The Shoe Styles I've Known of: Field Boots
The origins of the field boots — like many items of menswear — derive firstly from the field of battle and subsequently from the sporting field. Development of the field boot in its’ current iteration was necessitated by the unique demands of the horrific trench warfare encountered by soldiers in the fields of France and Belgium.
The so-called ‘trench boot’ was developed by General Pershing of the US Army in 1917 to resist the effects of immersion foot (also known as trench foot) commonly afflicting soldiers of the Western front. The boot featured thick leather triple soles with hobnails, calf-height water-resistant leather uppers, and a derby construction with bellows tongue.
The combined industrial might of Northampton’s shoe factories contemporaneously produced a similar boot for British forces; the ‘ammo boot’ with thick grained-leather uppers, a cap-toe, and rarely with a ‘veldschoen’ waterproof construction (usually in officers' private purchase boots from the likes of Lotus or Crockett & Jones). These boots shared many design similarities with the US models and together have gone on to inform the ‘field boot’ style ever since.
WWII saw several novel improvements to these designs, specifically for use by specialist troops or in order to simplify existing designs. The first is the ‘jumper boot’ which adds a higher cuff and brogued toe cap specifically for parachute troops who needed a higher level of ankle protection. The second is the M-1943 boot, which replaced the top section of eyelets for a double buckle, developed from hard-won experience in North Africa. For a wonderful examination of the construction of these boots, see Westin Kay’s fascinating video here.
Following the atrocities of the early 20th century, the field boot was relegated to a more gentlemanly role, as the design proforma was implemented into the sporting attire of the landed gentry. Here, the higher shaft, grained leather, and bellows tongue were mated with a faux-stitched cap and ‘arrowhead’ Derby facing to produce a design that had not only practicality, but style to boot (pun somewhat intended).
The Edward Green Galway boot has become the ultimate expression of this style for many and has spawned countless facsimiles. It must be said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the well-balanced features of this boot attest to this fact. Styles in this format, as well as more direct descendants of the ‘ammo boot’ will be examined in this article alongside one another.
Field boots are at their most versatile in various shades of brown suede and grained leathers, which provide both increased durability and heightened visual interest. A bi-material mix of suede and calfskin can add a sophisticated touch to the style but will invariably limit their ability to be worn in truly ‘field’ settings. Construction should be Goodyear welted at a minimum, and this may be a good place to investigate veldtschoen or Norwegian welting due to their increased water resistance. Soles can be smooth or studded rubber for traction and may be made with double leather soles in the most refined options.
The incredible proliferation of the field boot style over the last several years has resulted in a veritable buyer’s market of models that provide almost unbelievable value for money. Although at this level the design elements typically stay true to format and rarely deviate from the established icons, the quality of footwear available now is staggering. This is particularly true for boots that intrinsically incur higher material and labour costs per pair. At this level, expect solid Goodyear welted construction, high quality - if not flawless – upper leathers, and name-brand rubber soles.
Option 1: Sons of Henrey Field Boot in dark brown Utah Calf
The Belgium-based brand Sons of Henrey makes their shoes under contract in Almansa, Spain, like many new footwear brands. This allows for a truly incredible combination of upper leather in Tannerie Haas’ Utah calf (a high-end grained leather hand treated with 9 oils and fats to ensure longevity) a 360-degree Goodyear welted Studded Vibram outsole (which is arguably grippier than Dainite at the cost of being slightly softer) and unlined shaft (for greater flexibility) with ‘5/3’ eyelet configuration.
The style stays very close to the ‘Galway’ design, with three-row faux-cap stitching and ‘arrowhead’ facing stitching. This model does economise slightly on the leather-board counters and overall level of finishing, but for the price, this is completely understandable for the incredible value proposition it offers.
The model is built upon the Elegant Round last, which lives up to its’ name. A slightly more sophisticated version of the classic round toe, it features a medium-width ball and a tighter waist for more support and definition. This shape works perfectly for both casual country boots and dressier town styles.
Due to its’ relatively understated patterning and dark colour, this shoe could work for a wintery work ensemble of grey flannel trousers, navy moleskin blazer, pink oxford cloth shirt, and burgundy socks with an ancient madder tie.
Option 2: Löf & Tung Clark in Dark Brown Suede
Another Spanish-manufactured boot offering a near unbeatable price-quality ratio is the Clark from Swedish Löf & Tung. This boot is labelled a jumper boot by the brand, although it conforms more closely to the ‘ammo boot’ design of classic Derby facings, an un-brogued toe cap, and a slightly lower shaft height.
The boot is formed over the S last, a classic round-toed last with more than a passing resemblance to popular last shapes from established Northamptonshire makers. It has been stated that Scandinavians (or French) often do English style better than the English themselves, and this boot is a great example of this theory.
Furthering that association, the uppers are made from CF Stead’s Repello suede in a beautiful and versatile dark brown, and the outsoles are British-made Dainite studded rubber. The 5/4 configuration of eyelets and speed hooks have been made in a bright nickel. This emboldens the design somewhat, providing a unique visual feature. For those seeking a more subtle aesthetic, these can be easily swapped for more demure antique brass options by any competent cobbler.
The texture and visual solidity of this boot will work very well with denim, although it could also work with more tailored outfits due to the massive versatility of dark brown suede. A classic combination of raw selvage denim jeans, grey sweatshirt, white oxford cloth shirt, and olive drab field parka, with unexpected salmon socks, would look wonderful atop these beauties.
Option 3: Carlos Santos 9156 in Dark brown suede/ brown calf
The final model of the trifecta of ‘value-kings’ is the Portuguese Carlos Santos’ offering in the form of the 9156 boot. Uppers constructed of calfskin sacrifice some of the functionality of suedes and grained leathers for the ability to patinate and develop a highly unique character over time. This may be well worth the sacrifice for many, and this model offers a fantastic opportunity to make a statement with one’s footwear.
This boot incorporates several design elements explored thus far. A real toe cap is coupled with the ‘arrowhead’ facing for a hybrid pattern that works very well in bi-material. Suede used for the shaft is not purely aesthetic, as it provides a softer and more compliant leather in an area where many struggle with discomfort in stiffer constructions. The 4/4 eyelet pattern utilized is amongst the most popular among footwear enthusiasts due to its’ balance and functionality.
The 316 is a slightly roomy almond-toed last, one that might necessitate the sizing up for those with normal or narrower feet. It perfectly suits the rugged but refined design of this boot and its upper materials. The utilitarian Dainite soles are also wisely used in this model. Expert sizing advice should be sought out from specialist footwear retailers when buying boots such as these on an unfamiliar last.
The slightly more defined last shape and smooth calf leather of these shoes could work very well in an ‘upscale casual’ outfit of fawn cavalry twill trousers, brown suede Valstarino jacket, ecru submariner’s sweater, and tan socks for a tonal look with real panache.
At this level, one encounters classic models from established brands manufactured in the UK and the USA. Although the quality of these shoes will have some marked improvements over the attainable category, in today’s market the differences are not as large as the price differential may suggest.
At the lower end of the price spectrum, several brands - again manufactured largely in Spain - are providing levels of finishing and design that eclipse the more pedestrian and conservative styles of these heritage makers. They also provide ripe opportunities for made-to-order (MTO) customisation in different designs, lasts, and materials. Expect first-grade leather uppers, high-quality finishing, and top-level internal materials such as linings and heel stiffeners.
Option 1: Crockett & Jones Coniston in dark brown Scotch Grain
The iconic Coniston boot again veers towards the ‘ammo boot’ style, with a cap-toe and traditional derby facings. The signature element of this boot is the gorgeous deep brown Scotch grain leather that recalls the boots made for officers serving in the Great War. The lovely texture was specially developed in conjunction with Tanneries Du Puy when Crockett & Jones asked for a grained leather that utilized the full grain for its’ longevity and unique character.
The boot is made on the famed 325 last, which is a slightly modern take on a round toe, with a touch more toe height and forefoot volume than standard. This leads to a very comfortable, if slightly roomy fit for most feet. This last has proved highly versatile, being used in boots, derbies, and even loafers, and has become the author’s favourite last.
Completing the package is a 360-degree storm-welted Dainite outsole and leather midsole. Interestingly these boots feature scoring along the flex-point of the midsole to maximise flexibility while maintaining lateral stability. Hidden features such as these may not be huge selling points, but they do add immeasurably to comfort over time.
The texture of the grain leather coupled with the darker colour provides real versatility from hyper-casual to quite smart outfits. A combination on the more casual side could be medium wash blue jeans, a brown waxed cotton coat, a navy rugby shirt, and gold socks for a pop of seasonally appropriate colour.
Option 2: TLB Mallorca Artista 140 Marron Boxcalf/Suede
These very svelte boots push the upper limits of formality for this style of footwear. Manufactured in Spain by the market-disrupting brand TLB Mallorca, these boots provide many bespoke details for a very low price. These details include the fine-grained Anonnay box calf and textural brown suede used for the uppers in a very fetching but subtle combination.
The boots are built upon the Goya round last, which provides a round toe, but with a very shapely waist and rear quarters, which allows for a high level of forefoot comfort with arch support and heel retention. The lasts of the Artista line have been widely celebrated for their unique combination of fit and form, which allows for a beautifully sculpted waist.
The construction is rounded out by fully veg-tanned linings and insole, a slim rubber sole stitched to the Goodyear welt with very fine outsole stitching of 8 stitches per inch. A rear pull tab and 4/4 eyelet layout allow for easier donning and doffing.
These shoes are elegant enough to wear for casual offices during the winter. Such an outfit might be composed of a Harris tweed jacket in tan and green herringbone, greige covert twill trousers, a blue oxford cloth shirt with a navy club tie, and grey socks.
Option 3: Alden Field Boot in Snuff Suede
Alden has long been associated with casual boots; notably, their 405 ‘Indy’ model, made famous by Harrison Ford’s character in Steven Spielberg’s Indian Jones trilogy. This boot applies Alden’s experience in that famous model to a ‘field boot’ style, replete with cap toe and derby facings.
This shoe is made entirely in the USA, being Goodyear welted over the Barrie last in Massachusetts. This last is very voluminous, with a deep toe and wide forefoot in a classically round shape with a significant toe spring that is common to US manufacturers’ lasts. Those with narrower feet would be advised to try these on prior to purchase, as sizing down may be necessary.
The unique rustic details of this boot include a 360-degree ‘pre-stitched’ reverse welt and a naturally finished double leather outsole. While the author traditionally prefers the versatility of rubber outsole on boots, the double leather here works very well with the overall balance of the boot’s aesthetics.
The snuff suede upper material will guarantee many decades of hard service with the correct care. It is especially important with lighter suedes to brush regularly to free the surface of dust and grime. A suede eraser is effective for removing water stains and a yearly wash with specialist suede shampoo will keep the boots looking pristine.
These boots really shine in more casual scenarios, as a result of the lighter colour and relative informality of suede as a material. An outfit comprising olive green chinos, a dark navy peacoat, a denim shirt, and royal purple socks would provide a beautifully understated look with a rare flash of regality.
At this level, one often sees two diverse sets of priorities. On one hand, many heritage manufacturers trade off name recognition and the guarantee of peerless quality that such a name has represented for perhaps over a century. On the other, these established players are also seeing some competition from manufacturers offering truly hand-made shoes, which can be truly beautiful creations rivalling bespoke pairs for their uniqueness and quality.
In the first case, expect near-flawless uppers, high-quality finishing, and superb quality control. Whereas hand-welted shoes may show some signs of human fallibility in the finishing, even at this price point. This is to be somewhat expected, as the increased longevity that these pairs will provide is an ample compromise for most.
Option 1: Antonio Mecariello Evocatus in hatch grain
From master cordwainer Antonio Meccariello come this stunning pair of boots modelled along the ‘field boot’ style, but with unique patterning and stitching that provides a lovely visual impression. This is particularly the case when made with a textured leather - as here - in Horween’s hatch grain, modelled after the famous ‘Russian reindeer’ leather uncovered in the wreck of the Metta Catharina off the Cornish coast.
Another stunning feature of these boots is the B last; an elegant almond-toed last with a moderately narrow forefoot and tight waist. A narrower last is common amongst Italian hand makers, and gives these boots a very elongated feel, despite their casual intentions.
The hand-welted construction is mated to a Dainite sole, which may show some evidence of hand work, but will be more secure over the years. The uppers have a faux-stitched cap toe and may be ordered in a bi-material makeup including kudu leather, full-grain suedes, and even exotics.
The lovely warm colour and sophisticated texture of these shoes - combined with the elegant last - could provide one of the best options to mate with a casual suit in all the models thus far examined. One should be mindful to keep a similar level of formality, and a grey Harris tweed suit, worn with a blue and white striped shirt, forest green socks and grenadine tie could provide just that right combination of contrast and congruence.
Option 2: Vass Theresianer High Boot
This ‘high boot’ model by famed Hungarian atelier Vass does exactly what is says on the tin, it provides the field boot model in a higher leg style, which both adds support and evokes a very militaristic feel, similar to the ‘jumper boots’ used by US paratroopers in WWII. The lovely light brown suede of this pair further echoes the military boots used in that disastrous conflict.
This particular pair is truly hand-made on the P2 last in Budapest. This last has a lovely modern round toe that perfectly suits this design. It has a slightly higher toe box and should fit most feet quite well. A benefit of Vass shoes is that lasted shoe trees are included in the purchase, so the beautiful shape will not be lost over time.
It must be noted that due to the hand-stitching of the outsole on these boots, only the toe area of the Dainite rubber is stitched onto the welt. While this may be seen as a point of failure, the author has yet to hear of a pair of Vass Dainite outsoles separating from the midsoles. Slightly misaligned stitching and other signs of ‘human fabrication’ are another matter entirely.
The lighter tone of these gorgeous boots demands a similarly relaxed and tonally appropriate pairing. Light wash blue jeans, a navy Shetland sweater, a white rugby shirt, a camelhair polo coat, and navy socks would provide a slightly left field, but very sporty look that sacrifices little in the way of elegance.
Option 3: Edward Green Galway in Dark Oak and Mink Suede
Finally, we come to the pair of boots against which all others are measured; the venerable Galway. In production since the mid-1930s, this model has stood the test of time and continues to provide its owners with timeless elegance for the ages.
This particular model is one of the most popular makeups, and understandably so. The combination of the dark oak calf (arguably the marque’s loveliest shade) and full-grain suede from Italian tannery Conceria Zonta are mesmerizingly beautiful and provide increased shaft comfort alongside ample opportunities for patina-development on the lower boot.
The 82 last is a slim and elegant almond shape, which has great fitting properties for all except the widest of feet. The slightly elongated nature of the last provides this boot with far more elegance than one would expect. The last is also often found on dress oxfords, and this suggests the level of fineness you might expect.
Much of the extremely fine finishing can be attributed to the factories’ workforce of 60, whose skilled hands unhurriedly pass these boots through (sometimes antique) machines and laboriously hand-apply the antiqued finish. The tapered double leather soles found on this particular model are flawlessly beautiful, but the boots can be found in countless makeups, including Veldschoen construction, ridgeway rubber soles, grained leathers, and even in different lasts for a perfect fit.
Going all in on the English country house aesthetic, these boots would look well under tailored brown corduroy trousers, a beige tattersall shirt, and a pecan shawl collar cardigan with brown socks for a very comfortable ‘off duty’ look. One should feel free to accessorise with a burgundy cravat if feeling especially theatrical, Sir David would approve…
It can be very difficult to moderate one’s rate of accumulation of fine men’s shoes when bitten by the high-end footwear