CULT ITEM: CHELSEA BOOTS
By Will Morley, 15 December 2016
The Chelsea boot we now recognise may have come to prominence in the 60s, but the style was originally made in the Victorian era. Shoemaker to Queen Victoria, J. Sparkes-Hall, claimed ownership of the initial design and named them the ‘J. Sparkes-Hall Patent Elastic Ankle Boot’. His patent included a rounded toe, ankle height, low heel and – most importantly – the vamp and quarters held together by a strip of (initially rubber) elastic, negating the need for laces or buckles.
Over time, particularly through the 60s, the original design mutated – winkle-picker toes, zip sides and even Cuban heels were added. But it’s that elasticated strip that indicates a true Chelsea boot and makes it a staple of classic menswear that has remained a constant in both formal and laid-back looks.
The shoes became known as Chelsea boots due to their popularity with the cool kids of London during the late 50s and 60s. The artists, rockers, movers and shakers of the time were known as The Chelsea Set (due to their fondness for the area) and the boots quickly became known as their footwear of choice. Jimi Hendrix here spent time in both the area and its trademark kicks.
The ‘Beatle Boot’ variant – so named because the Beatles were early adopters and made it part of their band uniform – had a slimmer, pointier cut and taller ‘Cuban’ heel. They often wore them while performing in their Nehru suits, but they were just as easily paired with a more relaxed off-stage mod look.
Taking the smart/casual look to a whole new level, Kanye West shows that, no matter the occasion, there’s something about a slim-cut Chelsea that elevates any outfit. And it doesn’t always have to be black leather, either. Yeezy's sand-coloured suede numbers are going to get trashed pretty quick but his no-flips-given approach to footwear just adds to the 'Yeah, I'm wearing ripped jeans to a posh restaurant, what of it?' attitude.
Showing just how versatile the Chelsea boot is, Zayn Malik pairs them with cropped grey herringbone trousers and a double-breasted blazer for a trip to the Billboard Women in Music Awards. Smack in the middle of a round and pointed toe, his boots look like they could go with just about anything (as he proved later that evening, switching his top half out for an off-duty designer denim jacket and faded graphic tee combo).