Back in the late 1970s, Americans Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers came to Northampton to seek out a very British bootmaker: Crockett & Jones. Based in the country’s shoemaking capital, this company has been making footwear since 1879, so knew a thing or two about the business. Ralph Lauren in particular – the man, not the brand, though I guess you could say that back then that it came to much the same thing – was particularly taken with Crockett & Jones and developed a material with it that he named “rough-out” suede.
‘It’s a suede that is impregnated with oils that give it a waxy, matt finish, a bit like a cotton waxed jacket,’ says James Fox of Crockett & Jones today. ‘The more you wear it, the better it looks – beaten up and weathered.’
Interestingly, rough-out suede has been the surprise hit at the shoemaker over recent times, and its Indiana apron-fronted Derby boot with Vibram cleated rubber sole is a great example of how the material makes a design look instantly loved and worn-in. Rough-out suede is also practical, being water-resistant.
Crockett & Jones makes other styles – boots and shoes, and belts – in this material, and it comes in black and brown. One is a Chelsea boot, and though this is a design that is more often associated with the urban pavement than moors and bogs, if it’s executed in a certain way, it lends itself every bit as much to the countryside as its lace-up cousins.
You can see this in Hunter’s Men’s Play neoprene Chelsea boots, which are handcrafted from neoprene and the company’s signature natural, vegan rubber. The neoprene helps with comfort, and there are 100% recycled polyester linings and insoles. With a waterproof lower, these are ideal for those wet days when you can’t imagine the sun will ever shine again.
Hunter, like Crockett & Jones, is British. Founded in 1856, it holds two Royal Warrants and is probably best-known for its Wellington boot, which dates from 1956 and is still handcrafted on the same last as it has always been. Blundstone, on the other hand, is Tasmanian, though it’s of similar vintage to Hunter and Crockett & Jones, having started in 1870. While Hunter is associated with the Wellington, Blundstone’s hero style is the elastic-sided boot, and though it doesn’t classify its #510 Black model as a Chelsea boot – and indeed, it does make a more recognisable Chelsea boot, which it labels as such – this unisex work boot in its Originals range looks like a Chelsea boot on steroids. Blundstone has a reputation for a tough, no-nonsense approach, and the #510 is resistant to oil, organic fat and even acid! It can also withstand hydrolysis and microbial attack. Whatever those are.
Rough-out suede Indiana boots, £510, Crockett & Jones
Men’s Play neoprene Chelsea boots, £105, Hunter
#510 leather boots, £170, Blundstone
Peter Howarth has been the style director of British GQ and the editor of Arena, British Esquire and Man About Town. He is the co-founder and CEO of London creative agency SHOW and editorial director of Secret Trips