This next boot break-out from my Fall and Winter Boots post is all about the tough guy of the group, the work boot.
Defining Work Boots
This class of footwear has two major jobs: to protect your feet and ankles and to stand up to harsh environments for at least 8 hours.
We could arguably add a third, which would be to look badass, but that’s really just a side effect of accomplishing the first two.
They’re different from your mall brand knockoffs, which may look similar but don’t be fooled.
With cheap imitations, the linings will wear prematurely, the soles won’t last more than a season, and the pleather uppers will crack (not to mention look cheap and make your feet sweat).
As far as material is concerned, you’ll usually find work boots to be constructed of tough, oily leather (as opposed to the thin, smooth leather of dress shoes).
You won’t find a sleek silhouette, decorative stitching, or elaborate perforations here.
Without the need to look elegant, work boots can be as chunky as required to be practical. You’ll almost always see these with a rubber sole, and more often than not they’ll be lugged.
Now I’d like to turn the focus to my work boot of choice, the Red Wing 877.
History of the 877
Introduced in 1952 as a sport/hunting boot, the Red Wing 877 soon outgrew its target audience.
The oil tanned uppers were reasonably water resistant so they naturally appealed to anyone spending a significant amount of time outdoors, like farmers and construction workers.
The crepe soles have a very unique tread pattern. Instead of having massive lugs common on boots of this type, Red Wing utilized a more mild tread pattern.
Traditional heavy lug soles tend to become caked with mud and snow and, as a result, become very heavy and lose their ability to grip the environment.
This sole is part of what attracted the farmers and ironworkers. With no protruding lugs to collect mud or snag on a bolt while 40 stories in the air (yikes!), these boots were a natural fit for all kinds of work environments.
“What did I do to deserve this?!”
That was all I could think while wearing these boots during the first month.
They truly are painful to break in, as most things built to last are (i.e., raw denim, leather work gloves, etc.). This is something we’re not accustomed to in today’s throw-away society.
The truth is that these boots are not a fashion accessory designed to last this season and then be replaced by the newest trend the next.
They’re meant to stand up to the rigors of the countryside and construction sites. The cushy lightweight options simply aren’t up to the task.
When you first buy these boots, the leather insole is hard, the leather uppers are stiff, and the unlined interior is anything but a hospitable environment for your foot.
But over time, maybe a month or two, they begin to break in.
Your foot molds the foot bed to your exact specifications, the uppers become flexible wherever there is movement, and remains rigid where there isn’t.
Soon, you have a custom-made boot that is sure to last as long as you care to keep them.
Wear them around the house, even if you aren’t walking much. The heat from your foot will help mold the leather footbed.
Applying some oil can help speed the process. I used Red Wing all natural boot oil made with pine pitch and mink oil.
Smells amazing! Really, I pick up these boots and smell them whenever I walk by. Weird, but true.
You can also crouch down on your toes with bent knees while watch TV or messing around on the computer. The key is to flex the toes and ankles.
This helps to soften up the two major points of movement. I found this to be the most helpful break-in accelerator.
And of course, the old tried and true method of wearing thick socks for the first few months will help ease the pain.
How to Wear
No doubt, these go great with jeans. They give you that tough guy, cafe racer look that’s hard to beat (PBR optional).
They can also be dressed up (to a certain extent). Though it’s unlikely you’ll be able to wear them to the office, you can achieve a more dressy look by pairing them with heavier fabrics and patterns.
Think: old money out hunting pheasant in a tweed suit. Gentleman Hunter, if you will.
Work Boot Options
Though I’m a big fan of the Red Wing 877, there are a number of great work boot options. Given that good work boots usually cost in the $200 to $300-ish range, this list doesn’t really present substantially different price points.
Here are some of my favorites.