This fourth installment of shoes for life examines a boot that may be less common in many regions of the world. That these boots should be presented so early in the series betrays the Antipodean heritage of the author. In Australia, the whole-cut Chelsea is perhaps the most common footwear to be seen on the feet of men across the country. That one boot may be equally found in outback communities, buzzing metropoles and coastal surfing towns bespeaks its versatility.
Firstly, the reader might question, why a whole-cut? Can Chelsea boots not be made from more than one piece of leather? Surely they can, but to do so instantly and irretrievably diminishes their elegance in this author's eyes. Why do shoemakers not use such an opportunity to demonstrate their shoe-making prowess and present a shoe that is both hugely comfortable and massively versatile?
Despite its British country (and royal) origins, this boot became largely popular on the feet of the Beatles, and many still refer to the design as a “Beatle boot’. The design has proliferated in the years since, although the whole-cut versions of the boot are conspicuously absent from many British manufacturers’ catalogs. Thus, one must look to Spain, France, and Australia for the best modern incarnations of this iconic boot.
The very fact that this boot is a whole-cut design instantly lends a sense of fortitude and longevity. With few seams to split, the whole cut is entirely reliant upon the quality of its upper leather to resist wear. Suede may be a fantastic option for these shoes, as the low-maintenance and inherent water-resistance of the material pair well with the design.
A Goodyear welted construction for this design is necessary to facilitate a long life, and may even allow the wearer to move between sole options. Classic sole options include single leather, flat rubber, or studded Dainite. Another standard feature of the boots is the ‘pull-tabs’ on the opening, which facilitate the easy donning of the shoes. These make shoe-horns unnecessary and thus such boots would make a fantastic choice for airline travel.
As in prior articles, options will be provided in the attainable (under $400 USD), advanced ($400-800 USD), and aspirational (over $800 USD) categories. Keep in mind that these prices represent full retail prices, and the savvy shopper will surely be able to find reduced prices either on sale or from the purchase of a pre-loved shoe. Such a purchase also carries with it an implicit environmental benefit of not having contributed to the demand for new footwear.
Boots to be found in this first category tend to have slightly lower levels of detailing and more accessible leathers from well-known tanneries, although some models may provide far more. They are all constructed with a Goodyear welt, a key component to ensure a long and comfortable life. Many of the following models are to be found in established shoe-making areas of Spain. This fact outlines the concentration of high-end, well-priced, and beautifully designed models that can be found in this region.
Option 1: Löf & Tung Albanel in Dark Brown Suede
This gorgeous boot is from a Swedish marque that started life as a shoe retailer, and following the discontinuation of stocking another well-known Spanish shoe brand, decided to design their own line of shoes. The results attest to the obvious levels of taste and knowledge of the market held by the owners.
These boots showcase a lovely shade of dark brown suede by the famed English tannery CF Stead. This fine-napped and durable suede is shown off in fine style on these one-piece uppers. Indeed, the large expanse of leather found on a whole cut Chelsea is ideally suited to be made in embossed leathers or suede to break up the visual impact slightly.
These Spanish-made boots are built upon the classically round S last, which suits their practical and equestrian origins. This last has a medium-width fore-foot and supportive arch area to aid walking comfort. Further country-inspired details include genuine Dainite soles and a rear pull-tab for ease of entry.
These boots are true ‘road-warriors’ and will survive many long walks in inclement weather with correct care. For these activities, the dark brown suede would look well under a pair of grey flannel trousers and royal purple socks with an olive military surplus jacket and denim shirt.
Option 2: Septieme Largeur Basile in Black Calf
From a very casual style, we move now to a far sleeker representation of the form. This elegant model is from the young French brand Septieme Largeur. Translated as ‘seventh width’ this brand builds upon generational knowledge and experience in the shoemaking industry. They have become known amongst shoe cognoscenti for their daring designs and incredible patina work.
This model shows incredible attention to detail and aspects of finer making often found on bespoke models. As with many brands in this highly competitively-priced segment, they take pains to point out the provenance of the leather used — in this case, the famed Polish Weinheimer — and the high-quality construction methods such as closed-channel Goodyear welting and brass toe tacks. This model even has a wood-pegged waist, which helps the single leather outsole to achieve a beautiful shape.
The boot is built in Spain upon the 7505 last. Despite being described as a ‘wide’ last, it has a sleeker shape than most lasts from the UK or USA. This typically continental last shape of low toe box and toe spring lends an air of elegance not common to this style.
This pair of boots would look sublime under a narrow pair of charcoal wool trousers, dark grey socks, a burgundy sports coat, and a black roll-neck for a mod-inspired ensemble.
Option 3: Meermin 101052 in Brown Country Calf
The cost-cutting measures at Mallorca-based Meermin must include the naming of new models, as the 101052 model is surely deserving of a more adventurous name. Perhaps the Jerez, after the famous polo grounds in Cadiz and the underrated fortified wine of the same name.
Thankfully, such cost-cutting has enabled the creation of a boot that provides immense value for the quality of construction. Finding a Goodyear welted boot for well under $300 USD is no easy task, and one that looks as beautiful as these is truly a miracle of economics and design. This has been made possible by the manufacturing taking place in China, with largely European-sourced materials.
This particular example is made on the well-proportioned round-toed HOK last, which features a lovely modern shape with just a slight elongation of the toe. This will suit slightly wider feet with a high degree of comfort while also maintaining high style.
The uppers are of a gorgeous country (or Scotch) grain by Tanneries Du Puy. The storm welt is connected to a studded rubber sole for durability and longevity. One of the criticisms of Meermin shoes is that the breaking-in period can be lengthy. This has been partially addressed by the sourcing of thinner lining leathers in recent years.
In all, these shoes provide a beautiful entrance into the Goodyear-welted footwear world and will look fantastic under a pair of mid-wash jeans, gold socks, and a navy rugby shirt for a classically casual outfit.
Here we see brands providing extra points of differentiation to their offerings. This might be higher quality leathers, heritage-brand manufacturing, or additional aesthetic details and flourishes. It is a fantastic place to be as a shoe enthusiast, as the additional outlay can truly pay dividends with the style and longevity of the boots on offer. You should be looking to find a pair of boots with superlative quality uppers that will reward long-term care and many resoles.
Option 1: R M Williams Craftsman in Chestnut Yearling
Although coming from a heavily-biased perspective, this boot is seen by many as the Platonic Ideal of the Chelsea Boot. With a rich and authentic heritage of equestrian and country use, this boot has found a new home in cities around the world.
Thankfully, the recent acquisition of the brand from luxury house LVMH by Australian entrepreneur 'Twiggy' Forrest increases the likelihood that they will remain made in South Australia using one piece of high-quality Yearling leather. This model is so popular in Australia that the rubber-soled version is issued as a parade boot to Armed Forces.
While the rubber-soled ‘comfort’ model is more popular, the ‘classic’ craftsman provides the best long-term durability due to its full-grain leather insole and cork mid-sole, which will adapt to the wearer’s feet over time. Due to its Goodyear welted construction, any competent cobbler will be able to replace the leather outsole with a rubber one if preferred. The soft chisel last is slightly narrow in width, but the upper leather typically stretches to accommodate wider feet over time.
RM Williams recently introduced a scheme where old and unwanted boots can be traded into the factory for a deposit on a new pair. The old pairs are rebuilt and sold to new customers in unique makeups. Such a scheme greatly increases the sustainability of the footwear business model, and this move should be commended. This model would look at home under a pair of tan chinos, navy socks, a blue oxford shirt, and a navy Shetland sweater.
Option 2. Paraboot Elevage in Burgundy Calfskin
These boots by the French marque Paraboot are of a very utilitarian design originally created for the specific needs of horse traders in the fifties. The fact that classical English footwear has permeated French Bon Chic Bon Genre society for the best part of a century is evident here. These boots bring several novel features, such as beautiful and hardy burgundy calfskin uppers and heavily lugged rubber soles.
Adding to this ruggedness is a rarely seen functional detail, a Norwegian welt, which massively increases the boots' water-tightness. The boots are made in France on the classically-inspired round toe last, which may run slightly narrow for some feet. For the materials and construction, these boots actually offer a fantastic quality to price ratio and should be considered if a very durable albeit stylish boot is needed.
Styles such as this form the backbone of Le stile Anglaise, which is the French interpretation of English classic country style, which many argue is implemented with more irreverence and panache than the originators. A thematic clothing recommendation would have to be a pair of cavalry twill trousers and tan socks, worn with a Tattersall shirt, and a tweed hacking jacket for riding.
Option 3: J. Fitzpatrick Alki in Black Calf
From the casual end of the spectrum, we move quickly to the upper echelons of formality achievable by this versatile boot. The eponymous brand J. Fitzpatrick is the brainchild of an American shoe connoisseur and blogger, and has quickly grown a reputation for delivering highly artistic and unusual riffs on classic shoe designs for a fantastic price.
This boot is no different and provides a more formal option in this lineup. It is built in Spain around the sleek almond NGT last, which is slightly elongated, with a narrower forefoot and lower instep. This last is better for a lower-volume foot, but provides incredible elegance for these individuals.
This boot has several other features that add a refined sophistication uncommon in this style. These include German Weinheimer box calf leather, a single leather sole with closed stitch detail, and a hand-lasted waist. Several non-aesthetic, but highly functional details can also be found that add to the longevity of the boot, such as a leather-board heel stiffener and brass tacks at the toe to decrease wear.
The design of the elasticized gusset is also quite unique and in all, this boot cuts quite a sharp visual impression. This boot would ideally suit being worn with a trim pair of olive chinos and a white cotton shirt, perhaps with a navy blazer in lightweight worsted wool.
Once more we float into the rarified atmosphere inhabited by creations of great beauty and truly unique design. Here we will no longer speak of quality to price ratios or value propositions, but rather discuss fine details such as aged leather and tightly-clipped heels. It can be challenging to justify these boots to all but the most obsessive footwear connoisseur, but for those rare individuals, nothing else will do.
Despite the heavy costs involved, these boots should truly be expected to last a lifetime, as every component will be made of the highest possible quality materials. These boots will also show an incredible amount of character and patina if cared for correctly.
Option 1: Gaziano and Girling Burnham
A very striking pair of boots, from the leather to the last. Gaziano & Girling is perhaps the most innovative and experimental shoe manufacturer in the Northampton region. They rework and re-imagine classic English styles, making them to the highest possible level in bespoke and ready-to-wear lines.
These boots are built on the TG73 last, which provides a very defined and sharp toe, as well as a sculpted heel. The elongated and slim nature of this last will best suit feet with a moderate to narrow width, especially due to the structured nature of the upper.
The aged one-piece calf-skin uppers are of the highest quality, but interestingly, so are the invisible inner parts. J & FJ Baker, England’s only remaining oak bark tannery, provides the materials for the outsole, insole, and heel block. This ensures that inside and out, this pair of boots will not only last decades but look better and become more comfortable and personalized during the process. Not many consumer goods in today’s world can claim such a feat.
These shoes would look sublime under a mid-grey Prince of Wales suit, with forest green socks, a green grenadine tie, and a blue broadcloth shirt. Such a look could provide an interesting take on work attire in a relatively formal office.
Option 2. JM Weston Chelsea Boots
Another French offering that was developed to meet the needs of the equine community. This boot, however, could not provide a more different interpretation than the Paraboot. If the Paraboot was a country steeplechase, this boot is an Olympic dressage event.
Built on a sleek asymmetrical almond last, with an iconic black box calf and a high, tight ankle line, this boot is one for show. Extremely high-quality insoles and out-soles from the renowned Bastin & Fils vegetable tannery add longevity to the style.
JM Weston has made an enviable reputation for superlative, if understated footwear that bespeaks a typically Gallic refinement. While nothing about these boots shout, they whisper with assured confidence and would be an impeccable companion for life. Wear them with a dark green blazer, white duck trousers, white shirt, and black knit tie for a suitably à la mode outfit.
Option 3. Viberg Chelsea in Flint Calf Suede
Viberg is one of the most beloved brands amongst boot aficionados, particularly those with a predilection for service and work boots. The Canadian manufacturer has been in family ownership since 1931 and has developed an enviable reputation for bulletproof footwear engaged in military, logging, and purely stylistic operations.
This model, in a full-grain calf suede by upper British stalwarts C.F. Stead, is available in this unique ‘flint’ colour. What this shade loses in versatility, it gains in impact, particularly given the more complex visual texture of the luxurious suede.
Interestingly, the 2050 last developed for this model draws its inspiration from vintage Argentinean riding boots, a country with a long history of skilled horsemanship and leather-work. It will suit those with narrower feet best, but sports a higher instep for comfort. For practicality, the boot is made with Dainite soles, a wise addition, and perfectly complementing the highly wear-resistant suede uppers.
With care, a suede boot - particularly one in full-grain calf suede - will resist water and abuse on par with any other upper material. This model would suit being worn with mid-blue selvage denim, a forest green rugby shirt, and a similarly-hued suede Valstarino jacket.
While not commonly found on lists of ‘must-have footwear’ for budding shoe enthusiasts, the whole-cut Chelsea provides a unique opportunity for a versatile boot that can easily slide up and down the formality scale depending on upper material and wardrobe choices.
The comfort levels provided by this boot are unparalleled and will reward years of use with a perfect custom molded shape. Attention to high-quality upper leather will allow many resoles over the years and enable the wearer to take full advantage of this feature.
Disclaimer: Any views represented in this article belong solely to the author and may not represent those of the blog owner. This article is not sponsored by any brands.
Photography: as stated