On a recent day of subway rides through New York City, I counted no fewer than ten passengers (myself included) wearing Timberland boots, or as New Yorkers refer to them, Timbs. Along with the black puffer jacket, Timbs are part of the unofficial winter uniform of New Yorkers. On the 50th anniversary of the creation of the now-classic 6-inch yellow Timberlands, let’s talk about how a single boot brand became a staple of New York fashion. But to find out how Timbs got on the feet of New Yorkers of all walks of life, let’s take a trip to 1973 New Hampshire.
As in the rest of New England, the weather in New Hampshire could test the resolve of even the hardiest person. But instead of being put off by the wet and chilly springs and the unmerciful winters, the Abington Shoe Company found New England weather to be inspirational. Founded in Boston in 1952 and later based in the small New Hampshire towns of Newmarket and Stratham, the Abington Shoe Company specialized in making shoes that could stand up to any type of weather. Following that tradition, in 1973 the company introduced their first guaranteed waterproof boot that they called “the Timberland.” This six-inch yellow nubuck leather boot was such a hit with Abington’s customer base of outdoorsmen and blue-collar workers that the company abandoned its stuffy, Old English name for the more rough-and-tumble-sounding name of its bestselling boot, the Timberland.
By the 1990s, Timberland (the brand, not the boot) began to notice an odd trend: Timberland boots were gaining popularity in cities, and it wasn’t because construction workers were wearing them at their downtown job sites. The yellow boots could now be spotted at street corners in places like Bed-Stuy and Harlem, on the feet of (gasp!) hustlers.
If you give it some thought, it’s not hard to see why the kind of boots that would appeal to hikers and construction workers would also appeal to urban hustlers and dealers. Timberland boots are durable, comfortable, warm, waterproof, and — to tie it all together — they look good. It is the perfect boot for spending hours on your feet pushing product in the often wet and frigid streets of NYC.
Being that it was the 1990s and street cred meant everything to those involved in the emerging hip hop scene, rappers copped hustlers choice of footwear to prove their hood status. They weren’t only wearing Timbs to events and in music videos, but were even name-dropping the boots in songs, such as Biggie Smalls’ “Friend of Mine,” “Suicidal Thoughts,” and “Hypnotize,” and Nas’ “The World is Yours.” And once hip-hop’s stars were co-signing it, anyone who wanted to be seen as hip in New York and other cities across the country had to get their hands, or rather their feet, on the golden shoes.
Timberland was hesitant to embrace the love it was getting from this unexpected demographic, and they initially thought it was a passing fad. But time has shown that the love for Timbs is as durable as the boot itself. And the Timberland company has leaned into the love, collaborating with artists and designers to create fashion-forward versions of its boot, while maintaining the qualities that they built their business on. This mix of fashion, craftsmanship, and history is why, fifty years after its debut, New Yorkers from all walks of life can still be seen walking around in their Timbs.
Are you a New Yorker with a cherished pair of Timbs? Are you surprised by the longevity of Timberlands’ popularity in New York City? Share your thoughts in the comment section.
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