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Lifestyle: Chelsea boots; still as hot as today’s headlines

by Michael Weare
4 March, 2013
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About the author

Michael Weare has been a professional writer for 30 years, writing about Japanese technology, German and Italian cars, British tailoring and Swiss watches. Michael manages the editorial content of Click Tempus and will be keeping the magazine fresh and informative with regular features, as well as bringing great writers to the magazine. Email: michael@clicktempus.com

Chelsea Boots

Take me back to my roots,

Not the World’s End,

But the King’s Road

In my shiny Chelsea Boots

Anonymous

 

The Chelsea boot as Victorian horseplay boot

J. Sparkes Hall Elastic Ankle Boots

Man hauled off to jail in Chelsea Boots

Chelsea Boots were not invented in Chelsea, but just a stone’s throw from our offices in Regent Street by bootmakers to the Queen, J. Sparkes Hall in 1837.

The development of vulcanised rubber by Charles Goodyear (famous for his tyres) gave him the idea to produce an elastic sided boot that could be slipped on and off with minimal effort.

And while Queen Victoria herself quickly became a firm fan of what was then known as the elastic sided ankle boot, men quickly caught on to the idea of their ease of removal. In the cartoon above is an example of early Chelsea boot mania, pre-dating Beatle boot hysteria by at least one hundred years.

Creole Congress Boot

They soon became the perfect ‘liaison’ boot. A chap could ride into town in them on his steed, visit his favourite scarlet lady or mistress in her chambers and have his boots back on in a Mayfair jiffy.

Mr. Sparkes Hall filed the patent for them in 1851, and mentioned in his application that Queen Victoria walks in them daily, and thus gives the strongest proof of the value she attaches to the invention.

If they were good enough for the Queen, they were good enough for the Patents Office and they were duly approved.

By this time they had already become a major fashion trend and were still popular at the time of the First World War.

It was doubtless back to good old fashioned laces for the duration of the First World War, and the Chelsea Boot, also known as a Paddock or Dealer boot, while still a popular choice of civilian footwear, did not receive many headlines for another half a century.

The Chelsea boot as Beatle boot

Anello & Davide boots as worn by the Beatles

Fast forward to 1961 and the Beatles are desperately trying to forge some kind of fashionable new image for themselves. They had recently abandoned the teddy boy look of the Quarrymen, and were looking for something new. In terms of footwear, John Lennon and Paul McCartney spotted what they were looking for in the shop window of London bootmakers Anello & Davide.

Zip styled Beatle Boot

Paul McCartney's Beatle boots

They customised the Chelsea boot to become more pointed, and with the addition of Cuban heels, they cut a lean sharp ultra cool silhouette with their tight drainpipe trousers. They became known as Beatle boots or winklepickers, a Chelsea Boot derivative.

A queue for Beatle Boots

It didn’t take long for every pop star and wannabe pop star to start queuing round the block at Anello & Davide for a pair of handmade Beatle boots. Every kid was desperate for a pair.

The Chelsea boot as ‘working class yob’ boot

Boring alternative to the Beatle Boot

 

‘Winklepickers are for uneducated Beatle boys and working class yobs’.

That’s what my headmaster pronounced with delicious political incorrectness when banning them from school in the early 60s. And the compulsory alternative is shown above.

The Rolling Stones, the so called bad boys of rock and roll, wore winklepickers too, which made them even more desirable.

Here you can see footage of Keith Richards rocking on stage clearly wearing a pair of winklepickers to scenes of mass hysteria. There hasn’t been anything quite like it before or since. And it’s largely down to those boots. With scenes like these, every boy in the country, including this one, craved Beatle boots. Of course it didn’t t take long for manufacturers far and wide to churn out cheap, and frankly nasty pairs of Beatle boots, many with sweaty plastic replacing leather.

60s style Beatles Boots

The Beatle boot craze seemed to last a long time, but in reality, it was pretty much over by 1967. The next significant boot trend was the towering platform sole of the early 70’s as worn by David Bowie and Marc Bolan and then everybody else, but that’s another story for another day.

The Chelsea boot as Australian work boot

Girl wearing Blundstone's

While things quietened down for the Chelsea boot, they never really went away. Neither for that matter did the Beatle boot, but the Chelsea boot in particular was neither in fashion or out fashion for the longest time.

Mr. Sparkes Hall really hit on something with the elastic sided ankle boot, and it transmuted into several different designs, including the mighty Australian work boot. Walk into any Australian outback bar and you’ll find guys and indeed girls, propping up the bar wearing shorts and ‘Blunnies’.

Blunnies are short for Blundstones Boots. They’re not something that just caught on in the past few couple of decades. They were created when James and Thomas Cuthbertson emigrated to Australia from England in 1853 – just two years after the elasticated ankle boot was first developed in England. Of course, in those days, being in far away Australia, who was to know or care if the patent was being encroached upon.

Some Chelsea boot do’s and don’ts

Chelsea boots with jeans

Chelsea Boots with suits

Today Chelsea boots are as popular as ever. They’re right back in trend and their appeal and versatility has merely increased. The Chelsea boot is a must have addition to both your casual and your work wear wardrobe. Their smooth, unfussy lines make them ideal for use with tailored trousers or slim cut suits, with the familiar elasticated side panel adding a unique touch rather than making a bold statement.

Do: If  you want to use Chelsea boots in your smart-casual or formal wear, stick to black versions, this will ensure the elastic detailing doesn’t stick out too much and that the colour contrast between clothing and footwear is not too stark. A slim navy suit, crisp white shirt and perhaps a red or green tie, with a pair of black Chelsea boots will be a winning combination in any work place.

Do: Wear suede or waxy brown leather versions with jeans. For shorts, seek out a pair of Blunnies which somehow work much better than traditional Chelsea boots in this regard.

Don’t: Opt for the Beatle boot variety if you’re over 30 or carrying extra weight on your stomach, pointy boots and a big stomach are not a good look. It’s all about the silhouette.

Don’t: let people talk you out of  the pointy winklepicker style if you are young and have what’s known as an ingénue figure – lithe, slim and athletic. It’s a great rock and roll look that that still looks incredibly cool on the right pair of feet.

And finally, some Chelsea boot porn

 

Clarks Norse Chelsea Boots

Rockport Fairwood 2 Chesea Boots

Gentlemen Prefer Brogues Chelsea Boot

Frye Chelsea Boots

Modern Chelsea Boot

Winklepickers

 

Tod's black Chelsea boots

Harrison Chelsea boot

 

Michael Weare | Website

Michael Weare has been a professional writer for 30 years, writing about Japanese technology, German and Italian cars, British tailoring and Swiss watches. Michael manages the editorial content of Click Tempus and will be keeping the magazine fresh and informative with regular features, as well as bringing great writers to the magazine. Email: michael@clicktempus.com

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