Frye Boots inspired many bootmen of today by their style, looks, color choices, shaft height, sound of their clunky heels when walking in them, and affordability.
According to Frye, the Frye Company is the oldest continuously operated shoe company in the United States. (Notice the careful choice of wording – they no longer refer to themselves as a shoemaker or bootmaker.) The company was founded in 1863 as the John A. Frye Shoe Company in Marlborough (or Marlboro), Massachusetts, and continued to produce their shoes and boots until the company was purchased by Reebok, International, in 1987.
Reebok held the company only for two years. In 1989, they sold it to a British holding company by the name of Hanson Industries. Hanson licensed the Frye name to the Jimlar Corporation, based in Great Neck, New York. Jimlar bought the Frye company name and assets from Hanson outright in 1998. Boots continued to be made under the Frye name in Massachusetts until 2003, when Jimlar closed the plant, and outsourced some of the bootmaking to China. Materials and workmanship have suffered. Note, some of the Frye men's boots currently available, such as the campus boot, are still made in the U.S. at a plant in Arkansas.
While a few of the styles of Frye-labeled boots are still made in the United States, the boots are not made to the same patterns and do not use the same lasts (boot foot forms) as were used by the original John A. Frye Company when it was making boots in Massachusetts, USA. Many men these days have expressed disappointment with the style, heel height, and overall significantly lower quality of Frye-labeled boots made since the Frye name was purchased by Hanson in 1989, and especially since the plant in Massachusetts was closed.
Update: in August, 2010, Jimlar was bought by a Chinese company by the name of Li & Fung. (Source). This company hopes to expand its sales of Frye Brand footwear in Asia and Europe with this acquisition. Li & Fung also sells footwear under the Coach and Calvin Klein name brands, as well.
What they once produced is highly favored all over the world, and while today's version of their classics have similar looks, they just aren't the same. Apparently the Frye Company heard the complaints about only offering 12” boot heights and also now offer the 14” height again in its campus boots.
Just what was it about Fryes that caused the development of many Bootmen? The jury is out, but some factors include the appearance, design, as well as the “boot clunk” made when walking in them. You could always tell someone was wearing Fryes by the sound.
Many women took to wearing Fryes as well, and the styling of the campus boot, in particular, has been copied by other women's bootmakers and are still available today.
There are three traditional types of vintage Frye boots:
In the 1960s, Frye reintroduced the campus boot, from its 1860 original, featuring a bulky toe and chunky heel that came to epitomize the attitude and the style of the 60s and 70s. There was nothing like the “new” Frye boot on the market.
This was THE boot to have in the '60s and '70s. They were popular among rockers, jocks, and geeks alike in high schools and colleges across the United States. Frye campus boots of this era were 14” to 15” tall, and came in a variety of color choices: Banana (a light tan), Sunrise (medium tan), Saddle (dark tan), Olive (cool dark green), Russet (redish-brown), Walnut (brown), and black.
The heels were made of stacked leather, and/or leather-board/fiber. Also some early harness/snoot toe Frye boots had a black nylon-plastic “western” heel-base. True “vintage” mens Frye boots had heels of 2-3/8 inches (6cm), with a rubber sole plate. The soles of original campus boots are made of smooth leather. True vintage Frye Boots will have only one Frye logo sewn on the inside of the right boot shaft; boots made in the 1980s and thereafter have logos sewn on the inside of both boot shafts, as well as a Frye logo brand stamped on the left and right heel.
Read more about and see pictures of Frye campus boots here
Frye's current harness boots are rooted in tradition and continue to draw influence from the cavalry. Harness boots have a square toe and a non-adjustable system of four leather straps and two metal rings: one strap goes across the top of the foot at the ankle, one strap wraps around the rear of the foot at the ankle and two more straps rise from sole on either side ankle. The four straps are held in place by the two metal rings that are located on either side of the ankle. Vintage Frye harness boots have a pair of pull-straps on either side of the tops of the shafts.
Like their campus boot bretheren, Frye harness boots also have a stacked leather or leather-board fiber heel of 2-3/8 inches (6cm). Most have an all-leather sole. A few styles of Frye harness boots were also made for bikers and have a rubber tread sole. Vintage Frye harness boots were offered in brown, black and in olive, and for a short time, in a medium tan suede.
Also popular during the 1970s were a version of Frye boots that combined aspects of the campus boot and the harness boot. Frye produced boots with a tall shaft like campus boots and square toe, but without the harness. These boots also had the traditional Frye stacked heel to 2-3/8” (6cm) with rubber heel plate and smooth leather sole. They were offered in brown, black, Banana, Sunrise, and olive. They are not offered any more by the Frye Company.