The Boots That Kicked Off an Era Are Back One of Frye's most famous boots is called the Harness. If you're over 40, you know the one, even if you don't know you know. Rugged leather, squared toe, a simple belt around the ankle. It was created in the 19th century and became a huge fad in the late 1960s, but you needn't go to a museum to see this boot today: it's flying off the shelves of Nordstrom and Zappos. Keep your eyes peeled and you'll see the Harness, the Engineer and other classic Frye boots on the streets of New York and London and Chicago this summer. In this, the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, Frye boots are back like a blast from the past. And unlike other flash-in-the pan fashions, their comeback is a telling sign of the times. Frye boots' previous heyday was the first time the brand, founded in 1863, became a fashion icon. For women, they represented a new and formerly impossible combination of strength and hipness. Wide-toed and heavy, they were a bold reaction against a period of restrictive femininity: housewives vacuuming in heels. Claudia Goldin hitched herself to a pair of Fryes in the 1970s and stomped around the West Village with her tight jeans tucked into the bootlegs. Now a well-known labor and history economist at Harvard University, she welcomes their return. "Fryes are kick-ass boots," Dr. Goldin says fondly. "They say strength." With the benefit of hindsight, we can safely say that the 1970s woman used her Fryes to look more liberated than she actually was. The woman-behind-the-man habits persisted for some time. "There was tension -- she was a strong woman, but she was still making coffee for the war movement," Dr. Goldin says. Still, the boots exemplified the effort of forging past the Fifties -- with its traditional roles for women -- into a stronger, more confident era. Though they remained popular into the Seventies, Frye boots are so closely tied to the image of the Sixties that they are on display at the Smithsonian as an emblem of those years. But there are also some ways in which their aura -- earthy, utilitarian, and anti-fashion -- fits the current times, too. In fashion, we're coming off a similar period of femininity, with floral prints and flouncy dresses finally on the wane. Our feet ache from the Manolo Blahniks that we've been wearing to work. Politically, when Fryes were last in fashion, it was a period of unsurpassed idealism, unrest over an unpopular war and a president who was out of favor. Today, the political winds are blowing in some similar directions. We have the Iraq war, Darfur, global warming and George Bush, whose approval ratings have plummeted to historic lows. Women have won many victories in the workplace and progressed to work-life balance issues, but studies say we still do more than our share of the housework and still struggle for professional equality. Political activism and social conscience are cool again. Rather than marching in protest, activists are forming investment funds, producing sustainable products, going on world tour with Bono. "I really believe there's a strong societal connection between 2007 and the 1970s," says Leslie Schnur, a 52-year-old New York author who owned a pair of Harness boots in the 1970s, when she attended Berkeley. Jeannie, the heroine of Ms. Schnur's latest novel, "Late Night Talking," clomps through Ms. Schnur's book in a pair of Fryes. Jeannie does wear a Stella McCartney dress rather than some India-import smock. "Then it was paisley, now it's Pucci," says Ms. Schnur. But now, as then, her Frye boots serve to define her rebellious, idealistic character. For most wearers, Frye boots are about the freedom to blow off fashion's dictums. They are rebellious and, at the same time, in touch with the earth and a certain cowboy reality. Frye was founded by John A. Frye in 1863. An enterprising boot maker from England, Mr. Frye managed to sell to both the Yankees and the Rebels during the Civil War. The company maintained its utilitarian customer base for many decades, putting boots on pioneers who crossed the West, on soldiers in the Spanish American war, on Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, on General Patton, who wore Frye Jet boots -- the company's version of a Wellington -- in World War II. In 1998, Frye was bought by Jimlar Corp., a privately held footwear company based in Great Neck, N.Y., whose sales of Frye and other shoes -- including a Coach footwear license -- will be roughly $400 million this year. Jimlar is named for Jim and Larry Tarica, sons of Jimlar's founders, who own and operate it. Larry Tarica, who is 57 years old and wore Frye Harness and Campus boots in college, says he and his brother bought Frye thinking that leatherwear was a match for premium denim, which has been booming since 2000. After the heady rush of their 1970s popularity, Frye boots were left to their cowboy and motorcycle stalwarts for a quarter-century or so. Three years ago, actress Sarah Jessica Parker helped bring them back after being seen about town in a pair of Fryes -- in screeching contrast to her Manolo-Blahnik TV persona on "Sex in the City." Now, Fryes are back in force: the Campus boot, the 19th-century design favored by pioneers and renamed in the 1970s to reflect its popularity among college students; the Engineer; the Harness boot, the Cavalry. There are newer versions -- such as a slouchy take on the Engineer, and a whole line of shoes as well, but it's the 140-year-old styles that resonate. Open the pages of Vogue Magazine this month and there is Keira Knightley in Frye Engineers. Sales of Frye boots this year will be four times as large as they were in 2003, the company says. Stephanie Maniscalco, proprietor of the online vintage purveyor Pretty Baby Vintage in Lufkin, Texas, can't find enough vintage Fryes to sell. "They can bring an outfit down if it's too frilly," she says. Again, the message is jarring and rebellious. And there you have it. Fryes aren't just an emblem of geopolitical unrest. They're a response to fashion unrest, as well. Perhaps, like the culinary trend toward "slow food" -- healthier and more flavorful -- consumers yearn for slower fashion. David Wolfe, creative director at Doneger Group retail consultants, believes the fashion industry's fast-fashion frenzy may be inadvertently driving people into Frye boots and items like Converse sneakers that feel more substantial. Zara, H&M and other retailers have become expert at feeding us new styles in two-week increments so there are new items each time we pass the store, priced so inexpensively that we can afford to buy every week. But the cycles move so quickly that I can't tell what's in vogue anymore. Are skinny jeans in or out? There's no consensus. "I think we're in fashion burn-out," Mr. Wolfe says. "We're looking for things that are so out of fashion, they're cool." So now, a whole new generation is finding an alternative in Frye boots. Lauren Goodman, the 31-year-old fashion director at Domino Magazine, counts herself a "huge fan." "We're all so into chasing trends," she says, waiting at Newark's airport to catch a flight to Italy. "It's great that we have H&M and Forever 21, but they're here today and gone tomorrow. It's nice to have something with legacy."