Boots guide 2010/2011

In an effort to reduce the number of posts asking the same questions about the same boots three or nine times every day, I’ve compiled the MFA Definitive Boot Guide, using the brands I know something about. If you have info on brands I’ve left out, please add it to the comments. If you have contradictory opinions about brands I’ve included, especially if you think something I said sucks is actually good, you should come to terms with the fact that you’re wrong.

The Fundamental Boot Laws are as follows:

  • Yes to: leather upper, classic styling
  • No to: square toe, pointy toe, fake distressing, metal bits
  • Outdoor/all purpose: rubber/Vibram sole
  • Indoor/dress: leather sole
  • If your grandfather wouldn’t have worn them, neither should you

On to the brand list!

Red Wing, Chippewa and Wolverine are American workwear brands that have come back into the spotlight recently. They are well-made boots that will last a decade or more. Some lines carry price premiums (eg. the Red Wing Gentleman Traveler, or the Wolverine 1000 Miler) and some are relatively cheap . They look great with everything up to and including a suit worn casually. You should probably buy boots from one of these manufacturers.

Sorel and LL Bean make “Bean Boots”, designed to be worn in deep snow or hiking through forests in a blizzard or whatever. They’re really well made and will last a decade. But they’re charitably described as bad-looking. Some people are going apeshit over this aesthetic and that’s fine, but personally I think if you’re wearing them down 5th Avenue in a light drizzle, or worse in central Florida in October, you look like a fucking asshole. If you live in Maine, grab a pair. If you have to walk 100 yards from your car to your office in a half-inch of snow three times a year, definitely don’t.

More specifically, LL Bean Katahdins are general all-purpose boots that look great and are a great value. They’re also made by Chippewa, so they’ll last. Avoid the “waterproof” version if you can—they’re a little chunky.

Timberland, Caterpillar, etc. make relatively less expensive work boots that don’t look very good but are pretty tough. If you’re pouring concrete for a living, they’re probably worth a look. If you’re hanging out in MFA, you probably want to give them a pass.

RM Williams and Blundstone are quality Aussie bootmakers that are known for their Chelsea-style boots. RM Williams trends toward dressy, and Blundstone toward work boots.

ALDO, Bed Stuy, Tsubo, Kenneth Cole and ECCO make Trash Fashion Boots, often of impossibly thin leather, and always designed to be worn for one season and then thrown away. They run counter to everything boots should be. Often they’re marginally cheaper than other brands, but they’re still ludicrously overpriced for what they are. There is absolutely no situation where buying one of these brands is advisable. There is no extenuating circumstance that makes it OK. “Should I buy these Aldo boots?” The answer is always and emphatically no. I’m putting this in bold and italics because everyone seems to ask: ALDO and Bed Stuy are shit boots; do not buy them.

Ted Baker, Cole Haan, Steve Madden and etc. make boots that are slightly better than Trash Fashion Boots, but not by much. If you find a great deal on a pair, and they don’t violate the Fundamental Boot Laws, and you don’t plan on keeping them for long, you could consider them. Definitely not worth full retail.

Anything branded Urban Outfitters is going to be knockoff trash that is miss-or-really-miss on quality, but probably not awful on style. Again, if you find a great deal, take a look, but don’t drop over $100 for anything from these guys.

Merrel and Doc Martens are similar in that they make very eccentric boots that look awful on 95% of the people who wear them. Merrels just look plain awful and are questionably made; Doc Martens have a sordid history that you almost certainly don’t fit into, and look chunky and affected, and unless they’re made in England (which yours probably aren’t) they’re shittily manufactured. If you have to ask, don’t buy these. In fact, let’s just say don’t buy these.

Uggs—you’re a man; the answer is no.

Clarks and Frye are similar: good brands, that make good and comfortable boots. Unfortunately, about half of them are horrifically ugly. Tread carefully.

Specifically, the Clarks Desert Boot (or any crepe-soled, suede or light leather upper, chukka-style boot) is a decent looking spring/summer boot that is totally inappropriate below 45°F or in any kind of precipitation. That’s it.

Alden and Florsheim make great dress (leather-soled) boots that look great with anything from jeans to a three-piece suit and, if properly cared for, will last a lifetime. Unfortunately, they’re relatively difficult to care for, and quite expensive.

Trickers, Church’s and Crockett & Jones are also very high quality dress boots, made in England. Same caveats apply as eg. Alden.The Land’s End Canvas 8-eye boot is a value dress boot alternative. Should be decently made and is reportedly comfortable, but the leather may not be top-notch. Personally I think it looks better than almost anything Alden or Florsheim make; YMMV.

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