Chelsea boots are the perfect leather boots for all occasions. Its sleek enough to be worn with suit pants but has a history of being used as a workers boot so pairs easily with a pair of jeans, or if you’re really brave even a pair of shorts. They are also known as elastic sided boots.
This week we start with a history of where the Chelsea boot comes from and over the coming weeks, we’re going to go into more detail about why men Chelsea boots are the perfect boot and why their timeless designs has remained relevant throughout the years.
Firstly, lets define what a Chelsea boot is. A Chelsea boot is one of the most popular leather boots for menthat features no laces on the front and instead features two elasticated panels on either ankle that stretch to accommodate your foot. Men chelsea boots are crafted in all types of leathers from box calf leather (also known as calfskin leather) and suede through to alligator and kudu antelope. They also come in a broad range of designs and styles from sleek and simple to rugged and workwear inspired. So, lets discuss the history that’s made them so iconic.
The origins of the Chelsea boot date back to 1851 when Queen Victoria’s cobbler, J. Sparkes-Hall, designed the boot for the Queen who was a regular horse rider. Known at the time as Paddock Boots they were designed to be a lot easier to slide in and out of than the long-laced boots that were fashionable at the time. They were quickly adopted by high society as a riding and walking boot, and then later the working class, as a practical and sturdy boot that could withstand their farm-based lifestyles.
It wasn’t until the 1950s with the opening of the UK’s first café to serve espresso, the Fantasie café. This invited an explosion of Designers, bohemians, musicians, writers, revolutionaries, and artists to the area, which was of course Chelsea in England. The area became so well known it was named the “Chelsea Set” by the media. The elasticated ankle boot was synonymous with the style of and the lifestyle of these fashionable people and the area of Chelsea. Eventually they became known as the Chelsea Boot.
The Beatles in Black Chelsea Boots. Picture by: The Rake
From Queens to Kings, The Beatles were often seen wearing their own version of the Chelsea boot, The Beatle Boot. This boot was fitted with a High Cuban heel and a more pronounced toe, more like what you’d see on an American Cowboy boot today. This of course meant that with the wild popularity of The Beatles through the 1960s the Chelsea Boot remained synonymous with popular counterculture. They were even worn by Storm Troopers in the Star Wars movies broadening their appeal past the Stage and onto the screen. It was around the 80s that they were recognized as a fantastic boot for riding a motorcycle and were often worn by Punk rockers and through the heavy metal fandoms, further expanding their use case and appeal.
In modern society, the Chelsea boot is a true jack of all trades. Its arguably the most popular boot for both men and women, and chances are if you look at people around you, they’re probably wearing a pair of Chelsea boots. From The Beatles to Harry Styles, Kanye West and Zayn Malik a Chelsea boot is a boot that for many men becomes their go-to shoe no matter what they have-to do, and it could be yours too!
Due to the hugely diverse range of styles of Chelsea boots, it’s easy to get confused and overwhelmed by the options we have in the 2020s. A good way to start to consider what style of Chelsea boot suits you best is to consider how the boot is made, to help decipher what its intended purpose is. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, you can wear a sleek Chelsea boot with workwear, and you can wear a more rugged Chelsea with a pair of Flannel pants. It’s about understanding what combinations to look for, to ensure it aligns with your intent for the pair of boots.
Sparrods & Co last
The first thing you want to consider is the Last. The last is simply a piece of wood or plastic that the Leather of the boot is pulled over to form the actual shape of the boot or shoe. It’s very important because it not only accounts for how the boot looks aesthetically, but how the boot actually fits. The most important thing about a last is how it fits, but when you’re buying online this can be pretty much impossible to assess.
The next most important thing about the last is of course the shape that the last gives the boot. This comes from the heel, through the middle of the foot, around your toes and then of course the shape of the toe of the boot. Each element of the last can be modified not only for different fitting qualities but also for different aesthetic outcomes. For example, a Chelsea boot that’s designed for the office and business wear may have quite a narrow looking heel, be nice and narrow through the waist of the boot and then have an almond or more squared off toe profile.
A more workwear styled boot will look a lot less sleek through the heel and waist, looking sturdier, and it may be combined with a rounded toe to finish off that workwear aesthetic.
The next thing to consider is the Upper Leather. This leather will be the leather that will make up most of the boot, providing the color, texture and look of the boot. The main two types you may want to consider would be traditional leather, sometimes known as calfskin or Suede (the fluffy reverse of side of the leather hide). There plenty of other options like; Kangaroo, Antelope (Kudu), Crocodile and Ostrich if you’ve got a more creative streak but for most people Cowhide and Suede are going to provide plenty of great options.
Calfskin is a fantastic option because of the wide range of styles it can be used across. For example, a sleek black Chelsea bootsmade from calfskin could easily be worn with a suit to a corporate job, looking easily as formal as an oxford shoes.
A different chunkier tan chelsea boots would be at home on a worksite with a steel toe protecting someone’s feet from the many hazards. Calfskin is easy to maintain, and some types are manufactured specifically to need almost no polish and look good as new. It comes in virtually every color and style and is a fantastic first boot or shoe, especially in black, as it will do it all for an early career.
Suede would be a close 2nd for me in terms of its versatility and use. A suede chelsea boots in dark brown could be worn with a suit to all but the most formal workplaces, and when they’re paired with jeans or a pair of chinos, I think they look even better.
Suede is typically the reverse side of the cowhide which has a slightly fluffy texture which is called nap. This nap makes the boot extremely resilient to the elements and to scuffs and marks. It forms a repellent layer to the rain and wet conditions and dries very quickly if they do get soaked through. It also doesn’t scuff or mark like a smooth cowhide might, due to the nap it can easily hide these kinds of marks and still look fantastic. Suede would be high on my list due to this level of resilience and importantly how great they go with every outfit.
Leather lining is an important factor to consider when purchasing a quality pair of leather shoes. Unlike synthetic materials, leather is a natural material that is breathable, durable, and comfortable. This makes it the ideal choice for lining the inside of a high-quality pair of leather shoes.
Synthetic materials, such as polyester and nylon, are often used as lining materials in cheaper shoes. While they may be less expensive, they are not as breathable or comfortable as leather. This can lead to foot discomfort and odor over time.
In terms of the types of leather lining, there are several options to choose from. The most common types of leather used for lining are pig, goat, and calfskin. Pig and goat leather are more affordable options that are known for their durability and breathability. Calfskin, on the other hand, is a more expensive option but is known for its softness and comfort.
"Overall, the importance of leather lining in a quality pair of leather shoes cannot be overstated. It provides breathability, comfort, and durability that synthetic materials simply cannot match. When purchasing a new pair of leather shoes, be sure to consider the type of leather lining used. It can make a big difference in the overall comfort and longevity of the shoes".
Sparrods & Co Safari Chelsea Boot - cork infilling with steel shank
The mid sole is basically the part that goes below the insole and is a critical part of the boots construction to ensure that it molds to your foot and becomes more comfortable over time. To ensure that it does this, molds to your foot over time, you want to ensure that its made from one of two things; Leather or Cork. These are the two most common materials used in high quality boots and shoes because of both materials abilities to take on the shape of a person’s foot over time as it compresses gradually under your weight.
There are pros and cons to both options which are important to consider. Cork is the most common because it fills up a void created in the manufacturing process. Cork is a fantastically sustainable material and makes for an extremely comfortable experience under foot.
Leather on the other hand will last a lot longer than cork and may not need to be replaced, meaning that your foot shape stays in your boots if you replace the sole. This means a more comfortable boot after a re-sole. The downside is that to get a boot like this comfortable it takes a lot of hard work and painful days standing in boots. If you’re ready to put in a few weeks or months to break a leather mid-sole in, then it might be worth your while in the long run, but for most people cork is going to be more comfortable and easier to replace if needed (after 3 – 5 years of wear).
Now once you’ve chosen your last shape, and you’ve decided on the type of leather you want to use in the upper, the next most important choice is the type of sole the Chelsea boots has. This impacts both the aesthetics of the boot as well as the function of the boot. Luckily there are three main types of soles which are easy to identify and understand which function each serve.
The first sole you need to know about is the leather sole. It’s the most traditional sole and is literally a piece of high-quality leather that’s typically dyed to add some color and weather resistance. The leather sole is very sleek and is traditionally considered the best option for a booth that’s intended to be worn in a formal context.
Sparrods & Co vegetable tanned leather sole
The biggest downside with a leather sole is that its not the best in wet weather and wears down faster than some rubber soles. A leather sole can absolutely be worn in wet weather, but it isn’t anywhere near as well suited as the next type of sole.
Rubber soles come in a range of different styles and shapes depending on the brand and the aesthetic and wear-ability properties they’re looking for. From sleek studded soles to heavy chunky commando soles, there’s a rubber sole made for whatever the task may be.
A studded rubber sole, sometimes referred to as a Danite sole, is the sole that’s designed to do it all. The original version of this sole was produced by the great British company Danite hence them often being referred to as Danite soles. The studded (Danite) sole is well known to be a great alternative to leather as it fairs much better in the wet weather but offers the same sleek profile that is so desirable in a leather sole.
Sparrods & Co Chelsea Boot - Studded Rubber Sole
If you’re after a Chelsea boot that’s has something a bit more, maybe a workwear inspired one, you may want to consider the Commando sole. Like its name suggests this is a heavily lugged sole that give the boot its on a heavy combat aesthetic. It’s a fantastic sole if you’re wanting a boot that’s great for going off the pavements and into the bush. Or if you just want a boot that looks like that’s what you could do. A commando sole gives the boot a lot more presence and chunk.
The final thing you want to think about is the construction type. The type of construction is a simple and easy way to know if you’re looking at a high-quality Chelsea boot. The lowest cost and quality option being a cemented construction, basically where they use a glue to attach the sole to the upper material.
This is the lowest cost and quality because it takes very little time or skill to achieve a pretty good result. It also means that once the sole starts to wear out the shoe needs to be disposed of as the sole cannot be replaced.
Moving onto construction methods that you may want to consider which are the infamous Goodyear Welted and the Blake Rapid Stitch.
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably already aware of or have heard of the Goodyear welt. And for good reason, it revolutionized the way we made leather shoes, allowing us to use a machine to stitch the layers together instead of doing them by hand. There are still brands out there that offer hand welted shoes, but at a much greater cost than offered by a Goodyear welted boot.
The Goodyear welt method involves two levels of stitching. The first level is a welt stitch that attaches the welt to a piece of canvas rib called gemming which has been glued to the lower part of the shoe. This canvas rib leaves a void in the middle which is filled with the Cork filling we discussed earlier and a shank of some for to ensure the stability under foot. Then when the shoe is ready to have a sole applied a rapid stitch is used between all the layers, combining the welt, midsole and outsole.
This method is liked because it means they can be quite easily resoled as many times as you want. The entire gemming and lower portion of the shoe can be separated from the upper completely and replaced without destroying the shoe in anyway. Meaning your uppers can theoretically last forever.
They are a little less flexible than other welt styles meaning they’re going to take a little longer to break in than a Blake stitched style shoe and be a little less immediately comfortable.
Sparrods & Co blake rapid stitched construction
The next method to consider is the Blake Rapid Stitched which is a mix of the Blake stitch and the Goodyear welt. Its superior to the Blake stitch method as it adds a midsole which is then stitched to the outsole with a rapid stitch like a Goodyear welted shoe. This allows it to be reconstructed without worrying about destroying the insole like a traditional Blake stitch might. By adding a midsole you also add a similar void like the Goodyear welted has which is then filled with that same cork.
Its basically impossibly to distinguish between a Goodyear Welted and Blake Rapid Stitched from the exterior and they’re stylistically and functionally very similar. I’d look for either when considering a high-quality Chelsea boot.
The Chelsea Boot comes from Royal beginnings but have always been used as a practical and comfortable alternative to whatever the popular footwear style was at the time. The boots have been hugely impacted by popular culture through the 1950s through the 80s where they appealed to a massive range of cultures and subcultures.
Because of this range of uses and styles that the Chelsea boot has to offer, it has become the perfect boot for all occasions. From the boardroom to the garden, a quality Chelsea boot will be comfortable and look fantastic the whole time.