Thursday, November 01, 2007

Wellies this Fall

The fashionable wellie is here to stay. Forged into fashionistas' consciousness by luminaries like Madonna and Kate Moss the humble gum boot is marked for a return in the season of Samhain. The Wellington boot is a rain boot that was first popularized in the early 19th century (1817) by Arthur Wellesley boots were stylish among the British aristocracy at this time. The fashion for Wellingtons came at a time when gentlemen started to wear trousers. Previous boot styles like the Hessian boot were unsuitable and the ever fashionable Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, instructed his shoemaker, Hoby of St. James Street, London, to modify the 18th century boot. Wellington boots were made in soft calfskin leather and cut closer around the leg. Provided functional protection from stay shrapnel, it also cut a dash as comfortable evening wear. Patriotic British gentlemen took to wearing Wellington Boots and soon foppish dandies were rarely seen without their Wellingtons. By 1860 the ankle boot (ironically preferred by Napoleon) had superseded the Wellington, which was retained only for riding. The introduction of vulcanised rubber invented by Charles Goodyear meant manufacturers could experiment with rubber Wellingtons as cheap and serviceable work boots. In 1853 Frenchman Hiram Hutchinson established "A l'Aigle" in France and started to produce Wellington style rubber boots for farm workers. Scotsman Henry Lee Norris, formed the North British Rubber Company in Edinburgh (1856) and started making rubber boots and shoes. The onset of the First World War with water soaked trenches saw a massive extension in the production of rubber Wellingtons (now called trench boots). By the Second World War vulcanised rubber was being used extensively to produce ground sheets, life belts, bomb covers, gas masks and Wellington boots. Post war and clothing rationing ensured in the UK, Wellingtons passed into the sartoria of the working man. New models were added later to appeal to the landed gentry and eventually became an established line. Through a series of company changes and take overs, The North British Rubber Company became the Hunter Boot Limited and continues to produce quality Wellington boots. Traditonally UK working wellingtons were black and gentry wellies were green. In Canada, black wellies had red or green soles and in the US black wellies with yeallow soles were most common. Abattoir workers, butchers and hospital theatre staff are more likely to wear white rubber boots. In New Zealand wellies or gumboots are called Footrot Flats. In the USSR rubber footwear was proclaimed as socialism style with leather shoes dismissed as capitalism style. During the early sixties leather footwear disappeared form Russian shops. Fashion wellies now come in a myriad of fun patterns, prints, and colours. With the option of high and low boots there are also available with heels so no reason to be anything other than warm dry and fashionable this fall.

More on the History of boots

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