Why I love a big boot
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I like big boots and I cannot lie. Indeed, some of my most treasured possessions are big black boots of one kind or another. My current favourite are a pair of Dr Martens, currently in the right zone between “worn in” and “knackered”.
Why? One reason is that they are a superb accent to so many different outfits. Pair a pair of big workman’s boots with a linen suit or some sandstone chinos, and it adds a welcome note of steel: I’m no longer a cocktail-sipping dilettante but instead a hard, well-travelled man. (I am a cocktail-sipping dilettante, but I don’t want it to be too obvious.)
In the office, too, a good pair of shoes is always an excellent way to overcome the one downside to being a man in the workplace (otherwise a winning ticket in the lottery of life): the difficulty of standing out from the rest of the crowd while remaining stylish. Yes, a man can always rely on the tailored jacket. Five pockets and a friend to almost every figure: what’s not to love? But one problem with the fact that almost every man looks good in a well-chosen suit is that almost every man who wants to dress well owns and wears a well-chosen suit.
It’s also hard to complement the look without falling into one trap or another. Go too dressy – a patterned handkerchief in the top pocket, say – and you look like a children’s magician, or a British character in a bad American sitcom. Go too casual and you risk looking like you’ve given up on life, the latest victim to that thoroughly lamentable trend, athleisure.
The best place to experiment then, at least when it comes to work, is with footwear. But, in the office, colour can be a risk. This is particularly true in journalism: as a former editor of mine once said, the trick is to find a way to dress well that wouldn’t look too out of place if you either had to interview either a film producer fresh out of an awards ceremony, or a newly-bereaved widow. Or, if you are interviewing someone out in the sticks, you don’t want to out yourself as a hoity-toity urbanite by refusing to step through a muddy field. A pair of black or brown loafers could do the job, but feels sensible and dull: a pair of big black boots lets you have the best of both worlds. It manages to be functional, versatile and, crucially, fun. And in the event you have to humour someone by joining them in a walk across said muddy field, a splash of dirt on a good boot gives a lived-in texture rather than ruining the whole ensemble – though I accept this may be of limited utility to people who work outside of the media.
They also go with so many different types of outfit. A good pair of big workman’s boots adds a pleasing air of grit: it suggests that you’re not just a working stiff, but perhaps something of an anarchist. From today’s offerings, something dressier, such as the new Pierre Hardy, gives a look just the right amount of camp. As the weather gets colder, these also turn what is otherwise a rather miserable moment – getting your big winter coat out of storage – into a dramatic occasion: provided, of course, you make sure to pair your boots with a big sweeping coat.
Big boots can go wrong, of course. If a good pair will immediately suggest that you could serve either in a first world war trench or at the head of a Napoleonic cavalry regiment, try to have it both ways and the effect looks like some kind of unpleasant accident has taken place at a cobbler’s. In contrast, the new ones by Emporio Armani, a lovely set of big modern boots that you could cross no-man’s land in, know what they are – which is one reason they’re so desirable.
Just as one always feels better for dressing well, I always gain a small thrill at a press conference or a meeting when I look at my feet and see a big pair of clumping boots, while all the other blokes are wearing loafers or some other less substantial shoes. This may be one of the vanishingly small things I have in common with Kanye West, whose enjoyment of the latest Balenciaga stompers – a brand which has form in this field – must, in large part, be down to just how ostentatious they are. Though I think they are a touch too much for me: a really good set of boots also needs plausible deniability, so that the wearer can pretend they haven’t put that much thought into it when someone notices and compliments them.
Portrait (top of page): Bottega Veneta leather boots, herringbone Mouline coat, and matching trousers, all POA. Model, Aramish Mangi at Viva. Casting, Keva Legault. Photographer’s assistant, Tom Oritz. Stylist’s assistant, Timothy Brooks
Stephen Bush is columnist and associate editor for the FT