Monthly Archives: January 2012

I Want Just The Right Boot

I have one pair of shoes I wear to work every day.

For a while there I had two pairs, and I would wear the black ones some days, and the brown on others.  For the last 12 years or so, my favorites have been Doc Martens ever since I found a nice pair of two tone wing tips when I was working in NYC.  Some years I’ve had Chukkas, but it has been mainly oxford styles.  With my last pair (the current), it seems the quality went down some though.  As with a lot of manufacturers, they decided to outsource more, and most of their stuff comes out of China nowadays.  So the leather isn’t quite as nice as it had been, and the stitching wore out faster than it had before, and I decided it might be time to look at something else.  Besides, if you’ve ever worn Docs you know they’re not light on your feet, and I was getting tired of lugging  around the extra weight.

After my usual casting around the internet, I decided American made was the way to go.  This seemed to come at a higher price though, but I figured if they lasted me twice as long, then twice the price is worth the quality and craftsmanship.  The taller Chukka styles appealed to me, and I eventually found myself looking in the 6 inch boot category.  I needed something that was dressy enough to go with my daily work clothes of ‘country club attire,’ while casual enough to avoid the overly shiny look most dress shoes have.  I came across an article at The Art Of Manliness, and I fell in love with the throw back design of the dress boot and the Wolverine 1000 Milers.

Now comes the kicker – the price.  I expected to pay more, but the Wolverine’s run $350 on average.  I’m not the type of guy who’s going to spend that much on shoes, even if they do last longer than most.  So I looked to see what was just as good, but at a more reasonable price.

I almost went for a pair of Red Wings.  The Iron Rangers had a nice blend of rugged and classy, and I found a site I could get them for $240 shipped.  Orvis had some rebranded pairs on closeout, but I missed them by a day while I thought about it too much when they were listed at $130.  Still, I hoped I could do better – and did.

In the end, the LL Bean Katahdin Iron Works Engineer boots won me over.  Originally $159 (now $179 after the new year,) I scored a pair on sale for $134.  Solid leather, quality hooks, goodyear welted soles, and made in America with a lifetime satisfaction guarantee.  It turns out they are made by Chippewa, another brand well known and respected more for their work boots than dress boots.  People have stated over and over their pairs have lasted 10 or 20 years, and that was the tipping point for me.

So how’d they do that?  If you have a good pair of shoes or boots, and care for them properly they can last as long just as easily.  It seems to boil down to three aspects – Cleaning, Oiling and Protection.  So long as the last two are covered, then the shoes almost clean themselves.  Build up wipes off with your basic moist rag very easily.

I’ve been wearing the boots just 2 days now, and I had read it takes anywhere from 2 weeks, to 2 months for them to fully break in.  To speed it up a bit, I applied some mink oil to the boots.  Even though they are brand new, they sucked up the oils like a sponge, and made the leather more pliable and softer so it molds to my feet faster.  In the picture above you can see the boot on the left untouched, and the one on the right applied with the mink oil.  As a side effect it often darkens it as well, but I preferred them a deep dark brown anyway.  Once the oil seeps in overnight, you want to apply protection.  I’d been using SnoSeal on my hiking boots for years, and others agree it gets the job done right, along with Obenaufs Leather Protection as top tier products.

Repeat the clean, re-oil, and reprotect every 6 months and you’ll be glad you did.  Quality products not only look better, and can last longer, but remember that price doesn’t always end at the register.  You pay yourself back with care as well.

Make ‘em last and do it right.  See you in 20 years.