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Swellboy on… winter boots

Yet another pair of winter boots? This is becoming an obsession

Swellboy on… winter boots

Image: Brijesh Patel

March 15 2011
Nick Foulkes

It was Byron who said that winter in England lasted until July and then recommenced in August, which is presumably why the Romantic rebel chose to pursue his revolutionary causes in the Mediterranean. The current wave of protests around the Mare Nostrum 200 years after his time would have suited him down to the ground: the removal of the yoke of an oppressor in sunnier climes than our own was a favourite hobby of the author of Childe Harold.

Anyway, I know how the Regency rock-star poet felt about winter. This one seems to have gone on for not just months but years, generations perhaps. I am beginning to think that any recollections I once had of the warmth of the sun on my back and the gauzy coolness of a voile or linen shirt against the skin are mere phantom memories. As a result I have become utterly unreasonably obsessed with winter boots.

There was the Sorel-Ralph Lauren episode I have mentioned here earlier that did not end entirely happily – the boots were alas too small. However I did come across a pair of Ugg boots – not the usual sloppy sheepskin wellie-like things, but a lightweight snow boot of preternatural warmth. I tracked a pair down to Selfridges, and took them on my non-skiing holiday where I was the cynosure of foot-worn elegance. However the winter boot has become a compulsion as I find that almost involuntarily I have ordered yet another pair, this time from LL Bean, the American outdoors outfitter.

The most famous item of Beanwear is the Maine Hunting Boot, developed in 1912 by the company’s founder, the spectacularly named Leon Leonwood Bean, the sort of outdoorsman that turn-of-the-century America turned out as a rural riposte to the gilded-age sybarites in the major towns. I am not sure if they met, but it sounds as though he would have had a great deal in common with the hale, hunting-mad Teddy Roosevelt. Although not overburdened with much in the way of formal education, LL Bean went on to build what I am sure today is called a lifestyle brand, on a pair of amphibious-looking boots: leather uppers with rubber apron and heel, and a serrated sole for traction.

What I find fascinating about such products is that they speak of their time and yet have become so popular that they are sui generis, self defining. There is still an early 20th-century look about this high-lacing boot that is quaint, almost Edwardian; and yet, when I was in New York recently, I saw a fashionable young woman in the Meatpacking District walking around with her beaten-up jeans tucked into a pair. There are seemingly limitless permutations available: from pairs that cover calves to moccasins that, I have to say, have an eccentric look about them, but which feature in the new Preppy Handbook, and as I have narrow feet I was delighted to learn that they still offer a choice of width fittings, for some reason a rarity these days.

Anyway, I now have my own, shearling-lined, pair of these marvels, purchased mail order as Bean does not appear to sell to other retailers and I had no plans to go anywhere near Maine and thus I am equipped for our eternal winter. Nevertheless I am dreading a re-run of the year 1816, the so-called year without summer, in which the season of sunshine and seaside holidays simply decided not to materialise, which meant that frosts started to set in during August.

See also

People, Shoes