The Best F**king Boots Money Can Buy Part 2 – White’s Semi Dress

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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…

Workmanship

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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.

Fit/ Comfort

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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.

Materials

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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.

Price

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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.

Availability

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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.

Design

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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.

Functionality

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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.

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Denim HQ – The Best F**king Boots Money Can Buy ! – Part 1

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I write a lot about denim, I think a lot about denim, I wear a lot of denim and I must answer about 20 emails every day on the subject of denim, but if someone were to ask me if I preferred jeans or boots there would not be an easy answer. To me jeans and boots are the perfect pairing, whether your look is cowboy, biker or construction worker (or any other member of the Village People), whatever your style, whatever your age you can find a perfect combo in these simple garments. Good jeans become great jeans with the right boots and vice versa, and just like jeans opinions of where and who makes the best vary wildly. My personal leaning is for Japanese jeans and North American boots for no real good reason than the quality and style matches what I look for, I know that many other favour English shoe companies like Trickers, Alfred Sergeant and Grenson but for me they are a little too dressy, I prefer boots that could survive a nuclear attack.

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My history with Stateside made work boots follows a path which will familiar to most in this scene, I bough Red Wing Moc Toe’s, Red Wing Gentleman Travellers and also a couple of pairs of Wolverines and Thorogood before making the dramatic leap to my first pair of White’s Semi Dress boots, from there I have never let the quality drop below that level. I have expanded my taste away from White’s after three years of wearing nothing but that brand, mainly because there are simply so many really nice boots out there that I want to try out but also because I see so much discussion about comparing the different brands that I had a genuine need to have some empirical experience of those perceived as “the best of the best”, so first let me tell you which brands I selected for this, and why.

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White’s Boots of Spokane, Washington are a proper work boot company, favoured by fire fighters, ranchers and workmen alike for their unparalleled dependability, White’s have moved into the mainstream of quality menswear with some eye-catching leathers and designs which have really found favour in Japan and other Asian markets. White’s were my first step into top level footwear and I have always maintained at least one pair of Semi Dress boots ever since, for my money the SD is one of the greatest examples of a multi use boot out there. In more recent times there has been some slight criticism of the brand for the quality of their work in certain areas, and there is no doubt that White’s favour function over form in many instances, but when your price point sits a comfortable $200 – $300 less than your immediate rivals for a drop in quality that is barely distinguishable then your brand will always have many, many fans.

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Viberg, much like White’s, are also a proper work boot company who produce an extremely study and well made range of Smokejumper and Packer styles, but unlike White’s Viberg have not found favour by making their existing designs from prettier leathers, or adding subtle design tweaks to traditional models, Viberg have something of a split personality. On the one hand Viberg are an old and traditional work boot company, hand making some of the toughest work boots to survive the hardest work in Victoria, Canada, on the other hand Viberg make some incredibly eye catching designs in an absolutely flawless manner and supply them to some of the most exclusive boutiques and high end retailers in the world, at quite a price premium. Viberg have a legion of strong support in the work wear scene, and I have been chided by some in the past for my criticism of their pricing and certain directions the brand has taken, but my opinion is my opinion.

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Alden of New England are a little different, not really a work boot company in the sense of White’s or Viberg, they really have much more in common with the previously mentioned English shoe makers as their range is mainly made up of more formal options with one notable exception, the 405 Indy boot. If a boot wasn’t as iconic as the 405 then Alden wouldn’t even sit in this category, but as this particular boot is seen placed below a selvedge adorned cuff so often it would certainly be remiss of me not to bring it to the table. The 405 is a mid height utility work boot, known as the “Indy” owing to the fact that it was worn by the movie character Indiana Jones, it is available in different leathers, with different soles but essentially the design remains the same, just like the SD, it’s Aldens only real work boot (with the possible exception of the Tanker boot) so it’s the one I’ll be looking at. There has been some vocal criticism of some of Aldens QC checking in recent times, but this is counterbalanced by a vocal majority who still swear by Alden as their go to brand.

_DSC7038Wesco (The West Coast Shoe Company) take us back into the realms of the proper work boot company, their stock in trade also comes from supplying Packer, Jobmaster and Smokejumper styled boots to real working men and women. Wesco cut the middle ground between White’s and Viberg in so much as they offer a variety of options on traditional/ standard models whilst also making a range of boots more designed for the comfort of the casual boot wearer, though still super high quality and tough. An association which Wesco have to a greater degree than other brands appears to be with motorcycle enthusiasts, with their Boss engineer boots being particularly popular with Japanese bikers. In terms of workmanship Wesco sit at the top of the tree with Viberg, whilst offering a slightly lower price point in most instances. More recent times have seen Wesco mix things up a little, firstly by creating specific models for the Japanese market and now doing likewise for Europe and the West.

WBS-R-F11-1K-Rockford_Brown-1So these are the four brands which I have selected as being the best in their field, and I am (very) fortunate to own a pair of boots by each of them, all is different styles and all in varying states of wear which obviously makes a like for like comparison just about impossible. So, what I’ll do rather than put each pair of boots side by side and make direct comparison is I will use each pair of boots as a representative example of their companies work, and I will look at thinks such as workmanship, fit, comfort, materials, price, availability, design and functionality. I will write individual pieces on each pair of boots where I will talk about these points without bias or influence, and finally I will draw conclusions based on my experiences and findings. I realise that when you reach the very highest end of any product that the differences become almost negligible, and I expect to find myself splitting hairs on a regular basis, but if this is how we separate the great from the good then so be it.

The Boots I have to consider are…

White’s Semi Dress Boots made from Milano Red Buffalo hide.

Viberg Short Shift Engineer Boots in Black Smooth Leather

Alden 405 Indy Boots in Brown Chromexcel

Wesco Flightmasters in Black Domain Leather

DHQ – Wardrobe Essentials, A Winter Coat

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Over here in merry old England there is a definite developing chill in the air as winter approaches. We are told by our skilled team of meteorologists that we can expect a long, cold and wet winter, and if this is true then I am severely under equipped for it. My basic plan was to get through winter by wearing heavy flannels, hoodies and sweatshirts under my flannel lined Trophy Reservoir Hood, but unfortunately whilst “the Hood” is an amazing multi purpose jacket, it may not quite be up to facing the rigours of a severe English winter single handed. It looks like I need a new winter coat, and that seems like a good opportunity to look at a few options right here on DHQ .

Not many folks know more about winter wear than the military, in the event of war breaking out during the colder seasons or harsh climates they need to be able to keep their forces mobile and warm, so they provide a good place to start looking at winter wear with some serious options, many of which have been reproduced by some of my favourite brands, for instance…

The M65 Field Coat

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The M65 is a general purpose field coat, designed to be used in a variety of environments all over the world. It was used in Vietnam, and is also issued to troops deployed in extreme cold weather with the handy addition of a detachable lining. The definite plus points for the M65 are that it is light, has plenty of pockets and has a hood which can be stowed away easily into the collar, not to mention that some great high end versions are made by brands like Real McCoys and Iron Heart, with some very nice mid range versions done by actual military contractors like Spiewak and Alpha Industries. The down sides are that they aren’t actually waterproof and they are tough to wax due to many small details and pockets, not to mention that the liner does not come as standard and can be difficult to find. The main issue I have with the M65 though is that it doesn’t actually suit me, and I struggle to be comfortable in one, just a matter of personal taste.

N-3B Extreme Weather Parka

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The N-3B was the flagship winter coat of the US military, a hip length, insulated, waterproof coat with a alpaca lined hood featuring coyote fur trim. It has pockets, zips, buttons, draw strings and press studs galore to make it fit and fasten just as you like, needs no liner and is readily available at a good price from brands to match any budget, but it’s far from perfect. The N-3B is quite bulky and if anything is a little too warm, ok for wearing in the frozen arctic but not so good for a day out shopping in the winter sales with the family unless you enjoy sweating profusely. I would say that this is the perfect coat for those of us who spend a large amount of time outdoors, but if you are in and out of buildings it can become quite uncomfortable.

N-1 Deck Coat

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The N-1 Deck Coat is jacket designed by the US Navy for personnel who spend time on the deck of a ship exposed to the elements. It is waist length and features a lined collar (usually with alpaca) and button downed zipper flap to keep to cold wind out of unexpected places. The outer is generally made from whipcord or grosgrain, which are both extremely tightly woven fabrics with a degree of natural water repellence, the entire body is usually either quilt or wool lined whilst the sleeves feature internal storm cuffs to protect from the elements. It is shorter than the M-65 and heavier, though not as heavy or bulky as the N-3B, I have previously owned the Iron Heart version, which was extremely impressive, and I have also handled the Trophy version which features horse hide framed pockets and detailing at key stress points. After an absence of a couple of years it does look as though this is the jacket for me due to the duel benefits of durability and utility.

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Obviously there are non military alternatives, but I trust the design of things made to protect servicemen in combat over things made to protect trust fund college kids as they hurtle down the slopes of Aspen or Whistler, I’m simply not “rad” enough for Burton or any of the high end technical jackets favoured by that particular scene. Plus, I find that the military style designs look much better with denim and boots which is basically all that I wear.

Denim HQ – The DHQ Christmas List

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As the festive period is almost upon us we see our thoughts turning to the true meaning of the season, what cool stuff would we like for Christmas? Mainly thanks to the new arrival of a dog in my house who has taken to eating my furniture, and my boys seemingly flawless ability to completely destroy his iPad at the most inopportune moment, I am not expecting Santa Clause to be too kind to me this year, but a boy can dream right? With that in mind, and in the vain hope that my wife has been stockpiling cash away to give me my wildest dreams, here is my Christmas want list…

Wesco Flightmaster

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The Flightmaster is a Wesco model produced exclusively for the Japanese market. It is a modified packer built on the motor patrol last which has the effect of giving the typically slender packer shape a little more heft. Earlier this year when I had the pleasure of trying out a few really nice Wesco builds I began researching their models to find something which could possibly replace the White’s SD in my affections as my favourite multi purpose boot, the Flightmaster looks like it could be ideal as the images below show. I have actually got a pair of these on order, but I currently have no idea if they will be here in time for Christmas.

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Since I saw the Flightmaster those guys at The Bootery (Europe’s official Wesco dealer) have taken a stab at designing the ultimate utility boot also with their exclusive Foot Patrol, and a very nice job they have made of it too. This boot is available at a discounted price for the BWC here…..

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Iron Heart IHJ-25

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I’m a sucker for blanket lining, so it’s super odd that I don’t own anything blanket lined. The IHJ-25 is a blanket lined, slightly modified tanker jacket from Iron Heart and it looks just about perfect for a casual winter jacket. The modification comes from (what I can see) in the form of a slightly lengthened body and narrower arms than the version used in the military through the 40’s and 50’s. I want this jacket, but it would be a pure luxury and vanity purchase as I need to get more wear out of my Alexander leather before I think of getting another jacket.

Jelado Athletic Sweatshirt

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Oddly, what holds me back from getting more wear out of my Alexander leather is that I don’t have enough short tops to wear with it. Most of my shirts hang a good 3″ below the hem of the jacket and just look a little sloppy to me, so with winter around the corner it seem appropriate that I should look at a vintage, box fit style sweatshirt, and in my experience Jelado make the best one. I know people rave about Buzz Rickson and Real McCoys but I have owned both of them and neither are as good as the Jelado version, which is so much substantial, softer and simply feels like a more premium product. I might drop some subtle hints about this one to my dearest wife.

ZeeBee Leathers Phone Case

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Zach is a friend of mine, but I happen to believe that he is also one of the most talented up and coming leather craftsmen out there. My last 2 cases for my iPhone 4S and 5S were both made by ZeeBee, and as I know that he is in the process of laying hands on some really nice new hides, including a Number 8 Cordovan, and the fact that I’m really digging his new case design, I am definitely going to be signing up for one of these. I don’t tend to carry much with me at all and have been using a Tush Leathers card case in place of a wallet all year, this could even replace that as I continually seek to minimize my pocket load.

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You might notice the glaring omission of any denim from the list, the very good reason for this is that I am currently drowning in jeans, I wear my HWDC2 contest jeans all week (Iron Heart Mega Beatle Busters) and then face the tough choice between my Samurai’s, Trophy’s or Sauce Zhan’s at the weekend, a real first world issue. Not to mention that as soon as I stop wearing the MBB’s I’m going to be committing to another pair for a further 2 years, so denim is not something which I’ll be needing much more of for quite some time.

What’s on your Christmas list? Let me know in the comments section below.

Denim HQ x Sauce Zhan – Making The Cut

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I have child bearing hips, some men do, wide hips are a cause of constant pain when it comes to getting a good fit on a pair of jeans as you have to take a size larger than your waist requires sometimes to get the jeans over your hips, this was a problem which required a solution. Another cause of complaint often spoken about is how can shorter people attain a slim tapered cut when the necessity to hem their jeans means that they are shortened to a wider part of the leg taper, so what if I could come up with a cut of jeans to solve both of these issues ? What if I could make a cut to fit all widths of hips in a flattering manner without giving the parachute pant fit? What if I could alter a cut to allow shorter people a slimmer leg opening without compromising the fit for taller people? I decided that this was a task worth attempting. To begin with I emptied my wardrobe of jeans, gathered together my favourite pairs and worked out exactly what I like and don’t like about the fit, this would allow me to ascertain exactly what the problem is, and where alterations were required whilst remembering that different cuts work for different people, so the problems I was looking at would not be a problem for everyone.

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The first pair of jeans I took out were my 25oz Iron Heart Mega Beatle Busters, which I have been wearing for the first 18 months of HWDC2, they are a mid to high rise slightly tapered cut, with a very similar top block to the signature Iron Heart 634S, although slightly narrower. The taper on these jeans begins at the knee and is not completely dramatic, the cut works well for people who want something a little slimmer than a standard straight cut, without going too slim, I had 2 problems with these jeans. The first problem was that due to the narrowing of the top block I had to go up a size on these for a comfortable fit, this resulted in the thighs being too baggy, which lead to a combination of parachute fit and saddle fades on the back. The second problem came from them being too loose across the width of the knee, which lead to baggy knees. The jeans are ridiculously comfortable, I love the 25oz fabric (actually my favourite IH denim), but I can’t help but feel that my fit in these is sloppy. Also, because the taper begins at the knee I can see how any hem would result in a wider leg opening.

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The second pair I tried were my Samurai 710OG, which I bought to combat the baggy leg syndrome of the MBB’s. The 710 is also a tapered cut, slightly more so than the Beatle Buster, but still the leg feels out of spec with the waist measurement I have to go for to comfortably accommodate my hips. Generally the fit of my 710’s feels more like what I need but it just doesn’t go far enough, it is slimmer and more fitted but I still get the saddle creases on the back of the legs and the knees still bag slightly and due to the taper beginning at the knee they suffer for shorter people. Annoying as I love these jeans and wanted to commit myself to them fully for the next 2 years, they are now relegated to casual/ occasional wear only. So the problem remains that the jeans which I have tried so far are just not slim enough to give me a flattering fit for my build, but I have tried proper slim cuts before and they wont accommodate my hips at all, and mostly lead to my ample frame being quite uncomfortable before I finally sigh and give up on them, I did have another cut to try first though.

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The Trophy Dirt Denim narrow in so nearly there, I like the way that they fit through the thigh and the lower leg although if I was being super critical I would like the thigh to be slightly slimmer. Though this is called a narrow cut, it is only that in comparison to the full Dirt Denim cut, it isn’t a slim jean more of a slimmer jean. The issue that I have with the DD narrow has nothing really to do with the cut of the leg however, it has everything to do with the reasonably low rise which results in 3 or 4 inches of ass cleavage when I bend over. Not something I’m a fan of though I know that a lot of guys prefer a low rise jean, not for me at my age though. It seemed that I didn’t own a cut of jeans that I really loved, which got me to thinking if I had ever owned jeans that I really loved, I think I have. I seem to remember the fit on my first pair of Samurai 710’s was great, but that was a different denim and a different batch, plus I was maybe a little slimmer then.
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The exercise was however worth while, I believed that I had identified the issues causing the problems and more importantly I also had a plan of how to cut some jeans to solve them which was put into practice by Chinese denim wizard Sauce Zhan. The taper begins just above the knee and ends about 9 inches below it, maintaining the slimness through the full 37″ inseam so that no matter where they are hemmed, from 26″ to 37″ you will still have the same width of leg opening. The top block is a mid rise cut slightly wider in the hips than the thighs so the tapered leg does not look off balance with the shape of the jeans, I think (with a slight hint of bias) that the cut is perfect for such a variety of people and situations. It’s slim without being jeggings, designed for comfort and cut to accommodate differing heights and weights. I am hopeful that by wearing and evolving these jeans that I might achieve certain things which so many slimmer denim heads take for granted, stack and combs with definition, something which I have never experienced.

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I must mention the denim and Zhans craftsmanship also. The denim is a raw 15oz deep indigo dipped material, with a bleached pure white weft which hints at the promise of dramatic evolution. The weave is quite tight but still irregular and the surface is quire hairy, but the most striking thing about this denim is just how soft and comfortable it is for a mid weight raw, usually a this weight in a raw leads to a super crispy denim which can be quite abrasive, but this is a very easy to wear material. Zhan hand made these jeans himself, using vintage machines and a hand cut pattern from my supplied dimensions, I have inspected them closely and compared the workmanship against their more celebrated and illustrious counterparts in my wardrobe and I can say with all honesty that Zhans work stands up to scrutiny. In particular I did a stitch for stitch comparison against the Samurai’s and whilst some things are done differently across the two jeans, nothing is really done markedly better on either pair, which is high praise indeed for a little known Chinese jeans maker.

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The next step is to discuss with Zhan about getting further samples made in different sizes and getting some feedback from elsewhere to see if these is anything that I am missing which might require tweaking or adjustment, so far so good and we’re hoping to have a product ready for release in the coming months.