Les Bottes Rouges

I’ve always been fascinated by oxblood boots. I’ve always wanted a pair. But I also don’t want to look in any way shape or form like Ronald McDonald, and I’m also quite certain that I’ve never before seen a pair of “true” skinhead oxbloods. I’m not even sure if such a thing exists (or could, but more on that later).

Much about colour will be discussed on this post, and as colour is a relatively subjective thing I should probably acknowledge the various differences in peoples’ computer screens and differences in the way colour in photos is rendered digitally. Okay. That’s out of the way. Moving on.

When it comes to red-tinged boots, there are generally three options — oxblood, cherry red, or burgundy rub — though not all companies offer all three, and many seem to play fast and lose with their definitions thereof.

The story of the skinhead and the red(dish) boot is as old as the story of skinheads. But when it comes to honouring the skinhead style of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which red(dish) colour is the “authentic” one? From what I can tell, none of them.

By all accounts I’ve come across, the original oxblood boots were made by skinheads themselves. The story goes that the creative kiddos who inhabited the bootboy primordial soup took medium-to-dark brown boots and polished them up with oxblood (known stateside as cordovan) polish.

The few, admittedly sketchy, images available of the oxblood bovvers (if that’s indeed what they are) of the time do seem to bear this out [see above gallery]. The boots appear very dark, a purplish brown with feint reddish undertones. If I took enough traditional oxblood polish to brown shoes or boots, this is the effect I’d imagine I would get. If I am wrong I hope a reader out there will let me know, but to my knowledge no companies in England were offering boots made in true oxblood leather in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

But what of the modern options? Do any come close?

Based on scant photographic evidence, the closest modern colour in terms of shade seems to be burgundy rub, but burgundy rub is basically the same sort of finish you’d see on a pair of patent leather dress shoes applied to a boot. Personally I think they look pretty cool, but I don’t think they’re particularly authentic.

The closest in actual colour would of course be oxblood, and the closest oxblood colour I’ve found to the originals of yore (which as we’ve established were likely brown boots painted over with oxblood polish) is in Red Wing Shoes’ oxblood leather offerings

Their oxblood Iron Rangers, pictured above, are b-e-a-utiful and in my opinion come the closest to the color of the boots in old photographs. Unfortunately though, oxblood varies from company to company, often appearing indistinguishable from cherry red (both Doc and Solovair are guilty of this).

Take for example these two separate boots from Doc. Even acknowledging possible differences in photo lighting and graphics rendering, there’s no way these aren’t two clearly distinct, different colours. I’d argue the first is really a cherry red variant, with nary a hint of purple or brown to be found. Funnily enough, what seems to be the most authentically looking “oxblood” coloured boot on the Doc website is sold as burgundy!

Now, onto the famous/infamous “cherry reds”. These were supposedly a mainstay back in the day. “Cherry red and black were most popular”, George Marshall assures us, and I’ve read firsthand accounts from skins who were there when it started claiming that cherry reds were definitely a thing. Having said that, I haven’t for the life of me seen any photographic evidence of cherry red boots in any film or photos of skinheads circa 1968-1971. None. Zip. Nada. If cherry reds really were available to — and worn by — skins in the late ’60s and early ’70s, then I have to assume they were darkening the hell out of them with brown, black, and/or oxblood polish. If anyone who was there could shed further light on this it would be greatly appreciated.

What I see when I see someone wearing cherry reds.

Personally, and this may be an unpopular opinion with some, I kinda hate these things. In my misguided youth I once owned a pair of cherry red Grinders. Ugh. I’m sorry but they’re clown shoes. Clown shoes I say (and don’t even get me started on yellow laces). Then again who knows — maybe, just maybe, if you put enough brown or black polish on a cherry red boot and you’ll get something resembling oxblood.

Once funds are available, my intent is to invest in a pair of brown boots (thinking William & Lennon Co.) and ‘blooding them up myself. Until then I can only look at what’s available now versus what’s depicted in old photos and sigh.

What say you, dear readers? Would you be caught dead in a pair of cherry reds? Is “oxblood” (whatever that might mean to any particular boot maker at any given time) your bag, or do you prefer the burgundy rub look?

Top 5 Skinhead Reggae Acts

Without further ado:

I honestly can’t get enough of this group. Almost every single song is a total jam. If you don’t know The Pioneers, do yourself a huge favour and get acquainted ASAP.

If you don’t know the utter awesomeness that is Toots & The Maytals then you’ve probably come to the wrong blog. It’s hard to get better than these guys.

No list of best skinhead reggae is complete without the mighty Symarip AKA the Pyramids. “Skinhead Moonstomp” is the obvious anthem of the cult.

Derrick Morgan is the man. ‘Nuff said.

The Upsetters – Lee Perry’s legendary house band. What more do you need to know?

The first, last, & only political post you’ll read on this blog

There’s a phrase that often appears on banners and placards at patriotic marches and demonstrations in Poland: “Stop Totalitaryzmom“. That about sums up my political beliefs as they relate to a scene so often ruined by political beliefs.

In case the numerous references to ska and the 1960s haven’t make it clear, I have zero time of day for boneheads. I have English, Polish, and Jewish blood in my veins. All of my grandfathers and great-grandfathers fought the Nazis in the Second World War. One of my great-grandfathers died fighting them. If you think waving a swastika around is something of which to be proud, maybe one day my steel caps and your teeth can meet.

Having said all that, I have come to detest SHARP types as much as I detest neo-nazis. In my experience they are almost always communists or other radical leftists pushing a political ideology just as repressive and repulsive as that of the boneheads.

Bonehead v. Sharp. Two idiotic sides of the same idiotic ideological coin. Image Copyright: Oscar Hertin 2019.

That’s to say nothing of the insane social justice warrior mentality that seems to have infected parts of the Oi! scene today. I’ve seen these sorts of neo-bolshevik numbskulls claim that bands like Combat 84, Condemned 84, and 4Skins are legitimately racist or fully blown RAC bands. You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

Anyway, the point of all this is that if you want to talk politics then go be a political activist elsewhere. If you want to learn about some great clothes and great music, then you’ve come to the right place.

UPDATE: Relco short sleeved button down review

So the size medium Relco short sleeved button down arrived today. As I suspected, the sleeves were pretty much perfect but the shirt was too large around the chest by a few inches.

Unless one of the shirts I received was somehow defective, the difference in size between a small and medium is significant and severe, indeed it almost seems like the small should really be extra-small and that the company lacks a true size small. If Relco could combine the small size’s chest with the medium size’s sleeves, we might have a very well-fitting shirt on our hands. Alas they do not do that as far as I know.

Ah, but the plot thickens, dear readers.

The medium I received has a different label than the two size smalls I purchased previously. Moreover the fabric on the size medium seems to be of slightly better quality than than the trash cotton of which the size smalls are made. This fact suggests a number of possible conclusions. It is possible that one of the sizes is old stock and one is new. It is also possible that they actually come from different lines by Relco, though I’ve found no evidence that such different clothing lines exist. It’s also possible the cheaper ones may be fakes, but it seems quite a niche company to be worth fake.

Either way it would appear that more Relco research is needed. I need to find a Relco small with a label that matches the one in the medium, and vice versa, in order to reach a proper conclusion about Relco shirts.

If any reader out there knows if there’s a difference between older and newer Relco shirts, and why I have two shirts from the same company with two different labels, I’d love to know in the comments section.

Original Relco review here.

Welcome, and a few notes on my personal style

This should have probably been the first post on this blog, but oh well.

First, a little bit about myself. I have been fascinated with the skinhead cult and its style since I was first exposed to it when I was around 12 or 13 years old. When I was a wee lad, that bizarre bastard synthesis of two-tone and pop-punk that became known as “third wave ska” was all the rage in my corner of suburban New Jersey. Thankfully it wasn’t all Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake — bands like the Slackers, the Toasters, and the Hub City Stompers pointed me in the direction of the roots ‘n’ real stuff. And in a blended scene that saw skater-punk kids, two-tone wannabes, street punks, and what can only be described as proto-emo kids all stewing in the same shows, the skinheads — slightly menacing and smartly dressed — truly stood out. Around the same time I was getting deep into ska and encountering actual skinheads for the first time, my dad was regaling me with tales of skinhead encounters during his youth in England in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I was sold.

You probably noticed that I refer to myself as a suedehead in the ‘About’ section of this site. This is not only because my hair is longer than a #3, but also due to the fact that I have a white collar job and grew up in the suburbs. I’m fiercely proud of my working class roots (my dad comes from a long line of millworkers in Yorkshire), but it would be dishonest to claim that I myself am working class — other than perhaps a few of my political beliefs.

“Working class pride” rhetoric aside, the skinhead cult (the original one, anyway) was, in my oh so humble opinion, always first and foremost about fashion. The — dare I say — fetishization of working class identity didn’t really solidify until the second wave of skinheads and the rise of Oi! in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Anyway, back to fashion.

As you may have guessed, this blog, and my personal style, pay homage to the original skins, suedes, and boot boys of the mid 1960s through the early 1970s. To that end, here are some of the things you will find discussed and celebrated here: the 1960s Ivy League look, mod and skin-associated clothing brands, sta-prest, button-downs, brogues, sheepskins, crombies, ska, rocksteady, reggae, and maybe, just maybe, even the occasional Oi! band. And here are some of things you will absolutely not find celebrated here, and discussed only with derision: boots higher than 11 eyes (and that’s only because I own a pair of 11 eye Solos), bleached anything, skin-tight trousers or jeans, flight jackets, or Jenny Woo.

Anyway, that’s all for now, folks. And remember: stay booted, suited, and sharp!

Song of the Week: Phoenix City – Roland Alphonso & the Soul Brothers

This track is easily one of my favourite ska songs of all time, and a crystal clear example of why Skatalites founding member Alphonso was called “The Chief Musician”. His solo on this track is exceptional. Having said that, he’s outshone on this one by Johnny “Dizzy” Moore’s trumpet playing. Moore’s solo screams passion, and the listener can’t help but get swept away in the horn player’s emotion.

The Boots Go Marching In

When it comes to a basic pair of bovvars, I’m somewhat of a Solovair partisan. In terms of style, quality, construction, and pedigree they have it all. But there’s a bevy of beautiful boots out there beyond your bog standard Docs, Solos, and Gripfasts. The following are a few of them. Some are on the traditional side and some are, well, not.

William Lennon & Co. Ruff-lander 78TC Traditional Work Boot

William Lennon & Co. has been making work boots since the 19th century, and there’s as good a chance as any that some of the very first bootboys may have worn the company’s boots. The 78TC work boot is a traditional derby style boot and just one of the WL&C’s “Ruff-lander” range to make this list. Unfortunately quality and tradition doesn’t come cheap. A pair of these costs £153.95, or about $187.

William Lennon & Co. Ruff-lander 79X Safety Boot

This boot appears to be a slightly heavier-duty and significantly cheaper version of the 78TC. Though certainly less refined than its more expensive cousin, it’s darker leather and lack of a stitched toe cap may be a plus to some. £99.95, or about $121.

William Lennon & Co. Ruff-lander 94OR Safety Footwear

The old school beauties are as close as you’re likely to find to the old school capped boots worn by the earliest skinheads in the days before Docs. Yours truly is aching to get himself a pair and lather them up in oxblood polish. £59.95, or around $73.

William Lennon & Co. Ruff-lander 11OR Steel Toe Caps

Similar to the 940Rs but with an extra eyelet and no stitching on the cap. £61.95, or around $75.

William Lennon & Co. Ruff-lander S31P Engine Mans Boot External Toe Cap

These interesting specimens are very similar to the exposed-cap miners’ boots reportedly worn by some early skinheads. Would I wear these? No. Would someone wear these? Who knows, but I figured I’d mention them anyway.

Red Wing Iron Ranger

This gorgeous boot is as far from traditional skinhead clobber as where it was born. According to the company’s website, the Iron Ranger was designed for coal miners in the American Midwest. Red Wing boots are beautifully made and their quality is second to none. Unfortunately so is the price. $329.99.

Corcoran Original Leather Jump Boots

Traditional paratrooper-style combat boots like these can be seen in some early images of skins. Not my style personally but these are by far the best I’ve seen. I’m not sure why, but as far as excessive eyelets go these somehow look less ridiculous than similarly-high Docs and Solos. Black: $159.99. Brown: $169.95.

In Search of Sta-Prest Alternatives

Authentic sta-prests are something of a unicorn in the bootboy world, a white whale of which wishful skinheads dream.

Many a modern retailer that capitalizes on mod and skinhead culture offer versions of “sta-prest” trousers. The Merc, Relco, and Brutus versions are, by all accounts, underwhelming at best. Overly modern and overly slim cuts are apparently the order of the day, to say nothing of the tales of infamously cheap construction.

As the reader may have guessed, yours truly has not personally tried any of these modern pseudo-sta-prests. Buying a pair of sta-prest from the triumvirate of mass mod retailers has always seemed pointless given their low reputation and the high cost of having them shipped to the states. Nor have I tried the more promising sta-prests from Jump the Gun in Brighton (though a pair are in the mail currently!).

But I digress. The point of this post is not to review modern trousers sold as sta-prest (though such a post will be forthcoming), but to suggest some available alternatives. The following trousers may not be sta-prest, but nevertheless they keep razor sharp creases are are sure to look boss with a freshly shined pair of boots or brogues.

Charles Tyrwhitt Flat Front Non-Iron Chinos

The most expensive trouser on the list. At just under $100 these bad boys aren’t cheap, but they look great, despite the admittedly modern silhouette. “Tailored from stretch cotton fabric for ease of movement, this style is also non-iron for a crease-free look. 95% cotton, 5% elastane. $99.

Land’s End Men’s Tailored Fit No Iron Twill Dress Pants

The 100% cotton offerings from Lands’ End aren’t a bad buy at under $50, and the “light stone” color that comes ever-so-close to the neutral sta-prests of olde is an added bonus. The Land’s End no iron chino is also worth checking out. Though it has an exposed button it comes in a wider variety of colours than the dress pant. No iron dress pant: $48.96. No iron chino: $38.46.

Dickie’s 874 Work Pant

The mighty Dickie’s. Reputedly a mainstay amongst American skinheads since the early ’80s, these beauties are easy on the eyes and wallet. Though heavier than traditional sta-prest, the 65% polyester/35% cotton blend guarantees razor-sharp creases. Available in a wide variety of colours and for only $22.99 a pair, they’re hard to resist. There’s a slimmer version available which may give a slightly better profile against your boots but comes at the cost of having a rise below the waist.