Shoe: Thursday Boot Company’s “Duke” Chelsea Boot in Honey Suede
Price: $199 MSRP, from ThursdayBoots.com
In the mid-19th century, the British Empire was riding high. Napoleon defeated and the “Great Game” in check, nothing, it would seem, could halt Britain’s trot – as long as they could get on their horse, that is.
Noticing Queen Victoria’s struggles with clunky lace-up riding boots, her shoemaker (an English cobbler named J. Sparkes-Hall) designed rubber-sided “patent elastic ankle boots” to aid Her Majesty’s equestrianism. By the time Sparkes-Hall filed a patent for the design in 1851, he cited the fact that “she [Queen Victoria] walks in them daily” as “the strongest proof of the value she attaches to the invention” to back up his invention’s worth. Probably helped that they looked great, too.
Perhaps due to their equine origins, close to a century would pass before “Paddock” boots (named after the horse enclosure) became associated with “dressing up” instead of “dressage.” During the 1950’s – British Empire now firmly shattered – a group of young filmmakers, creatives, and other selectively-employed youths who hung around London’s Kings Road neighborhood grew to favor the boots. That youthful clique, which included the likes of Mary Quant and Alexander Plunket Greene, was nicknamed the “Chelsea set” by the British media. You can see where this is going.
Born to help a reigning queen with her queenly reins, the Chelsea boot became a shining example of 60’s-era Swinging London as Britain once again colonized the world. Popularized in the US by “British Invasion” rockers such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Chelsea boots became the ultimate symbol of sleek, sumptuous rockstar style.
Does a boot designed for easier take-off really signal that much about its wearer? To chaste and proper Victorians, certainly not. Yet, to legions of rock fans (and designers like Hedi Slimane who worship their same gods), the Chelsea boot epitomizes slick, casual cool.
Before we begin, a confession: of all the visions to euphemistically fw, I just didn’t dig Hedi’s YSL at all. Perhaps it’s because I couldn’t afford a $4000 leather jacket. More likely, it’s because everyone I saw wearing the “Slimane aesthetic” (black leather jacket, distressed skinny jeans, suede Chelsea boots) off the runway looked drug-addled or just plain mopey.
Depression memes aside, that’s just not how I try to live my life.
It was this conditioned aversion to all things “Chateau Marmont” that caused me – regrettably - to overlook suede Chelsea boots. Even while YSL and Common Projects turned out grail-tier suede Chelseas as early as FW13, no level of product or promotion could pique my persuasions. In my mind, suede Chelseas were the Father John Misty set’s equivalent to Bapestas: expensive; costumey; a pan-flash, with extra herb.
Then, I actually tried them on.
Father John, I repent.
First, let’s talk comfort. Compared to the lace-up boots I own from Santalum and Wolverine, the slip-on/slip-off a Chelsea boot provides is just plain nice. This one eased friction point is a wonderful introduction to what is all around a very comfortable boot. The elastic has just enough backbone to keep your ankle locked in without abrasion – not like you’ll be making quick cuts in Chelseas, but should you find yourself stage-diving in rocker boots, rest assured they’ll stay snug. Worth noting: I followed Thursday’s advice exactly and sized one full size down my usual US10. Even with think-knit Anonymous Ism socks on, I felt cozy yet never constrained.
Also on the subject of coziness, I’d be remiss not to mention the insole. Materials-wise, it’s a combination EVA comfort strip on top of cushy cork midsole, all under a leather interior lining. Experience-wise, it’s a zero break-in daily driver. My first day wearing the Dukes, I spent a solid 4+ hours on my feet, walking around Princeton, New Jersey to shoot photos with a friend. Compared to my usual experience in Cuban-heeled boots (4 hours standing in Bean Boots = a compulsion to sit known only by father penguins), the Dukes were a remarkably pleasant surprise.
Next, let’s talk about the shoe itself. Rather, let’s just look at it:
The toebox is round and rakish; the heel, stout and firm. My one aesthetic gripe is that I wish the elastic inset were color-matched to the suede, but as to the shoe's architecture itself, I'm beyond complaint. Thursday claims the boot went through 20+ redesigns before coming to its present shape, and judging by the Duke’s serpentine charm, their effort was more than validated. There’s little room to wax poetic about minor changes to a centuries-old design, but one ageless proverb comes to mind: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If the streamlined skeleton of the classic Chelsea profile was good enough for royalty, focus the R&D elsewhere. Like, for example, that skeleton’s skin.
The honey suede is a deep, golden orange, and retains its supple hand-feel despite Thursday’s “WeatherSafe” treating. It’s my understanding that WeatherSafe is a detuned DWR optimized for rough leather – wax without glisten, armor without a shine. Even coated, the suede is buttery and pliable, fighting creases with an elasticity I once only expected from the boot’s heel panels. Plus, like come on – just look at this suede. It’s beautiful! It’s textured! The tasteful thickness of it… ahem. Moving on.
While I haven’t been caught in any claim-verifying afternoon pop-ups yet, this water resistance alone makes a compelling case for the Duke vs. other mid-price suede Chelseas. Even the most committed faux-Buddhist rockers would snap at water stains crashing their style.
Which brings us nicely to wearability.
In my mind, suede Chelseas occupy a privileged position in the pantheon of menswear: true versatility. Like the white low-top tennis shoe, they are both simple and elegant enough to fit all contexts. Despite my seething hatred for the nonsense witticism “you can dress it up or dress it down” (a lazy, even trite piece of ad copy that describes the simple act of wearing clothes), the Dukes feel at home in both t-shirt and button-up alike. Paired with casual outerwear, they’re a no-brainer regardless of any other contexts your outfit implies.
They’re just that wearable.
Case in point: I’m working in a less-formal office this summer. Instead of hauling both casual boots and hard-bottoms to my summer apartment, I’m bringing a single pair of gorgeous suede Chelseas to cover me for both days in and nights out alike. Two birds, one Dukes.
If you’re looking for a versatile leather shoe you can rock with everything but shorts, learn from my mistakes: gives Chelseas a chance. Post-Dukes, I feel foolish for writing off suede Chelseas as costume shoes for the #fashion crowd. In fact, I find myself wearing them all the time. Perhaps I’m overcompensating for the years of wear my ego denied; perhaps they’re just that versatile, comfortable, and handsome on-foot. Whatever the reason, I adore my pair.
While it won’t outcompete the luxury craftsmanship of Saint Laurent’s Wyatt or its Common Projects equivalent, Thursday made one hell of a Chelsea boot at a fraction of the cost. Made for the Queen yet priced for the people, the Duke is accessible royalty – and in suede, to boot.
Disclosure: Thursday Boot Co. sent these boots along to me for nothing more than a request for an honest review, and to me, an honest review requires the reader trusting the writer - hence, the candor. My sincere thanks to Darnell and Matthew at Thursday Boots for their kind gift.