The Death Of The Statement Shoe
We’ve all seen them. The look-at-me-do-you-know-how-much-these-cost type of footwear statements covered in studs, glitter and God knows whatever else. Embroidered velvet slippers with gold coats of arms, contrasting coloured rock studs or more tassels than a National Trust property; the experimentation with men’s footwear is over.
With prices pushing four figures, these are bling and bad taste all in one – and don’t they want you to know it. It’s not so much the designs that have killed this trend, it’s the type of people wearing them.
So, what’s the alternative? We’re seeing a return to more solid and handsome silhouettes. Dare we say traditional? Something that not only looks great, but works. Men are creatures of function and never more so than with footwear.
Our wardrobes consist of joined up segments. As the trouser shape changed, it had a knock on effect on our shoes. With skinny/slim cuts reigning supreme over the last few years, this made the whole shoe visible and therefore more important.
Where once the trouser covered half your footwear, it now lightly hovers above – and thus the statement shoe was born. However, it’s about time this trend gave way to something far more classic and tasteful, which works just as well with your collection of slim and skinny trousers.
The Return Of The Chelsea Boot
First, a brief history lesson: Chelsea boots, also known as Dealer boots, were initially created for horse riding. Unisex, they were tight-fitting, ankle-high boots which first appeared in Victorian times and were originally called paddock or jodhpur boots. Their most distinguishable feature was the elastic on the side that allowed you to effortlessly pull them on and off with the heel tab at the back.
Charles Goodyear’s development of vulcanized rubber in 1839 in Springfield, Massachusetts, enabled J Sparkes-Hall, bootmaker to Queen Victoria, to invent the elastic gusset boot in 1851. He later claimed “She [The Queen] walks in them daily and thus gives the strongest proof of the value she attaches to the invention.”
By the middle of the 20th century, a group consisting of young artists, film directors, musicians and fashion designers started frequenting the King’s Road area in west London. This group was named the ‘Chelsea Set’ by the media at the time and they made the name ‘Chelsea’ synonymous with a new way of living and dressing. These style-conscious gents started favouring and wearing the paddock boot, and hence ‘Chelsea’ boots were born.
Today, they have become synonymous with the mods and the ‘beat generation’ of the 1960s – and most notably The Beatles. When The Beatles first appeared on the music scene, forty years ago, as well as their classic round-collared suits they wore what we now call Beatles boots.
A Beatle boot is a skinnier type of Chelsea boot. Tight fitting, they are slim with a tapered, pointed front and a larger Cuban-type heel. The style can feature a zipped or more traditional elasticated side and have a centre seam running from ankle to toe.
The story goes – October 1961, John Lennon and Paul McCartney saw these Chelsea boots whilst browsing in the London footwear company Anello & Davide, on Charing Cross Road, and ordered two pairs with the addition of Cuban heels to complement their new tailored image, which they were developing after visiting Hamburg.
Anello & Davide originally called it the ‘Baba boot’ and George and Ringo joined them, by ordering theirs in 1962, completing The Beatles first stage look.
Other notable highlights of the Chelsea boot evolution include featuring in the first three Star Wars films, as worn by the stormtroopers of the Empire. The stormtrooper boots were actually standard black Chelsea boots coloured white.
There’s no one label that can really claim this style exclusively. Brands from the 1960s, such as Ben Sherman, are renowned for their Mod aesthetic, yet Chelsea boots are synonymous with the entire beatnik/mod generation, so whenever a brand shows a look inspired by these subcultures, they are usually not far behind.
At the AW13 global fashion week previews, Chelsea boots were shown on the Burberry Prorsum runway in patterned pony-skin and more traditional black leather. Burberry’s signature cut is usually extremely skinny and the boots simply allowed this silhouette to continue to the floor without any clear break.
Another major designer advocate was Saint Laurent; Hedi Slimane’s obsession with everything rocker and grunge often sees him reinvent and perfect classic items for the French design house. Think Pete Doherty on a good day.
This season’s Saint Laurent Chelsea boots are the most Beatle-like, complete with the stacked Cuban heel. They look great with slim black jeans and the groupies’ favourite, the large fedora:
Chelsea boots on the AW13 runways at Burberry Prorsum (top) & Saint Laurent (Bottom)
How To Style
The Chelsea boot is an extremely versatile silhouette that works just as well with jeans as it does with a suit. They are guaranteed to slot seamlessly into your existing wardrobe and will bring a new dimension to any of your current go-to ensembles. That being said, due to its ties to the sixties and beatnik/mod subcultures, it will always look most at home within these types of looks.
Luckily for us, the era is trending: classic mod pieces, such as the casual suit and roll neck, are being brought bang up to date via contemporary fits and colours, whilst 1960s-inspired checked tailoring is set to become the must-own suit style for 2013/14.
For those who want something a bit darker and edgier, try pairing your boots with the rocker’s go-to uniform: black slim/skinny jeans, a plain tee/knit/shirt and classic leather biker. It’s an outfit that can be thrown on with minimal fuss and oozes effortless cool.
The Chelsea boot is very democratic. You can find styles at every price point from ASOS to John Lobb. It’s a silhouette you only really start to notice when you being searching for a pair.
Timeless is an overused and clichéd term in fashion, but the Chelsea boot runs throughout menswear continually. Of course, the style is currently having a moment, hence why we have featured it, but feel safe in the knowledge that you’ll definitely get your cost-per-wear from them.