I would say that ,after denim, my biggest weakness is footwear. It has always been this way, up until quite recently I owned a semi respectable collection of Nike sneakers including the first six Jordan models and an unhealthy amount of the Nike SB range for a man in his thirties and I still regret to this day selling my Heavy Metal edition Nike Terminators. These days my sneaker collection is more about purpose than flair, I have trainers for playing football with my son, for running in and a couple of pairs for leisure, but they are no longer my first love…that honour has fallen to the American work boot and its shorter cousin the work oxford shoe.
It is well documented (by me) that my personal preference is for White’s boots, but I am slowly branching out. There is nothing quite so ubiquitous to put on your feet when wearing you jeans as an American work boot and if it was not for the almost unmatched ability to customise along with the ephemeral nature of leather then I think that we would all feel a whole lot more derivative than we perhaps do. To illustrate this point I refer to the group discount which was kindly offered from Bakers Shoes on the purchase of White’s Bounty Hunter boots for the Heavyweight Boot Championship, around twenty of us all bought essentially the same boots but there was so much variation within the basic framework that we all maintained a suitable level of individuality.
What is it about the boot that makes it such an ideal companion to denim? Well, in no small part it is the tangible feeling of vintage Americana, it is also the comfortable umbrella term of work wear under which both jeans and boots sit, along with the participative nature of denim and leather which allows the wearer to customise both items to their own aesthetic simply by wearing them. More important than all this though is the simple fact that they look great together, perfect partners in evolution, a hardy carapace of substance, structure and style.
Most of us enter the field of decent quality work boots with a pair of Red Wings, Timberland, Dr Martens or similar, some of us stay there for life, whereas other set foot on the slippery slope to obsession that comes from ordering a custom made pair from one of the great boot makers on North America, White’s, Alden, Viberg, Nicks, Wesco and many others. Weirdly I find that people have more brand loyalty when it comes to footwear than they do in other areas of their clothing, people are always eager to try new denim, cuts and details but far less eager to step away from a boot maker who keeps them in comfort. My personal preference is built around my stupidly high foot arch and the fact that the arch ease system from White’s is more comfortable on my feet than any amount of air cushioning, I have heard similar and different reasons espoused for other boot makers in this field also.
Just as jeans and boots share a common evolution so they also have a major difference, a difference which I believe makes footwear a more immersive experience to own. Unlike jeans you can effectively care for your boots in a general sense rather than simply a restorative sense, your jeans rip and you get them stitched, but you cannot polish denim to bring our patina and make the life cycle of the material extend, you can wash them sure but it doesn’t have the same tactile involvement as applying polish, boot grease or leather conditioner with your own hands. I find great satisfaction and an almost meditative state in cleaning and conditioning my boots, and owners will all try to convince you that their regime and choice of products is the best way to look after your faithful footwear, just as denim heads will all talk with confidence about their own wash routine as if it is an archaic art, learned from ancient scriptures (myself included, I use Huberds and leather protector wipes).
There is a quote by someone I cannot remember which goes along the lines of “You should always invest in a quality pair of boots and a good bed, because if you’re not in one you are in the other”. I believe this entirely, and if I were not already saving for my next pair of boots I would probably be looking for a new bed.