Boots For Suits
Blizzards don’t care what day you’ve got a big meeting, but MR PORTER has got you covered with hybrids that combine a boot’s practicality with the elegance of a dress shoe
Suited and booted: it’s a well-worn phrase but, in practice, the combination is often worn rather badly. Utilitarian winter boots lack the subtlety, elegance and finesse of a dress shoe. They’re invariably heavy, clumpy, galumphing things that look incongruous poking out the end of a proper pair of tailored trousers. The overall effect is boyish.
Sleek dress shoes, however, are completely impractical in icy, snowy conditions. No man looks sharp while wiping out on ice. And even if you manage to stay on your feet, the rock salt will rot the leather soles, and the slush puddles will leave the uppers with unsightly tide stains. (Although a dab with some watered-down vinegar solution should help remove high water marks.)
But there is a Third Way: the dress boot. A happy union of beauty and beast, the dress boot combines refined uppers with robust rubber soles.
This is a fast-emerging category of footwear and one MR PORTER has stocked up on for winter in direct response to distress calls from customers struggling through last winter’s polar vortex. (Full disclosure: one of those people was me. I moved to New York in February, the bleakest mid-winter in recent memory, and was woefully underprepared for it: tottering on ice in leather-soled shoes, ruining them and nearly killing myself in the process. Everywhere had sold out of winter boots in my size so I ended up wearing my Red Wings for most of the snow season, which didn’t really work with suits – too much 4X4; not enough roadster.)
“There are three key things to look for in a winter dress boot,” says Mr Sam Lobban, MR PORTER’s Senior Buyer. “The sole, the uppers and the colour. Scroll through the images on the site to look at the sole. It should be rubber rather than leather and ideally either a commando sole with a heavy tread or a studded Dainite sole [see below]. The uppers should be made from leather that has been oiled and waxed for water repellency; and you’re looking for darker colours (from chestnut brown to black) and perhaps some texture, such as pebble grain, to help disguise any tide stains.”
Here, Mr Lobban presents his edited pick of winter dress boots to ensure you don’t slip up when choosing a pair.
There are two main types of industry-standard rubber soles. Spot the difference...
The Dainite sole provides a decent amount of grip without adding too much weight or bulk to the shoe. The nippled design makes it difficult for dirt to accumulate, meaning you won’t tread mud into the carpets. The company is still based in Market Harborough (between Leicester and Northampton in the heartland of the English shoemaking industry) and Dainite is the trade name established from the local phrase to describe the company’s “day and night” mills.
Commando soles are like snow tyres for your feet. The archetypal chunky, hard-wearing rubber sole, they were originally manufactured by the Itshide company in Petersfield, Hampshire. The style was introduced in 1940 for use by the British Royal Marines, or Commandos. The main downside is that the grooves trap dirt and gravel. But on the upside the soles often give the wearer a commanding extra 1.5” in height.
Best for: rain
This is a marriage of the well-heeled and the bit of rough. The leather on these Italian-made wing-tipped boots has been oiled and waxed to make it waterproof, and given a burnished look so it can brave the elements and wear its punishment well. There’s no need to painfully break in these boots: they feel comfortably worn-in from the first time you put them on thanks to O’Keeffe’s patent-pending Goodyear-welted construction. Despite sitting on a solid commando sole, the height and shapeliness of the ankle means they will sit well with winter flannels. And they will polish up a treat should you wish to wear them more formally with a sharp City suit.
Best for: ice
The Pennine boot – named after the mountain range in northern England – is Cheaney’s oldest style still in production and thus one of the brand’s icons. But this particular version in deep-brown pebble-grain leather is exclusive to MR PORTER. The matching colour of the commando sole helps to minimise its bulkiness. The Pennine is an extremely hardy water-repellent year-round boot with excellent grip. The leather takes a sheen, so you can buff these boots up to wear with a suit during the week, and then dress them down at the weekend.
Best for: longevity
Canadians know a thing or two about winter. Viberg, a new brand to MR PORTER this season, is a family-run Canadian bootmaker which has been crafting no-nonsense footwear since 1931. The uppers of these boots – an exclusive design for MR PORTER – are made of Chromexcel leather from Chicago’s revered Horween tannery, which has a high oil content and waxed finish for in-built water repellency. The leather should see you through 10 snowy winters or more and get better with age. The soles are Dainite so will last just as long. One of the more rustic styles in this selection, these black boots will work best with dark-coloured heavyweight trousers such as grey wool or tweed. Note that they are constructed large to size, so either order a full size smaller or wear them with a thick pair or two of socks for winter warmth.
Best for: subtlety
The prevailing wisdom is that suede is best avoided in winter. But unless flash flooding is forecast, we would argue that chocolate brown suede – which disguises dirt and water damage, and develops character with heavy use – is perfectly suitable. (You can choose to empty a can of suede protector or Scotchguard all over the shoes to give them an extra layer of protection, should you wish.) If there’s such a thing as a winter desert boot, then this Northampton-made pair from John Lobb are it. Cut higher up the ankle, with tight-knit lacing to keep out the elements, they are constructed on a subtle Dainite sole. The elegant silhouette makes them the perfect choice for the man who doesn’t want the cumbersome bulk of more heavyweight winter boots. As such, they would go very well with most business suits in navy, grey, brown or dark green, as well as with jeans for pleasure.
Best for: warmth
The French footwear brand Heschung is famed for its ski boots and it has brought some of that savoir-faire into this smart, commute-friendly pair of lace-ups. The ankle is insulated with wool and there are hiking-style lacing hooks to make them easier to put on and take off. Both features are hidden from view when worn with a suit. Heschung has also designed its own rubber sole, which is similar to a commando construction but with fewer grooves, so they’ll attract less dirt and gravel and will be easier to clean. Made in dark-brown pebble-grain leather, these boots are formal enough to be worn with most tailoring.
The battle of Wellingtons
In case of emergency, wearing a pair of these on the way to work is permissible
“Watch out for that first step – it’s a doozy!” as Ned Ryerson repeatedly warns in Groundhog Day. For those mornings when the commute is an assault course of deceptively deep slush puddles, you need some tall rubber boots. Hunter Originals in classic black are less conspicuous than country green.
When it comes to impressive technical spec, Musto has well and truly filled your boots: this pair comes with protective toe caps, reinforced heels, shock-absorbing footbeds, superior traction tread and neoprene lining. That should be enough to see you from the train station to the office without dying en route, right?
Most Wellington boots are not insulated so your feet freeze, but this handmade pair from Le Chameau is lined with shearling so it feels as if you’re wearing a massive pair of slippers. Just remember to take them off when you get to your desk, though.