In continuation of our coverage of boots, we now take a close look at the Chelsea boots. In the previous article of this series, we covered the Jodhpur boots, which are quite similar in some respects, yet distinctively different in others. While the Jodhpur boot is relatively unknown to the general public, the Chelsea boot has become a staple of a Gentleman’s wardrobe.
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The boots that are now known as the Chelsea boot have Victorian roots. The design and invention of the Chelsea boot is attributed to J. Sparkes-Hall, boot maker to Queen Victoria. However, he would not have been successful without the development of vulcanized rubber.
In 1839, Charles Goodyear, an American inventor, developed a process to vulcanize rubber in Springfield, Massachusetts, which was patented in 1844. The same year, the British Thomas Hancock claimed to have also invented vulcanization independently for which he received a British Patent in 1844. Whoever created it, for the purpose of this article it is important to know that vulcanized rubber played a crucial role in the design of the Chelsea boot, because it allowed the create a boot that could be easily slipped on and off.
J.Sparkes-Hall was the first to design a vulcanized rubber – or shall we say ‘elastic’ – sided ankle boot. In the patent that he filled in 1851, he claimed, “She (Queen Victoria) walks in them daily and thus gives the strongest proof of the value she attaches to the invention.” These Elastic sided ankle boots eventually came to be called Chelsea boots.
Characteristics of Chelsea Boots
- Ankle length.
- Have rounded toes.
- Low heels.
- Two parts each made from a single piece of leather: the vamp and the quarters.
- The vamp and the quarters meet near the ankle where they are joined by a strip of vulcanized rubber or elastic.
- The strip of elastic extends to just below the ankle but not all the way down to the sole (just above the welt).
- The vamp and quarters are not sewn one on top of the other. Instead, they are sewn together in one plain below the ankle.
While the Chelsea boots share their first four characteristics with the Jodhpur boots, the remaining three distinguish them from the Jodhpur boots.
How the Chelsea Boots got their name
According to J. Sparkes-Hall, the Chelsea boot was initially used by both men and women as walking shoes. Some sources state that they were initially used for horse riding; however, riding breeches in those days were designed to be worn with tall boots. Ankle boots, on the other hand, were a dominant form of men’s daytime footwear, and it is thus safe to conclude that the Chelsea boot was first used for walking and then made the transition to riding.
Some even claim they were referred to as Paddock boots at one point in time. In any case, the style remained a staple until WWI. In the mid-1950s, a group consisting of young artists, film directors, and socialists started frequenting the King’s Road area in West London. This group was named the ‘Chelsea Set’ by the media, and they made the name ‘Chelsea’ synonymous with a new way of living and dressing. This group, which included well-known fashion icons Mary Quant and Jean Shrimpton, started favoring the Paddock boots and soon they began to be considered the ultimate leisure accessory and hence were renamed to Chelsea Boots.
London’s theatrical shoemakers, Anello & Davide, re-interpreted the Chelsea boot in the early 1960s by fitting it with a Cuban heel. Their version was known as the ‘Baba boot’ and entered the world of rock & roll. As was expected, their popularity skyrocketed. The main reason for this was the fact that The Beatles were very often seen wearing them. Legend has it that John Lennon and Paul McCartney each bought a pair at Anello’s shop at 96 Charing Cross Road on the way back to Liverpool from Paris in October 1961. In 1962, George Harrison and Ringo Starr joined them and paired with suits so they would look like a uniform. Soon they came to be known as ‘the Beatle boot’.
It was also during this time when the image-conscious Mods started wearing tailored suits, drove customized scooters, and wore Chelsea boots. It is quite difficult to ascertain exactly why Chelsea boots were considered the height of Mod fashion, but it is thought that apart from well-known rock and roll bands ( The Rolling Stones wore them as well), French and Italian cultural influences combined with the popular American greaser look played a significant role. Interestingly, the character Steed from the sixties TV Series Avengers would always wear Chelsea boots, not matter whether it was a combination, three piece suit with a bowler hat or a tuxedo.
In the 1970s, the Chelsea boot made what most would consider a most unexpected appearance in the most famous science fiction franchise of all time: George Lucas’s Star Wars trilogy! They made an appearance in all three original films as the shoes worn by the stormtroopers of Darth Vader’s Empire. The only change being that they were stained white to fit into the futuristic look.
Chelsea Boots Today
The Chelsea boots today are extremely popular due to their simplistic and classic look. They can be dressed up, down, and then back again very easily. Chelsea boots give a man timeless charm and signals heritage – some would even say old fashion alpha male power.
Before spending a decent amount of money on a pair of Chelsea boots, it is essential to make sure that one gets the genuine article. Here are a few things that you need to take a close look at before making a purchase:
- The Chelsea boot is a close fitting boot and the flexibility is in the side panel and not in the instep. It is, therefore, essential to get the correct size to match your foot. It is best to try them out rather than rely on standard shoe size charts.
- Some boots fastened with a zipper, rather than the traditional elastic, are sold as Chelsea boots. Strictly speaking, these are not Chelsea boots. As there are a lot of variations being sold as Chelsea boots, check the characteristics enumerated in the article before purchasing.
- Traditional Chelsea boots have leather soles, and these should be your preferred choice. Some manufactures offer a choice of soles to suit various needs. Stick to leather for a classic look.
- Uppers should also be made of box calf leather though suede is an acceptable alternative.
- Most Chelsea boots come in black with a leather lining. While Jodhpur boots are great in brown, Chelsea boots look better in black. Get these basics first and if you like the style so much, you can get whatever you want.
- Last, but not least, is the quality of the elastic fastening. This is the defining character and an integral part of its shape. The quality of the elastic is important for the shape, comfort, and longevity of the boots.
Chelsea boots are extremely versatile and can be worn with both formal and casual outfits. Most men will like the fact that they can combine the same pair of boots with jeans or a suit. Their simple and clean lines compliment most outfits.
Chelsea boots have been featured in the collections of most leading designers, and you should feel free to experiment with whichever style you are comfortable with. Although chunky, thick soled Chelsea boots are available, slim soled styles are preferable
Chelsea Boots Colors
- Brown suede is great for a country look (make sure to avoid suede if you live in an area where it rains a lot)
- Black is preferable for an urban look
- Burgundy is good all-around option
- Tan can look stunning, especially with a nicely polished patina
- Exotic colors like blue, green, yellow or red can work if you want to make a statement
How To Combine Chelsea Boots
Brown Chelsea Boots – Suits in medium and lighter colors and various fabrics including tweed. Straight leg jeans, with casual or dress shirt or a Polo shirt. You can also replace your regular brown shoes in both your existing outfits.
Burgundy Chelsea Boots – Probably the most versatile color, meaning you can wear them with almost anything.
Wingtip / Captoe Chelsea Boots – A bit more casual than plain Chelsea boots. These can be worn both jeans and suits, depending on the color. It is best to team them with a Hacking Jacket or a tweed sports coat to compliment the wingtips. This is more of a country look, and this type of Chelsea boot will stand out from the rest.
Short Chelsea boots – Theses are a little different from the regular Chelsea boots in that they are slightly shorter in length coming up to just below the ankle. This is a trendy style, that works best with more fashion forward outfits.
Bulky Chelsea boots – Some styles can be a bit bulky. This kind can be teamed with boot cut jeans due to their size, and rugged clothing for an outdoorsy look. Not appropriate for suits or sport jackets.
Below, you’ll find a list of 13 manufacturers of Chelsea boots starting at $200. While most of them are RTW, some also offer made to order programs, where you can choose the leather, elastic color, sole and sometimes also your last. If you know of a quality Chelsea boot manufacturer that is not listed here, please let us know and we will complete it.
|Pediwear||Chelsea Boot Selection|
|Wolverine 1000 Mile Boot||Amazon|
|Crockett & Jones||Shop|
|Joseph Cheaney & Sons||Shop|