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?

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.