There is always a slight hint of bias when I talk about the Semi Dress boot from White’s as it was my first real foray into top quality footwear, and it totally changed the game for me. Before I got my first SD’s I firmly believed that boots came no better that the Red Wing Gentleman Traveller, a fine boot but many levels below the SD in so many ways, since those first SD’s I have never let my footwear standards slip below excellent. It is therefore appropriate to start with the boot which started it all for me…
White’s are generally acknowledged as being more functional than beautiful, that is not to say that they don’t make a great looking pair of boots but it does acknowledge the fact that if there is a minor stitch error on a pair of Whites which does not effect function it does make it through QC quite often. That said I have never heard or read one single story of anyone having an issue of dependability with a pair of White’s, with the greatest testament being the amount of people working in jobs which demand the boots to be a functional and reliable tool who trust none other than White’s boots to fulfil this task.
For my own experience I have (over the years) owned 6 pairs of White’s boots and shoes and have had no issues with any of them, although it is fair to note that the heaviest use they would get from me is around 4 miles walking a day, in any weather condition (I’m a bit too old to climb trees). The stitching is not quite as uniform as some other brands I have seen, but it is better than most and far from messy, a White’s boot is built to last.
This particular pair of semi dress are almost faultless even after over a years worth of wear, nothing is loose or ripped, the arch ease is still doing its job and the leather is creasing up nicely in exactly the right places.
White’s fit on the large side, with the SD last fitting slightly larger than the Smokejumper last and the Swing last offering seemingly acres of room in the toe box. For Smokejumpers, or other boot built on that last, I would say that fit half a size above the marked size, for the SD last it can be a full size. I am a true UK10, my current SD’s are a US10 and are a perfect fit.
In terms of comfort White’s offer something which no one else does in their “arch ease” system, which is basically a couple of pieces of sculpted leather stitched into the arch area of the midsole to provide support to your foot arch. I have high arches, so this is great for me and is a major reason why I have stuck with White’s for so long, if you have flat or relatively flat feet I could see it being quite uncomfortable, but I have no experience of that.
I find my pair of SD’s to be one of the most comfortable pairs of boots that I have ever worn, they feel relatively light on my feet and I feel supported in all the right areas whilst not being restricted in any way, I could and do wear them all day.
The choice of leathers for White’s custom options is vast indeed, from their standard leathers to rare skins such as shark and alligator White’s have it all. Of the leathers I have tried (Chromexcel, Buffalo, Bull Hide and Dress), I favour their standard dress leather or the buffalo. I find that Chromexcel marks quite easily, which is great for those who like the worn in look but not so good if you want your boots to look good for longer, bull hide is too dry and stiff and lacks character in my opinion whereas dress takes all the best bits of chromexcel (pliable, comfortable with a nice grain) but is a far more robust choice. The boots I have at the moment are made from buffalo leather, which is quite a thin leather (the boots are lined with calf to add extra heft )but also extremely tough, it has amazing colour depth, is easy to maintain and evolves beautifully.
Something which can’t be understated about White’s boots is the quality of the hardware, the speed hooks on White’s boots do not bend no matter what laces you use or how much you abuse them. This might seem like a relatively minor point, and speed hooks are not something which I am a huge fan of, but if you have them then you need them to last, and this is not something which can be said of every pair of high quality boots I have ever owned.
In the price stakes White’s really are tough to beat. Depending on your style and preference it is entirely possible to purchase a really nice pair of custom boots, with custom options, for less than $400, in fact you can buy the White’s hiking boot made from chromexcel, dress or rough out with either a Vibram wedge, Christy or Portland sole for less than $300, that is an unbelievable price for a custom made boot from one of the finest boot companies in the world.
I was actually given these boots as a gift by a friend, but I have priced them up using Baker shoes “build a boot” tool and they would cost $419.
White’s sell direct, but communication can be long and laboured and their website is not the most user friendly. To get the best results you actually have to pick up the phone and give them a call, which is not ideal and can be expensive if you live on the other side of the world but is definitely worthwhile.
Oddly the best way to buy the largest range from White’s is to go through their local stockist Baker Shoes, who have invested a considerable amount of time in building an easy to use website with a huge range of boots from White’s and other manufacturers, even including a “build a boot” tool to aid the customer in creating their vision.
When it comes to design White’s have plenty of variation, from the distinctly utilitarian standard smokejumpers, to my old “Armageddon” boots with their triple leather mid sole and commando lug sole, White’s cater for all tastes. The Semi Dress boot is the finest case in point as it could (in theory) be modified into something quite outlandish, whereas in its most basic form it is a quiet, subtle and understated boot which is more than capable of being worn in a formal setting. I have heard the accusation from fans of other brands that White’s can appear basic and lacking in detail, but I would describe them as subtle, understated and perfectly formed, they do what they are made to do and, by choosing your options wisely, they can do it with the requisite style, which is exactly how I would describe my SD’s.
The Semi Dress boot was designed to be a boot which could be worn all day by workers who spend the majority of the time on their feet. It was designed to be comfortable and durable, not so much a work boot in the traditional sense as it would be no use on a building site or in the fields, it is a boot for the factory worker, the warehouse worker, a boot for everyman who toils. I am a man who toils, spends most of my working day on my feet, and I walk to a from work. My SD’s do not disappoint, they stay comfortable through the day although I admit that there are days when it feels good to take them off. In terms of pure functionality it is hard to knock Whites, they are favoured by many more skilled men than I who work in much more demanding professions, so if they are good enough for them then they are good enough for me.