Tuesday, December 24, 2013

New Perspectives: Tips for Selecting Great Used Boots

Men's fashion should be two things: simple and functional. Any "look" (try to avoid "looks", by the way) that deviates too far from these two qualities is unlikely to be around for long (looking at you deep v-neck t-shirts).

As far as I can tell, all fashion trends experience a regression to the mean - that is to say, there's a great chance that the clothes men will wear 20 years in the future will closely resemble the clothes worn 40 years in the past. This is especially the case with boots.

That's good news too, considering how easy it is to find used boots from thrift shops and online that look just as dapper on you when you're hanging out with your lady as when you're treating a client to lunch. And we've failed to mention the sustainability angle of re-owning leather footwear. I mean, I'm no vegan, but surely wearing fewer dead cows on your feet is better than wearing more, right?

Then there's the matter of style and quality. If a store is selling boots several decades older than the employees working there, there must be a demand for the shoe, and the shoes must be well-made to have held up for that long. Trends come and go, but boots that stick around for generations are usually solid.

Here are some qualities to look for when buying used boots and some tips for caring for them.

What to Look For

Fit:  A good cobbler can do many things, but making a pair of boots fit your foot isn't one of them.

Too Small is Too Small: I bought a pair of cowboy boots once that were a half-size too small because I thought they looked great and wanted to wear them for a gig I was playing. That was a huge mistake.

The Heel: Heels made from wood or leather are far better quality than those made of plastic or rubber, and thus far easier for a cobbler to work with.

The Last: Look for hand lasting over machine lasting. This is important for quality and fit.

Red Flags: If the boot exhibits any of these qualities, think twice about buying.

  • Sole pulling away from the shoe.

  • Tears in the leather away from the seam.
  • The lining is cracked, flaky, falling apart.
  • The boots are far cheaper than you expected.


Clean Them: Jerry Seinfeld has a bit about leather ideally being about to withstand all of nature's forces, just like the cow it came from. Unfortunately this isn't the case. It's important to brush dirt and residue off boots because they lessen the boot's water repellence.

Oil Them: Like human skin, leather dries out over time. To keep leather strong and durable, it needs to be oiled. Synthetic and natural compounds work equally well, although natural compounds darken the shade of the leather whereas synthetics do not.

Find A Cobbler: If there's a downside to buying vintage boots, it's that they come with miles on them. Find a cobbler who can do occasional repairs and give you maintenance tips.

Old, But New

There are many pairs of vintage men's boots looking for a home. The most important thing to remember when buying them is that while you can re-sole a boot, you want the boot to be well made. Look for full-grain leather, wooden or leather soles instead of straight rubber or plastic, and, of course, look for a boot that looks timeless.

Author: Seth Sosebee is an community contributor, where he muses about vintage footwear and a wide variety of other men's fashion and lifestyle topics.

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