Part 1 in a series of blog posts by guest editor Mr. Ewy, in which he shares with us some of his favorite things.
To say I love the Red Wing family of boots is an understatement. I bought my first pair in 1992 — which I still own, but more on that later — and have bought four more pairs since. They exemplify everything I like: heritage, workmanship, performance, rugged style, Made in the USA, and quality so good that I plan on giving them to my sons one day. First a little history…
In 1905, Red Wing, MN shoe salesman Charles Beckman and fourteen investors sought to make rugged boots that could stand up to the harsh conditions of mining, logging and farming, and they did just that. The Red Wing family has other members. Irish Setter, born in 1950, were initially made for hunters. Their first boots were made in Red Russet (my pair is in this color), inspired by the color of their namesake dog. After visiting Europe and seeing the hiking craze, then CEO of Red Wing William D. Sweasy created the brand Vasque (I still have my Sundowners from college) to meet the needs of domestic hikers. If you have owned boots from any of these lines you probably still wear them and cherish them as I do.
But what makes them so good? First, the construction. Most are made with Goodyear welting and if not, they have Gore Tex or other weatherproofing technology to keep you dry. Second, the leather. THEY OWN THEIR OWN TANNERY!!! How many brands can say that? Third, the performance. These boots were made to stand up to working conditions form the 1900s, meaning they will certainly perform on your commute to work. Lastly, the styling. These are rugged by design. There are no superfluous ornaments or details, every stitch is there for a reason and the different boot shapes reflect their end use. For example, the “Roughneck” boot was made specifically for oil rig workers.
So, where do you start? I say the Heritage Collection, made the same way they were 50, 60, or even 100 years ago. These are the timeless classics and you can not go wrong with any of them. That said, even though I love the brand, the J. Crew boots should be looked at with suspicion. If you buy a pair, make sure the insoles are leather, and not EVA (like the pair I bought when they first came out) as they will not mold to your feet the same way and will hold on to odors. Also, boots and fine dress shoes should ALWAYS have full cow leather linings and insoles. As long as we are on the topic, we all know how to tell the difference between cow and pig leather (favored by most Chinese made shoes and boots), right? On pig, you can see the tiny holes left by their hair follicles. Cow leather is smooth. Look inside your shoes, are they cow?
So, my boots. I have had two of them for more than half my life. They have been around the world with me. In fact, if I travel with them, I wear them on my feet as I couldn’t live with myself if they were lost with my luggage. But the responsibility of owning beautiful things is that you have to take care of them. With these boots, it is pretty easy. Once a season, give them a good brushing, then a dousing in either the boot oil or conditioner and you now have a cherished heirloom that your sons will fight over when you go to the big shoe store in the sky.
Ben Ewy is a gentleman of fortune and bon vivant living and working in Ann Arbor, MI. Follow more of his exploits on Instagram @benewy