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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wesco (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.
So 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