A couple of long time readers have told me that I don’t rant enough on this blog anymore, and that my posts have become too structured. So,today I’ll sucker you in with some White’s Boots photos and rant at you! (~˘▾˘)~
Over the years, I’ve noticed that the majority of denimheads, provided they stay in the hobby long enough, will eventually develop an interest in quality leather footwear. Works boots, and in particular American style boots, have developed alongside denim dungarees – the combination of the two not only makes logical sense but is, for many a purist, an authentic way of experiencing Americana.
You will have noticed that wearers of raw denim are usually either sneaker freaks and/or boot nerds, and the choice in footwear is of course influenced by many factors. Through this retrospective review of White’s Boots’ classic dress boots, I’m hoping to contemplate some of these factors, and share my thoughts about footwear that we pair with blue jeans.
Although my interest in raw denim started in my teenage years, it wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I started to wear bench-made work boots & shoes. As a teenager, sneakers and sports shoes were just easier – easier to put on, easier to walk in, easier to take off, easier to maintain, and easier to throw away & buy a new pair.
I ventured into leather boots after I became a medical student – rocking up to the hospital in sneakers just isn’t the done thing – and I had a variety of very average experiences with Italian shoes and cheaper American boots. As a result of a series of unsatisfactory shoe choices, I grew to be very black and white about my footwear – no mediocrity, it’s either bench-made shoes or bare foot, nothing in between.
After some positive experiences with bench-made English and Australian work boots, in 2011 I ordered my first proper pair of American shoes – Alden’s 403 ‘Indy’ high work boot – and suddenly my clothes made a lot more sense, it was properly Americana. Something in my head clicked, and I knew then that I am a boot nerd.
Later that year I custom ordered two pairs of the same boots – White’s Boots’ classic dress boots. The Classic Dress boots are basically the Semi-Dress boots made with their new C461 last, meant to give the boots a more vintage-style, military-inspired toe shape – this was, partly, a response to Viberg’s increasing dominance in the high-end heritage wear market with their sleeker and lighter boots made for the urban lumberjack. I had two pairs of the Classic Dress made, each with medallion toe caps, in different leathers: The burgundy pair is all bison, whereas the black pair is a mix of bullhide and bison.
Before I talk about my thoughts about these boots, keep in mind my perspective…My life is not rugged at all, my work is entirely intellectual, I don’t do any physical labour. I wear work-boots because I’m a denim and leather geek, I wear them as a hobby, there is no practical reason why I wear rugged shoes. The only thing that my toes need protection from is my pen, when I accidentally drop it.
It shouldn’t surprise you then, with each pair of boots worn once every one to two weeks, even over 5 years my boots are in pretty good condition. I won’t go into finer details such as thread colours, etc, as these are completely custom boots and I’d really just be critiquing my own choices. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The two pairs, made to the same specs apart from leather/colour, are remarkably consistent. The basic pattern of the upper should be familiar to you – it’s the Semi-Dress pattern, one of the defining boots of the Pacific Northwest style of footwear.
The leathers are heavy duty, oily and nicely textured – custom spec’d of course, and altogether a different level compared with the basic oil-tanned bovine leathers that feature on most American boots. The uppers are neatly & densely stitched and precisely put together. Even just looking at the body of these boots, you can tell they are a league above the ready-to-wear brands that are popular on the Internet these days. Look at how neatly those medallion toe caps have been applied!
The eyelets and speedhooks are very nice quality too, as sturdy as the rest of the boots. The finishes of the metal hardware have been extremely durable.
This C461 last has an upturned toe, which is slightly pointier than White’s other lasts. Personally I think this last makes the Classic Dress even more ‘dressy’ compared with the Semi-Dress. The medallion toe-caps add further to this divergence in aesthetics.
The stitch-down and the sole unit, of course, further differentiates true Pacific Northwest boots and low-end ‘heritage-style’ footwear. The double row of fairly neatly applied stitch-down. The monstrous double natural mid-soles, sitting on top of full thickness Vibram outsoles. The Traveller’s heel with natural leather stacks, peachy and uncoated, much more raw and exciting compared with how English shoemakers would make them.
Even just by looking at the sole unit, it is clear that boots like this were either made by White’s, Nick’s, or Wesco. Viberg has gone their own Goodyear-welted way, whereas lower tier American boots will feature an oddly plastic ‘welt’ with, usually, no mid-soles at all.
The internal anatomy of these boots are, of course, entirely made with leather…lots of it too. From the mid-sole up, it’s basically a solid leather shank surrounded by a mountain of leather, building up White’s trademarked Arch Ease arch support. From the lining to the heel pad, everything is high quality leather.
All in all, as fair as quality goes, my two pairs of White’s Classic Dress boots are excellent. There is a reason why the Japanese enthusiasts consider White’s Boots to be “The King of Boots” – everything from the materials to the construct to the toe-shape & overall aesthetics are simply spot on. If you are interested in denim culture and Americana, there’s no substitute for a pair of White’s dress boots – having a pair is almost a prerequisite before being admitted to the advanced levels of our denim hobby.
Granted, the boots produced by White’s and the other Pacific Northwestern makers are not as neat as those made by the Japanese brands that imitate them (think Rolling Dub Trio, White Kloud, Zerrow’s, etc), but the Japanese brands are usually at least 50% more expensive.
So then, why don’t we see more White’s Boots on the internet or on Instagram. Why is it that every denim bro and his little brother seem to be rocking Red Wing’s boots, when White’s are clearly – from a serious hobbyist’s point of view – the superior boots? Or, why have a bunch of seasoned denimheads decided to run around in PF Flyers?
Firstly, the price of admission can be steep. Not everyone can fork out $500+ USD for a pair of custom, bench-made boots.
In terms of practicality, the first thing that White’s Boots owners will tell you is that these are substantial boots! Even if White’s Dress boots are already lighter than their Smoke Jumpers, the Dress boots are still massively heavy. They are, for example, much heftier than English country boots of the same height. This matter of mass, as well as the prominent arch, means that you have to learn how to walk with these rugged boots – beginners will struggle with the rocking step that these boots demand.
Lower-end shoes have much less leather both on the sole unit as well as internally, with most using quite some amount of lighter synthetic materials – this type of boot is lighter to wear, and don’t require significant breaking in. Comparing to sneakers, White’s Classic Dress boots are about 3 to 4 times heavier. If you throw these boots at someone, you’ll knock them out cold.
Of course, given the custom nature of these boots, it is possible to make them lighter – close trim, ditch the lining, single layer mid-sole, wedge sole etc. You’ll end up with something that looks a bit more like Viberg or Truman Boots, boots that are a little more practical for city folks who don’t fight forest fires or farm the land.
I would imagine that the learning curve with regards to how to walk properly with these boots, as well as the break-in period required, represent significant barriers to most denimheads deciding whether or not to upgrade their footwear. To put it another way, hefty boots like these White’s are simply not practical for a city dweller working an average urban job.
At the end of the day, these boots are more difficult to put on, significantly heavier than other footwear, require longer break in and do not ventilate as easily as fabric footwear. It is little wonder many people stick with sneakers. I suppose, over the course of years, we must somehow integrate our clothing hobbies with our life in general, which often takes us down the path of least resistance, or we risk burning out in the hobby. The staunchest raw denim fan will eventually machine wash his jeans (everyone except Swissjeansfreak I suppose), and the geekiest boot freak will eventually reach for shoes that are easy to wear more than he’d reach for his 10 inch Packer boots.
Then again, the logic of practicality doesn’t exactly sit comfortably with denimheads like us, does it? We’re looking for a sense of authenticity, a feeling of the good old days, a philosophy of doing things the right way, the ownership of goods with some kind of ‘meaning’ – we are particular about our clothes, and our boots need to have soul! If comfort and ease of use are all we care about, we’ll all be wearing sweatpants instead of raw denim jeans, and we’re not the kind of people who’d wear sweatpants in public, right?
To conclude, if you like raw denim, you should try a pair of bench-made Pacific Northwestern boots at some point, and you can’t go wrong with a pair of White’s Boots.