It is often worth being reminded that while most of us who are orbiting around the Japanese fashion scene are mostly interested in what is on-trend and happening right now (or at times up to two seasons into the future), there is another side to Japanese fashion, one that prizes design classics and timeless vintage.  This is particularly true of men’s street fashion, because try as designers might to evolve the male wardrobe, the serious money is nearly always splashed on classic leather jackets, quality denim and a good pair of boots.  And it is the latter that I am going to focus on today, because if there is one thing that shows little signs of serious change, it is men’s boots.  Not that this is a bad thing in the slightest, I am all for a subtly evolved engineer boot over a male mule and as you are about to see, there is an awful lot you can do with a fine pair of boots.

The boots that have dominated the Japanese market for many decades are mostly American in origin – Wesco, Red Wing, Viberg, White’s and Chippewa.  All are hard wearing workman’s boots that seem to capture the spirit of adventure, endeavor and old-school masculinity that has long captured the minds and hearts of Japanese men.

All these boots are designed to be worn and loved season in season out and a large part of their ownership is in giving them the ongoing care they deserve.  But you really can’t describe the beautiful character these boots take on, you have to see them – smell the leather and let them take you on the journey they have already enjoyed:

Let’s see what your fancy collectable trainers look like after 10 years of wear!  But even though a stout pair of boots will only look better the more you wear them, will you still want to wear them for the decades they can last?  Now I am all for fancy fake leather shoes that are not too expensive and will only last a season or two if that is what you want from them, but it is possible to combine those two worlds by customising your beloved boots as you go or buying into a one of a kind pair in the first place.  Whether it is nice silver conchos from Tokyu Hands or leaving them in the hands of a pro, the sky is quite literally the limit:

I personally love a good studding project that evolves with you.  With a pair of boots like this you really want to do a couple of studs every couple of weeks and really build to something of considered perfection.

But for my money, the apex of a pair of boots that you are going to want to live with is something with intrinsic value such as exotic leathers (but be careful at airport customs…)

But some of the best custom jobs are ones that you can re-apply as you go like paint jobs or hand detailing that you can just wash off or dye over.

Recently I have seen a resurgence in contrasting leather in boots:

As well as 70s heavily built up soles and heels (not sure about this one):

There is a whole lot out there to get into with these boots, whether it is the pursuit of perfect vintage or buying a new design classic.  There are whole magazines devoted to this world in Japan and always a new custom job to admire.

Personally I can’t wait to grow old with my boots, leather trousers and silver.  I hope you will join me in clinging onto your cool:

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6 Responses to A Masterclass in Men’s Boots

  1. brad-t says:

    My problem with boots such as these is that they tend to look too clunky; I like the basic idea but I prefer a sleeker toe and a slightly higher heel. I love my Buffalo Bobs engineer boots, though I’m sure after ten years I won’t be wearing them anymore, ha!

  2. Samuel says:

    I think I am with you in preferring “fashion” shoes to practical shoes. Sometimes the two do come together, for example I got some Danish army boots that have a really flattering shape without laces, or the aforementioned customed to death options. I would personally prefer to replace a pair of boots every year or so, I suppose I always want to be moving forwards in fashion.

    On the other hand I am not sure I could ever stomach spending serious cash on something flimsy like a sneaker. Though I do always check out Rick Owens’ when they are on sale, like a moth drawn to a very expensive flame…

  3. Tori says:

    That last shot is ♥
    Although I totally know what you mean about this subject regarding mens’ fashion, I think it’s the same for women too, regarding boots at least~ the styles always seem to come back! The only difference I think is in the actual height of the boot~ I have yet to see any mainstream guys rocking over-the-knee boots, haha!! XD

  4. Samuel says:

    @ Tori, agreed, I just think the difference in men’s fashion is that there is a real cult around a really small number of brands and styles, with women’s I think there is a lot more variation.

    The only people who I can think of producing over the knee boots for men are Rick Owens and last F/W Julius. I really fancy a pair, but the price tags make me flinch even at 50 percent off…

  5. Hirotaka says:

    I am a bit of a men’s boots aficionado. I have representatives of many of the brands which are popular in Japan (WESCO, Whites, Chippewa, Red Wing, Tony Lama, et al.). Among those many nice boots, I have several bespoke pairs.
    In my “collection,” I have a pair of the boots which are not wholly practical for every day, such as those boots from the British Queen’s Horse Guards (18th-19th Century body armour). So many of those boots were designed for “hard” work and for daily comfort. Sometimes the boots have another purpose to provide support for feet and legs (as well as protection in the work environment (I have some rubber boots which easily suit that demand. Then there are linesman boots, which become part of the “tools” to help the worker to perform the work).).
    Of course, there are those who use such equipment, more for fashion, than for any practical purpose. Sometimes, such popularity leads to the boots becoming over-priced and impacting those who depended on the footwear for their work (a prime example is Dr Marten’s which were a “cheap” work boot, but became a fashion statement.)
    As a motorcycle lad, I have various motorcycle boots for the cultural demands of the casual American-Type and European-type motorcyclist (and respective kit to match, including some nice motorcycle leather suits).
    It does not seem much of a surprise that Japanese men would be both drawn to sturdy and practical work wear boots, and would find a reason for the inclusion of such boots, in a wardrobe. Like any technological solution, involving comfort and convenience, boots are wonderful and desirable objects.
    In years past, my Japanese motorcyclist friend, “Mu” sought my suggestions about what should be suitable for him—and if I would help him to get those American boots.
    I am very glad that someone has taken the time to illuminate the “Boots Culture” in Japan. One can see that there is already a healthy business IN Japan for boot-makers; and many boots which I would like to have FROM Japan (unfortunately, I am a “big” lad who wears a Japanese size 30 (I gladly will accept donations and prototypes for testing)).
    The studs, domes, pyramids, spikes and other metal additions can be nice personalisation, as are the added soles and the recent fashion for higher heels (an extreme is Sihinya Yamaguchi’s designs). Whatever the addition, it should be practical and useful.
    While battered and beaten may seem “cool” it is more a matter of lack of care. It is the destruction of what should have care (my 30 year old WESCO linesman have been used almost daily for these many years, and have had their “taps” replaced again and again, as well as routine polish and preservative).
    More please.

  6. Samuel says:

    @ Hirotaka

    Thank you for your comment, it made for a really good read! Your Horse Guards boots sound like a dream come true for me – as an Englishman I would love a pair.

    Feel free to get in touch anytime and I will try and write an updated version of the article that includes fashion boots just as soon as I can find the time!

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