Chelsea Boys


Gucci, Scotch web Chelsea boots – AW16


When the time comes to kick off those sandals, gentlemen, some of you will have already learned that avoiding the appearance of winter footwear in the shops at about this time of year won’t actually prevent the changing of the seasons. Nor will it help you, as the righteously prepared will all too smugly point out, get to the good stuff before stocks – or just stock in your size and preferred colour, more likely– run out.

Boots usually prove a practical option once the weather turns wetter and colder. So the Chelsea boot’s status as the autumn-winter de rigueur trend for manly footwear brings more than one benefit. In the first instance there’s the generic benefit of ankle-warming boots as a category. And then there are all the additional benefits of the Chelsea boot itself, least of all those precious moments saved not lacing up boots that might be better spent lingering under a snug duvet or perfecting your killer smile in the bathroom mirror before you really have to dash to work. Don’t underestimate the multifaceted benefits of a boot that can be pulled on – or off– in seconds thanks to the benefits of some sturdy, moving side seams. Technically, in today’s variation it’s called a gusset. Such a ladylike word, unfit for men’s boots.

On the other hand, perhaps we should call a spade a spade. Bootmaker to royalty, J. Sparkes-Hall, the self-proclaimed inventor of the Chelsea boot, patented them in 1851 as J. Sparkes-Hall’s Patent Elastic Ankle Boot. He cited Queen Victoria’s herself in his registration, pointing out her love of his invention and, effectively, positioning it as a piece of “feminine apparel”. Fortunately for him, she was still in her yummy mummy period at the time. Had he tried a decade later the words “feminine” and “Her Majesty Queen Victoria” might have been more open to discussion…

Like many other men’s classics, the Chelsea boot was a regular feature of the male wardrobe in the first half of the 20th century, sometimes in the foreground, sometimes almost comically old-fashioned and neglected. Its big popular revival came in the 1950s and 1960s when London’s post-WWII subcultures took it to their hearts, most prominently making it the height of fashion during the Swinging Sixties, the period that some historians place it taking on the name “Chelsea boot”; a boot associated with the hip youth culture scenes around London’s Kings Road in Chelsea.

Fortunately for all style-conscious lads and gentlemen, the coming season’s Chelsea boot allows for all options, whether on the butch-femme spectrum, a laid-back or dressed-up approach to attire or, indeed, luxury vs budget. And many intersecting options within the Venn diagram. There are budget options evoking the Beatles’ take on the Chelsea boot made for them by ballet pump purveyors Anello & Davide – tell me that’s not girlie. There are high-end Gucci options almost parodying their own signature within the elastic. There are weathered versions touting buckles and a Mad Max posture. And there are even reasonably restrained options expressing a quintessential Britishness associated with Chelsea, that most English of old boots.

Yes, gentlemen, you can buy in at whatever level or the market and with whichever cultural signifiers you wish to be associated. Just make sure you buy those Chelsea boots. If you’re clever, you’ll buy them before all the best ones are gone.

Clockwise, from left: Dune London, Casper Buckle Strap Ruched Boot; Delicious Junction, Beatles Suede Chelsea Boot; Paul Smith, Searle Black Leather Chelsea boot with rubber sole.

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