common as working a single piece of leather for vamp and quarter is not so easy and it is more expensive. In the past they were quarters all the way to the toe stitched to a toe cap. Like the ones in the pics here now. The benefit of a lace to toe boot like the monkey boot is the ability to easily and securely fit different kind of feet. Some work boots use that design also
    The Italian paratroopers always used boots like these, just not ankle boots as they are 10 inch high, I still use the ones I was issued back in the 80s, resoled them several times, heavy but fit like a second skin.

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  20. Nice read and ace research.
    FYI, late 70s/early 80s here in the NW of England, literally everyone at our school had them as a cheap alternative to walking boots for the primary school trip away.
    As they were only used for that week they then became school shoes until you grew out of them.

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  21. Unfortunately, Grafters has moved the production to India and they don’t have the wedged tractor tyre anymore but a heeled commando sole instead. To add to the confusion, virtually any seller in Amazon and eBay is using pictures of the real deal but delivering the weird Indian version.

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  22. From “Boats Gahoolie” in the 80’s I’d buy my Monkey Boots at the Swap-meets around L.A. Callie,Down in La Mirada for like $ 30.00 Bucks , I loved them the most Comfortable Boot ever You can see Bryan Adams wearing them on the album cover of “Straight from the heart” where he’s holding his Guitar back in his right hand.

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  23. Bought a pair of Grafters as a backpacker in London in the early 80s . Much cheaper than DMs and lighter but chic cheapness was the deal then. Last seen sitting on a railway station bench in Spain when the weather heated up a few months later. May buy another pair after reading this great article!

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  24. I used to regularly see a couple of girls wearing black monkey boots in the early 1980s. They used to catch the bus into town on Saturday mornings to go to the cinema, shopping, etc. I fondly remember them sitting upstairs at the front together with their feet up on the front window during the journey into town. very often another girl in monkey boots would join them and put her feet up as wel…

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