A Guide To Common Styles of Boots

An insight into the wide world of boots.

Boots are fantastic footwear. There are styles to suit every occasion, from a hard day of manual work to a sophisticated, luxurious setting. The plethora of styles available can make it hard to choose, with so many appealing choices it can be hard to make a decision; especially if you are looking to buy your first pair. To make your next choice a little easier, let’s go through some common types of boots and how you can style them:

The Chelsea Boot:

If you are an Australian, or especially a South Australian, you will instantly know a Chelsea boot by its signature manufacturer here: R.M. Williams. There are a plethora of other shoemakers and fashion houses offering a Chelsea style too, in a variety of colours and different grades of leather. The most common form of this boot features elastic sides; there are also variations that use a buckle and strap or vertical zip to hold the boot in place instead of having elastic sides.

Ideas for styling Chelsea boots:

The Chelsea is a versatile boot style which – depending on the nuances of the design – can be right at home with business casual, general casual wear or workwear. It is an ankle boot, like the chukka. Australians are notorious for wearing them with everything from a suit to a pair of jeans and a rugby top; I think they look great with rolled up jeans or cuffed tailored pants. In Australia these boots – especially R.M. Williams – are most commonly seen in a chestnut brown colour; but if you can find a pair in an alternative such as burgundy or red leather it is more versatile (and in my opinion, better looking). Some people do not like the look of the elastic sides, and may elect to buy a lace-up boot instead. If you are buying a Chelsea boot as a first pair, I would recommend that you avoid buying them in black as this style does not tend to do the colour as much justice as a lace-up boot.

R.M. Williams Chelsea boots in a reddish brown hue, paired with cuffed cotton tailored pants in a grey herringbone pattern.

Balmoral Boots:

The Balmoral is a perhaps the classiest style of boot. Some people simply call them dress boots; it traces its origin as a dress boot, and is most at home as one. Balmoral is simply the formal term for the style, as it closely resembles an Oxford style dress shoe in boot form. This is especially noticeable in the lower lacing, with the tabs sitting very close together as found on their dress shoe counterparts. They come in ankle boot and taller forms.

These are usually an all leather boot, but some shoemakers these days offer some rather eye-catching two tone options with a variety of colours and fabrics for the top parts of the boot, if you have the coin. If you are after something elegant; this is it.

Ideas for styling Balmoral boots:

Given their nature as dress boots, Balmoral boots do best justice to a more spruced up outfit. They are a good match for lounge suits, business casual and smart casual looks. At the minimum, you will want to pair them with well-fitted dark denims. Your choice of the intricacies of the boot defines the versatility; a brown cap-toe boot will be one of the most versatile, while a boot with brogues will be more on the casual side and something like a plain black Balmoral will be more at home on the formal end of the spectrum and less so with casual attire.

Work Boots:

Classic work boots have become a staple of casual attire over the years. Some iconic examples of these include the offerings of Dr. Martens, Timberland and Red Wing. The work boot has a rugged look and feel, and is usually heavier than other styles of boot. Height wise, these tend to be taller; you will not find so many ankle boots within this style. Personally I believe no casual wardrobe is complete without one pair of classic work boots like the above images, as there is a surprising amount of versatility in what you can pair them with.

Ideas for styling Work Boots:

Depending on the style you buy, there are limitless options for how to style them. A classic look is to pair them with a plaid button up shirt and a pair of selvedge denim jeans, with the cuffs rolled up to sit just above the top of the boots; showing off your boots and the lovely lines of the selvedge seam. This gives off a real Americana vibe.

Avoid wearing this style of boot on a formal occasion; however any type of smart casual occasion or weekend look will be fair game. Work boots are a great choice for university a student’s wardrobe; they tend to put up with the most punishment and usually have great grippy soles so you can wear them all the time without a worry.

Here I am wearing a pair of vintage Red Wing boots, paired with dark blue jeans and an off-white cable knit cotton sweater by Ralph Lauren. I wore a watch with a strap that complemented the boots, to add a dash of extra harmony to the outfit.

Which work boot should you buy?

The numerous options can be daunting! If you are after versatility and style, a classic Dr. Martens 1460 in black leather or a Red Wing 875 would be my choice (I own both). Personally I have never been into the original style Timberlands because I do not like the chocolate brown accent at the top of the boot; it simply is not my taste. That being said, if you find that you like it; buy it and rock it! If you find yourself drawn to the silhouette of the classic Timberlands but do not like the colour, fear not; they come in a range of colours. Lastly, do not feel limited to these three options; explore the category and see what is out there and you will find something that appeals to you.

Chukka/Desert Boots:

Typically an ankle boot with 2-3 eyelets, chukkas are a more refined casual alternative to a classic work boot. They are often made of suede, but also come in leather. These are a lightweight boot as they are always made with suede or supple, light leather. The most popular incarnation is Clark’s Desert Boots as they are great value for money.

Ideas for styling Chukka/Desert Boots:

This style is no dress boot, but will safely do smart casual and maybe even business casual if you have the confidence to rock it. Note; some brands sell variations of the chukka as a dress boot, in configurations such as plain black leather. It is best to avoid these as the style simply does not lend itself to formal wear. When it comes to choice of materials, I tend to prefer suede for a desert boot as that is the classic look; though there are some nice leather options out there too such as the brown leather chukka in the photo above. If you choose leather, choose a less formal colour. If you choose suede, I would recommend buying a khaki or olive colour for versatility.

This example wants to be a formal dress shoe, but can you see how the silhouette and overall look simply does not work in its favour?

Fun fact: the Desert Boot was originally invented for British troops fighting in North Africa during the Second World War. The climate made wearing traditional leather army boots an awful experience; the lightweight and breathable suede Desert Boot solved the problem.

That’s it for now!

Thanks for reading! If you have bought a pair of leather boots after reading this article and want to learn how to take care of them, click here. What are you planning to purchase next? Drop a comment below.

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With content features ranging from appearances on popular menswear hubs (The Rake, StyleForum, Put This On) to French perfume newsletters and university course readings, Sam is a writer, designer and enthusiast in the fields of menswear and fragrance.

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