Guest post by Scratch!
I encountered Red Wing Shoes some 23 years ago when I first moved to London as a wide eyed and caustically mouthed young man.
I fell in with a good crowd who were quite into their clothes & one day I spied one of our number wearing a pair of most eye catching boots. Bright red, black rubber sole and yellow laces. Why yes, it was a Red Wing boot.
They made no concession to fashion & looked like nothing else… and were more or less the polar opposite of Timberland lug boots that everyone was wearing with their Chevignon puffa jacket. Proper American work boots and only available at a small handful of stores. I liked this boot a lot and I liked it’s rather coarse utilitarian outlook. Apart from anything else, the handsome helicopter pilot, Stephen, who then becomes a zombie in the 1978 film Dawn of the Dead wears a pair. I ask you, what’s not to like?!
I remember American Classics used to stock them (they still do in fact), The Natural Shoe Company on the corner of Kings Road in Chelsea did too. In the end, I saved up enough money and got my first pair from a store called Paramount Clothing nestled in the glamorous bosom of Croydon in South London.
Red Wing Super Soles or the Model #18012 were about the only variety that you could get back then and golly they were built to last. A thick tread less rubber sole designed for traction on concrete bonded onto a thick and rugged upper that had been given the moc toe for extra strength.
“In the late 1950s, a cheap sole-cementing method (gluing the sole to the instep leather), began to gain traction. The work boot market began to be filled with lower-priced products. Red Wing responded by researching new methods of product development that wouldn’t compromise quality. In 1967, after a number of tests, Red Wing introduced a shoe which combined the efficiency of the cementing and the durability of Goodyear Welt construction. The new method used urethane, known for its anti-abrasion characteristics. It attached the sole to the instep leather with the welt sewn to it. The sole attached by this method was called Supersole, and would eventually re-define the work boot market.”
My first pair must’ve lasted me at least five years. To my eternal shame they were not waxed, cleaned or polished a single time and spent their time scuffing around nightclubs, city streets and playing football. Despite this crime against footwear they were always 100% waterproof, supremely comfortable and not a single stitch ever came loose. These were true dreadnoughts of shoes and the guys & gals that made them certainly earned their money.
I only actually retired them when I spied another pair that seemed were a cosmetic second and priced to sell if you know what I mean. Whichever…. they were a darn site smarter than the pair I was currently killing.
The toe & the vamp on a Red Wing are cut from different parts of the hide and on this pair it’s pretty obvious on one of them they are of uneven leather colour. I’m made of fairly uneven leather myself so I’ve worn them with pride ever since. I am quite light on my shoes and the many, many miles I’ve walked in these boots has still yet to beat the soles into any kind of submission.
Around the same sort of time, I managed to get a round toe pair too. These are stamped on the tongue as Style # 29007 and are slightly different – not only did they have the round toe, they had an exotic line of white stitching visible and they actually had a tread. This pair is of a similar vintage but as you can see, hasn’t had nearly the amount of use as the Mocs and were only rediscovered in a box at my mother’s house a couple of years ago.
I still wear these too on occasion and must say still love ‘em. Both pairs are clearly showing their age and are in real need of a drink of mink oil here, but I have faithfully cleaned and maintained them and there’s many a mile left in both should need be. They have both been newly laced which I think it’s the least I can do for them with their darkening patina… they now look like ripe rosy apples.
This longevity is something to be applauded damn loudly and is one of the reasons why I never have & never will be without a pair or two of Red Wings in my wardrobe.
The SuperSole died out pretty much in Europe around then (the original SuperSole upper was seemingly discontinued or “upgraded” with a more modern style with a deep V cut into the back of the ankle padding which didn’t look nearly as good but probably sold well among American workmen) and these new fangled white wedge soled Red Wings began to make an appearance.
The common wisdom was that these white soled boots were primarily designed for roofers to wear since they were markedly lighter and wider – although I have since read a myriad of different “origins” that they were farmer’s boots and so forth. Seeing that the sole also has a very light tread I find this rather difficult to believe as I think any farmer wearing them would spend more time on his ass than productively farming anything.
Red Wing dropped off the radar for most people for a good few years, only to be stocked by the hardiest of retailer who loved the brand rather than the sales revenue. They then emerged as more or less the global boot of choice at the forefront of the heritage movement. US made, a 108 year legacy, they still have their own tanneries and they own the eye-poppingly singular colour in that glorious Oro Russet red/orange.
Red Wings were back and instead of £90 they were now £225! Exotic white trim stitching was standard, black soles were totally banished & the now quite ubiquitous Vibram Christy –albeit Red Wing branded – was now the sole of choice.
I have never seen a brand the size of Red Wing rise so quickly and with such nimbleness and these days you can buy them on most high streets should you wish. They are now far, far more successful than they ever were back in the early 90’s and have spawned many an imitator.
I still buy Red Wings and among others have a pair of the 8131’s which ride on a Christy sole and you know, while I don’t think the leather is quite as thick as it used to be and the sole isn’t a patch on the old super when it comes to toughness, it’s still darn good and the build quality is top notch. These boots will not let you down, no matter how abusively you treat them.
Red Wing have a few very impressive European concept stores and serve up an extensive range quite effectively riding the current trends from the classic boots to premium Maine handsewn’s, work oxfords, chukka boots and Wabasha’s.
While my preference will always be for the stock moc boot in that classic vibrant Oro Russet colour, they have produced a few variants that have really taken my eye. One is the Red Wing Munson boot that is Harris Tweed lined and a glorious & predictably expensive collaboration with Nigel Cabourn; the other is the much underrated 200 series… absolutely beautiful boots and work Oxfords closely evoking the original SuperSole work boot but sliding in a very sleek and understated manner on a black neoprene sole. These particular boots were released with a bit of a whimper a couple of years ago and as far as I can see were not a huge seller – a fact that I still cannot decide whether I like or not.
Eagle eyed Google fiends may find a few pairs of these for sale still at various stores and it would seem that Red Wing themselves are stocking them again. I know after a beer of two in the evening, I often find my finger perilously close to that pesky “Buy” button.
If you haven’t had a pair of Red Wings it is really high time you fixed that fact. Like a lot of brand leaders Red Wing are sensibly beginning to release and promote a lot more none-Christy wedge soled shoes & boots – the #8052 Oxford being a big favourite of mine – as it seems these days one cannot get moved for footwear on a white wedged sole and it’s perhaps time for something different?
If you want something that may well outlast your feet if you look after them just a little bit you cannot go wrong. If you’re still not convinced, I have my trump card to play. Check out what has recently made a re-appearance on the Red Wing website under the guise of style# 8804.
Ah yes. The old bruiser is back.. the original and still the best. Just make sure you buy a tin of Mink Oil too at the checkout. These boots can be quite emotional to break in but like any good horse, once broken and with a bit of TLC, it will give you many years solid service.