The term ‘formal boots’ might sound like an oxymoron given that they have traditionally been built for trudging across battlefields. That said, the military uniforms of yesteryear were nothing if not smart.
In the last few years we have seen a more casual style of boot hit the menswear market, with everything from hi-top trainer hybrids to thoroughbred hiking boots trending. I will admit to owning a pair of beautifully comfortable Diemme suede hiking boots, which – rather surprisingly – I actually hike in. Nevertheless, I contend that they are of such a good design that I would have no problem negotiating the smarter postcodes of London in them when teamed with a pair of raw denim jeans, chunky knit and pea coat.
Designer shows have been awash with boots in recent seasons, with many preferring a more rugged, militarised style over the classic formal silhouettes. That’s all very well and good for weekend wear, but let’s see what your employer thinks when you turn up for work in pair of twenty-eyelet combat boots (clue: he won’t care that they’re £600 and from Maison Martin Margiela either).
Formal boots, on the other hand, retain all the pomp and splendour of smart shoes while affording much more flexibility to be worn within off-duty ensembles. A pair of black Chelsea boots, for example, look just as good teamed with a suit as they do washed-out jeans – but the same couldn’t be said for your Monday to Friday black Oxfords.
So the question is: what formal boots should you have in your wardrobe? Here’s a rundown of the four key styles currently available and how you can get more out of them…
Brogues are one of my favourite styles of shoe, but turning them into a boot gives them so much more versatility.
Traditionally a gentleman’s weekend silhouette, these days it would be perfectly acceptable to wear a black brogue boot with a suit, provided they weren’t too chunky. It’s a move that shows you have personality, put thought into how you present yourself, and are slightly anarchic – which is no bad thing.
Traditional, Northamptonshire-based shoemakers such as Grenson produce fantastic brogue boots, with the highlights being their Fred and Alfred models – the latter being slightly lower cut on the ankle and thus probably the better bet for matching with a suit. Yet both would look equally dandy worn with a pair of turned-up selvedge jeans, chunky knit and sports jacket at the weekend.
Tricker’s are another great option for more rugged brogue designs. Personally, I think they work best as a smart-casual option in a tan colour way since they burnish really well, which brings out the slight differences in the hues of the hide and helps individualise your pair.
If your budget doesn’t quite stretch to Goodyear-welted versions, never fear – nearly every brand and retailer on the high street produces a brogue boot these days, such is their popularity, with stand-out versions coming from mid-priced brands such as Ted Baker, Oliver Sweeney, Dune, Ben Sherman, Aldo and Reiss.
Topman and ASOS also stock a wide range of styles at truly affordable price points, although be wary that they are unlikely to stand up as well to extreme weather conditions.
Looking to personalise your brogue boots? Drop them in to Steven Skippen at the London Hilton on Park Lane – he can do some truly amazing things with multiple coloured polishes.
- Aldo Thiago Brogue Boots
- H By Hudson Harland Boots In Tan
- Topman Dune Leather Lace Up Brogue Boots
- Oliver Sweeney Airton Lace Up Brogue Boots
- Dune Minister Leather Ankle Brogue Boots Black
- Ted Baker Sealls Brogue Ankle Boot
- Grenson Sharp Brogue Boots
- Churchs Angelina Boots
- Loake Wide Fit Tan Brogue Style Ankle Boots
- Grenson Fred Triple-welt Pebble-grain Leather Brogue Boots
- Trickers Stow Brogue Derby Boot
- Grenson Alfred Boots
Chelsea boots hark back to the Victorian era where they were invented by Queen Victoria’s shoemaker, J. Sparkes-Hall, as an antidote to the lace-up riding boot that was practically impossible to remove by oneself, hence the elasticated ankle piece. Of course, their name was derived from the 1950s and 1960s Chelsea scene, when they were de rigeur on the King’s Road.
They are arguably the most versatile silhouette on this list, with the boots able to be polished to smartness or left scuffed and dusty for a rock ‘n’ roll patina. Their clean lines, slimline profile and minimal detailing makes them the ideal match for your suits during the working week, yet come the weekend they can be dressed-down with slim black jeans, a simple white tee/shirt and an edgy black biker jacket for an effortlessly cool look that is ideal for a night out.
On the current market, Grenson’s Declan boot are excellent and as close to the original as it gets, while Church’s equally impressive Beijing boots have a slightly higher shine that befits smarter attire.
That said, there are plenty of other iterations available – some better than others. Maison Martin Margiela’s mahogany high shine styles are slightly more fashion-forward and bound to attract admiring glares, even if they’re not strictly a Chelsea boot by way of a zip ankle opening. Elsewhere, Rolando Sturlini makes a nice version with embossed elastic and Jeffrey West does a wide selection of patent colour ways.
At the lower end of the price scale, ASOS are currently stocking some superb Made in England styles while Topman have also produced a ‘lux’ version complete with a contrast coloured elasticated panel.
The bottom line is, if you don’t stray too far from the originals, you can’t really go wrong.
- Jeffery West Lightning Chelsea Boots
- Rolando Sturlini Leather Chelsea Boots
- Asos Chelsea Boots Made In England
- Topman Lux Black Leather Chelsea Boots
- Allsaints Nobel Boot
- Grenson Declan Chelsea Boots In Dark Brown
- Grenson Declan Leather Chelsea Boots
- Church Beijing Leather Chelsea Boots
- Dune Manderin Leather Chelsea Boots Tan
- Ted Baker Camroon Leather Chelsea Boot
- John Lobb Misty Leather Chelsea Boots
- Maison Martin Margiela High-shine Leather Chelsea Boots
Oxfords are characterised by ‘closed lacing’ – in other words, the eyelet tabs are attached under the vamp, as opposed to Derbies which are attached on top of the vamp. It’s a subtle but noticeable difference and one that is frequently called incorrectly.
For some reason (laziness the most likely offender), people have come to use the terms interchangeably to describe any formal shoe or boot that doesn’t have brogue stitching, which would be wrong. Pedant’s corner adjourned. For now, just concern yourself with the age-old consensus that due to the closed-lace set-up, the Oxford is deemed the smarter of the two styles, whereas the Derby is far more common – so much so that you’ll be hard-pressed to even find an Oxford-style boot these days.
They do exist though, as evidenced by Grenson’s collaboration with Foot The Coacher for Mr Porter, which produced a sublime pair of black pebble-grain lace-ups with subtle brogue detailing (see below). Treat them to some raw selvedge denim (Levi’s Made & Crafted collection is top notch) and a long overcoat for a really charismatic winter look.
Click boot to go to website:
Nearly all lace-up boots are fashioned in the open-laced Derby style, since it’s a more rugged, outdoorsy design. So much so, in fact, that no one really gives them the Derby prefix any more. Suffice to say that 99 per cent of lace-up boots are Derbies.
Due to this, the category is broad with a myriad different styles serving different purposes. However, brogue boots aside, the Derby silhouette is not the best match-up with a suit – the eyelet beds tend to jar with the clean and sleek lines of your tailoring. A Chelsea boot is a much better bet through Monday to Friday.
When Derby boots do come into their own is at the weekend, where they are in their element in either town or country. In terms of design, you can’t go wrong with the Northamptonshire bookmakers – the likes of Tricker’s, Grenson, John Lobb, Loake and Church’s have been hand-crafting Derby boots for decades.
A good pair, well-cared for and regularly resoled, will last a lifetime. They’re incredibly versatile too, easily pairing with wool trousers, raw denim jeans or cotton chinos. Look to combine with suitably rugged, outdoorsy fabrics and give them the audience they deserve by applying a turn-up or two to your trousers so they finish just above the ankle.
- H By Hudson Mcallister Lace-up Boots
- Topman Delta Black Leather Lace Boots
- H By Hudson Swathmore Boots In Tan
- Cheaney Pennine Pebble-grain Leather Boots
- Grenson Joseph Toe-cap Boots
- Officine Creative Anatomia Polished Lace-up Leather Boots
- A.p.c. Leather Lace-up Ankle Boots 205417
- Trickers Borford Boots
- Mcduff Ii Cordovan Rois Calf
- Ben Sherman Oxblood Ohns High Boot
- Palmerston Kg Kurt Geiger
- Ted Baker Comptan Toe Cap Derby Boot
With weather conditions on the decline, there has never been a better time to add a sturdy yet smart boot to your collection. Pick the right one and it can be dressed up or down with ease, looking as at home teamed with your nine-to-five tailoring as it does slim denim and a leather jacket at the weekend.
But now it’s time to hear your opinion – will you be investing in a new pair of boots this winter? If so, what style, brand and model will you be going for? Can boots ever successfully be worn with a suit?
Let us know in the comments section below…