Think of the Chelsea boot and one iconic image comes to mind: four young men in matching suits with skinny ties and unrepentant bowl cuts. Though John, Paul, George and Ringo made the style famous, and even had their own “Beatle boots” commissioned, the look goes back far beyond the Swingin’ 60s. Before becoming a must-have for stylish men, the Chelsea boot was a functional item of Victorian footwear.
There are varying stories of the Chelsea boot’s origin. Some say they were originally used by both men and women for horse riding, hence also being known as paddock or jodhpur boots. Others say riding breeches were designed to be worn with tall boots at the time, while ankle boots were considered daytime footwear. Whether the Chelsea boot was worn for walking or riding, one thing is not in dispute: the men who made it happen.
The first is J. Sparkes-Hall, shoemaker to Queen Victoria. He patented the design in 1851, going as far as to claim that the Queen herself wore them daily. His unofficial partner in footwear crime was Charles Goodyear, an American inventor who developed a process to vulcanise rubber in 1839. Though the two men and their inventions had no connection to each other, one could not have happened without the other. It was Goodyear’s vulcanisation process that allowed the Chelsea boot to have its distinctive elastic panel.
The Chelsea boot remained a popular style until WWI, after which it remained dormant until undergoing a spectacular mid-century revival. During the 1950s, a group of young artists, film directors, and socialites frequented the King’s Road area in west London. Their uber-hip crowd was dubbed the ‘Chelsea Set’ by the media, and the Chelsea name became synonymous with cool – including, of course, the boots they all sported.
Then came the 1960s, the Fab Four, and their influential reinterpretation of the style. The Beatle boot was tight-fitting and slim, with a tapered toe and a higher Cuban heel. With their endorsement, the Chelsea boot was officially inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fashion Hall of Fame (which, side note, should be a real thing) and adopted by style-conscious Mods everywhere.
In Popular Culture
The Chelsea boot goes far beyond the Beatles. Today the boot is still a popular look with celebrities and hip, fashion-forward dressers on the street. You’ll find them on everyone who’s anyone, from Kanye, to Beckham, to young Mr. Styles. You’ll even find them on the feet of a band of infamous sci-fi franchise villains. Believe it or not, Chelsea boots made appearances in all three original Star Wars films, stained white for a more futuristic look and worn as part of the Stormtroopers’ unforgettable costumes.
If you’re still not sure how to rock the Chelsea boot, take a squizz at our Simple Guide To Men’s Dress Boots.