The Shoe Styles I've Known of: Whole-cut Chelsea Boots
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.