As of this year, I have been wearing raw denim for over 6 years, have bought far more than 10 pairs of jeans, 5 leather jackets, 3 pairs of sneakers, and 8 pairs of boots as well as countless shirts, non-leather jackets, and other clothing items. In all of that time I have never owned a pair of Red Wing boots. For 60% of raw denim fans and 99.999999999% of Instagram denim-heads, this may come as a shock, perhaps even an affront to heritage work wear itself. Well, hold on to your 12oz belts and 21oz denim, because for most of those 6 years, I not only did not own any Red Wings, I actively avoided Red Wing boots.
In fact, you might have called me what the kids these days dub a “hater.”
There were two major reasons that owning a pair of Red Wings was as appealing to me as reading a Twilight book.* The first reason was that none of their models or leather choices ever really appealed to me. Engineer boots were always the footwear that I was most interested in, even before I thought that I could pull off the look. While Red Wing does make engineers, they never appealed to me personally in terms of details. The rest of their range is full of lace up boots with large, often bulbous toe boxes that do not fit my style. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this, it’s just my aesthetic preference. On top of this, the leathers on most of the boots never looked that interesting to me. Again, there was nothing particularly wrong with them, but they never jumped out at me the way other leathers such as Shinki, Badalassi, and others did.
The second and much larger reason that I did not like them was that Red Wing was the U2 of the boots world. There were hordes of people that absolutely adored them and said they were the best in their given category despite the fact that they really were not that great. On forums and especially on Instagram, Red Wing were and still are almost universally praised and I have heard many people talk about how they are the best boots in the world. After checking out and trying on a few pairs for myself, I could not help but notice that they were indeed not the best made boots in the world. Upon close inspection, the construction, while overall quite good, was very obviously not perfect. The leather, while perfectly serviceable, was nothing to write home about. Even chromexcel, a leather that I am not a big fan of, was more interesting to me.
The use of the Puritan stitching machine is a cool touch
I was quite confused by this. I am not exaggerating when I say that more people than I can count on my hands had said that Red Wing were the best boots in the world before I had even tried on my first pair. What made things worse was when I purchased Carmina Chelsea boots not long after for less than 100 dollars more that were incredibly well constructed (Carmina’s prices have since risen, but are still more than worth the asking price) and had far superior leather. While dress boots may not be the most fair comparison, buying my John Lofgren engineer boots certainly proved my theory to myself that there was much better out there than Red Wing boots. Three pairs of Clinch, a pair of Role Clubs, and a visit to White Kloud later, I was at the peak of my anti-Red Wing attitude in the summer of 2017.
At the same time, however, something strange happened. I found a pair of Red Wings that I was quite attracted to. The moc toe models had always been the models that I disliked the least, having owned a pair of moc toe boots from LL Bean with a wedge sole in college in Massachusetts. However, I finally noticed the limited edition Irish Setter version of these boots in the Golden Russet Sequoia leather. As a sucker for lighter brown/tan leathers like this, I had to admit that I was very interested in these boots. Encouraging me further was my fiancé who, while at Standard and Strange for Denimbruin, pointed out that she actually liked the Red Wing moc toe models. Keep in mind, this is a girl who’s favorite item of clothing that I own is my Himel Bros. Wolverine Grizzly jacket, so she has impeccable taste. If she liked them, then that was all the encouragement that I needed.
These boots add a new dimension to my wardrobe
After a modest amount of contemplation, I decided that I had to have these and popped over to Snake Oil Provisions to get them. This may be a side note, but I do have to point out that Bobby Milwaukee https://www.instagram.com/bobbymilwaukee/ and Steven Clouse https://www.instagram.com/thisnormallife/ are the coolest dudes and we hung out and talked for around 2 hours before actually buying the boots. This was without doubt the most relaxed in-person clothing purchase I have ever made. As far as the boots themselves are concerned, I have to admit that the leather was beautiful from the first look at them. A lot of people were very hyped on the black Klondike leather, but I think that pales in comparison to this leather. It has a very rich hue and the aged example online look slightly similar to cognac Badalassi leather.
A closeup on the leather…
…and of the inside
As far as construction goes, these are not perfect. There certainly are some examples of slightly loose stitches, some less than perfect finishing, and some messy stitching that could have been done more cleanly. For example, the moc toe is not joined as perfectly as it should have been on one of my boots and you can see that some of the stitching on the four places where the vamp meets the counter is excellent while on others, it’s clearly not as well done. Thus, we can see that the construction is not up to par with Wesco and obviously is not at the level of makers such as Clinch, Role Club, and John Lofgren.
This picture shows how both of the moc toes are less than perfectly constructed. I was disappointed, but not surprised by this.
At this point, it may seem like I’m still having quite a downer on Red Wing, but actually, there is quite a lot to like about these boots. First of all, in Red Wing’s defense, those boots I mentioned above all cost considerably more money (though many Wesco’s can be had for only $100-$150 more.) In addition, the boots that are in Red Wing’s price range aren’t much of a match for them in my opinion. Wolverine 1k boots are not only ugly, but have far more complaints about quality control and also do not have the rugged sole options that Red Wing do. Red Wing easily beat out Chippewa and especially Thursday in terms of both quality and unique aesthetics. Oak Street Bootmakers started out strong, but with all the quality control and customer service complaints that hit them like a celebrity divorce settlement, I would choose Red Wing over them any day of the week (even Tuesday.) What is really egregious is that I have seen wonkier stitching from Attractions and Santa Rosa/HTC engineer boots that go for $700 or more than I have ever seen from a pair of Red Wings. Examples such as these absolutely tip the scales into Red Wing’s favor.
My Wesco boots had one slightly loose thread, but these boots have a large number of loose threads and slightly poor Goodyear welt stitches
Finally, my largest argument against buying a pair of Red Wings is pretty much gone at this point. In the past, you could buy a pair of Wesco boots for only $150 more than Red Wings and in my opinion, it was absolutely worth it due to the jump in quality. However, prices have gone slightly up and more than that, all of the Wesco boots with desirable leather and details all cost around twice the price of a pair of Red Wings. Even though Wesco are better and more ruggedly made, I can completely understand that for some people, the price jump is simply not worth it. Not only that, but I have come to appreciate that the style and aesthetic of many Red Wing boots is unique to the company. Service boots from Wesco, Viberg, Truman, Oak Street, Sagara, etc all look very similar, but a pair of Moc Toes or Iron Rangers are very distinctly Red Wing boots. For engineers under $800, I would still suggest to go with Wesco any day of the week, but otherwise, the argument for Red Wing is strong.
this boot here is not as neatly constructed as the one below
However, this shot also shows the unfortunate seem puckering that results from the Puritan stitching.
While the construction on my boots is not perfect, it is certainly solid. I have no doubts that these boots will last quite some time. For the most part, the stitching is solid. Additionally, I love that they still use an ancient puritan stitching machine to do the triple stitching. That is a fantastic touch. I also like the metal eyelets, the contrasting white threads used in certain places, sturdy, matching leather laces, and the fact that they went for full eyelets instead of speedhooks on these boots. The tongue is gusseted which is also a big plus and the branding is actually quite subtle, which I really like. I am glad to see that Red Wing are aware enough that the silhouettes of their boots are enough branding and don’t need to do silly gimmicks like putting American flags everywhere like Thorogood sometimes do.
These boots are very sock friendly as anyone on Instagram knows
As I mentioned briefly before, the leather itself is absolutely beautiful to my eyes. It is not the most impressive leather, however. It is fairly plain in terms of grain and it does not darken n the gorgeous way that the cognac Badalassi does. It’s a leather that fits its price point, but at the same time, it is still my favorite leather I have seen at this price point.
In terms of fit and comfort, these are a mixed bag. I am a size 10.5D on a Brannock and took a 10 in these. Even at this size though, they are still kind of narrow. I think a 10.5 would feel too long, but even on my average width feet, these feel narrow especially on the outside part of the ball of my foot (the widest part.) They do start out pretty comfortable from the get go in terms of the sole. However, they do not provide the long term support that I much prefer from boots with more traditional leather midsoles and heel stacks. If you want something that feel closer to a sneaker, these are not a terrible option, though there will be some break in. If you are like me and prefer more leather between your foot and the ground, these will not do anything to convert you to wedge soles. Additionally, the top of the boot, where they lace up was quite uncomfortable at first, but this improved quickly and has since completely disappeared. Overall, comfort is acceptable, but not stellar for me. However, this is just my experience and comfort is highly subjective.
This is one of my favorite color combos of all time
The design of the boot itself is my favorite aspect. Sure, in the raw denim community these are a dime a dozen, but really, only Thorogood makes a comparable moc toe boot to this and the Red Wing version is far better looking and from what I have seen, better made as well. Relatively speaking, then, this is quite a unique looking boot. Perhaps this is why the 6in moc toe is so popular with people. I am not sure if this or the Iron Ranger sells more, but if you had to ask me, I would say the moc toe is Red Wing’s most iconic boot (though I may be biased because I bought it myself.)
Despite their flaws, these boots are extremely photogenic.
After all this time of disliking Red Wing boots, buying and owning a pair certainly has educated me on why people love the boots so much. For the majority of people, the extra construction quality and details that you get from higher priced shoes and boots is not necessary and for many, the price is just not justifiable. At $320, this pair is slightly steep for this brand, but the normal versions are generally around $270. However, I believe that either Wesco or Moto Japan are the peak of value for money at around $600-$700 right now because your returns do not diminish when you pay extra money for them over Red Wing. That said, I do truly love my 9875 boots for what they are.
The design is beautiful and unique, this particular leather is gorgeous, , and the boots themselves are quite comfortable thanks to that sole. I will still sigh and shake my head whenever someone says that Red Wing boots are the best because now having owned a pair, I can confirm that this is far from the truth. However, I do really love my Red Wings and while I am not looking for another pair, these are not leaving my collection any time soon. I suppose the best way to summarize it is that while I will likely never become a big Red Wing fan, I am a big fan of my Red Wings.
*Harry Potter is LIFE!!!