Review: Red Wing boots revive quality footwear traditions
Footwear designer Christian Louboutin said, “A shoe has so much more to offer than just to walk.” My mom, as I tried on a pair of classless rouge wingtips, said, “Your feet walk into the room first! Don’t be too loud!”
Footwear says a lot about a person. But what does a shoe say about itself? In today’s utilitarian world, most shoes say little of craftsmanship. After all, have you ever met a cordwainer?
There is hope. The “Buy It For Life” movement is gaining momentum online with consumers pursuing quality. Popular sites tout products that only need to be bought once (reddit.com/r/buyitforlife, boughtitonce.com and bifl.org for example). Some of the brands featured on these sites include Maytag, Craftsman and Red Wing. Nobody has ever heard of the products from these brands breaking because they don’t.
The Red Wing Shoe Company, based in Red Wing, Minnesota, has been making superb boots since 1905, and they still do it by hand. Each boot is crafted from hides tanned by S.B. Foot Tanning Co., founded in 1872. (The tannery is also in Red Wing, MN and owned by Red Wing since 1986.) The all-leather uppers are hand triple stitched to oil resistant soles with heels nail-seated for easy replacement with wear. The company offers a range of shoes, but its “Heritage” collection are popular style favorites.
How do they do it? Craftsmanship. The same narrative as other classic brands, Red Wing’s were designed to be functional first. A hundred years ago, iron miners wore these boots. In today’s nostalgic revival of high-quality products, Red Wing’s Heritage collection has seen a resurgence of 20-somethings looking for sturdy, attractive products.
The Iron Ranger Style No. 8111, not for the faint of heart, is a heavy 6” all-leather boot with a sturdy double-leather captoe (a precursor to steel-toes). After more than two months of daily wear resulting in blisters, they finally break in. The pair is 3 lbs, heavy enough to cause paresthesia in crossed legs. But, the boots are en vogue and practical. The physical pain required to tame them adds to their je ne sais quoi. Only through sustained agony can they truly be yours. Once tamed, they wear like plush slippers.
The Classic Moc Style No. 875 is constructed with softer leather, which makes for an easier break-in. The white rubber outsole is a delight; standing in these boots for a full day is a breeze. Classic Mocs are without the robust double captoe however, so don’t go mining iron in these shoes.
At $300 a pair, Red Wings aren’t cheap. But, with cleaning and maintenance, they can last a lifetime. And, when these boots walk into the room they proudly proclaim, “We have so much more to offer than just to walk.”
Follow Gordon Friedman on Twitter @gordonrfriedman
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