A well dressed vintage gentlemen may experience a bit of a conundrum when it comes to winter footwear. What kind of shoes or boots can he wear when walking through snow, mud, rain or fighting the bitter cold and still look dapper? The answer lies in a variety of winter boots and rain shoes available in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
Some men’s vintage boot styles are classics still available today (although not easy to find) while others have gone by the wayside of modern tech fabrics and hefty tread. Shopping links at the end to help you find vintage style boots available now.
For the working class man who wore lace up work boots everyday a pair of winter specific boots was usually unnecessary. Work boots were made of tough leather in brown or black with a moderate grooved tread of leather, rubber or cork. They could be plain toe, cap toe, scout or moccasin toe. They could rise just above the ankle, mid calf or over the calf, depending on occupational need and outfit.
Winter boots came lined in wool felt, blanket cloth, shearling or a second layer of leather. In the late 1950s synthetic cloth such as fleece mimicked the warmth and texture of wool.
Tall lace up work boots were also worn for leisure sports like hiking and hunting. Even in winter the tall leather shaft protected legs from the elements. They were worn with jodphurs and breeches, never under long pants. If they were lined, it was with a thin felt or cloth. The warmth came with either shoe inserts and/or tall sport socks.
Ski boots were specialty outdoor shoes with a medal shank, strap across the foot and soft sole. See some for sale at Vintage Winter
Felt Boots and Inserts
Many men choose to purchase boots in a size larger so he could wear extra thick boot socks (which were only for the foot, ankle high) or boot inserts to stay warm. Insets came in felted wool or sheepskin with the wool on the inside. They looked like soft lace up booties with or without a heel. They were usually worn with boots but could also be worn with any kind of dress shoe, rain shoe, or alone as house slippers.
At the turn of the century, into the 1920s and again in the 1940s, the wool felt boot with leather or rubber sole was the best winter-specific boot. It was the warmest and durable against snow but not very good with rain. Snow boots had a felt sole while all-weather boots had a leather or rubber sole. Some were all felt boots while others combined leather on the foot or toeline with felt for the body.
Cheaper felt boots used horse or cow hair to create the felt. It was less durable but half the cost.
The Shoepack boot was similar in design to the boot insert. It was made of oil tanned leather with a moccasin style bottom and an optional sole. The flexible nature of the boot made them ideal for heavy snow use, snowshoing, and as children’s winter shoes.
The moccasin boot was the same style but made of soft buckskin in a smoked tan process. They faded from winter footwear after the 1930s, except in extreme north locations.
Rain shoes were slip on rubber clog shoe that could be worn alone with socks or over dressy shoes such as oxfords. Rubber shoes were only useful in light rain. Some were lined but most were unlined. At the turn of the century they came in several toe shapes.1 Regular toe 2. Broad toe (round) 3. Piccadilly (pointed toe)
By the late 1930s the plain shiny rubber was diversified with a leather-look rubber. Rubber was also molded into the design of dress shoes complete with broguing, wingtips, foxing, and faux laces.
Rain Boots- Arctics
The Arctic boot later called Galoshes or gaiters was an all rubber or rubber shoe and wool felt shaft boot with a shearling lining. Men wore these boots for all winter weather rain and snow. Some had a bellows fold to protect snow from ending up in-between the buckles.
Buckles were 3-4 for tall boots or only 1 for the ankle bootie style. Most boots were all black until the red rubber boot became fashionable around 1915. Brown rubber boots or a mix of brown and black rubber remained in style until 1960s when brighter colors were trendy with hunters or mod men.
Eventually zippers replaced buckles and laces coated in wax were acceptable too.
For snow and rain boots for city folks and light snow pile areas the blizzard boot emerged in the late 1940s. Rubber or felt/rubber mixed outers with shearling or wool cloth lining and a zip up front closure it was the most popular boot worn with suits. Some had a wide toes, others narrow toes for a dressier look. Most were “overshoes” meaning men slipped their shoed foot into the boot.
In the late 50s a new flexible rubber boot was borrowed from South America. It could be stepped-in and rolled up to the calf, making quick changes a breeze. It could also be folded down and placed in a bag for easy carrying too.
If there was a perfect boot that crossed the bridge between snow and rain use it would be the Duck boot. Originally created by LL Bean in 1918, the Maine Hunting Boot or Bean Boot, was designed with a rubber foot and a leather shaft. It provided the best of both weather-proof boot types into one.
The Bean Boot was quickly copied by other brands and made with felt or canvas tops and rubber shoes in black, red or natural. The casual look of the boot made them popular as workwear and outdoor sport boots. The duck boot experienced a revival in the early 1980s as well as currently.
Pull On Boots / Slip On Boots
Chelsea boots with an elastic panel on either side of the shaft were the original pull on boot. They were considered a dress boot in the early teens and twenties, usually for older men who could not bend down to tie laces.
By the 1940s were came back as a functional dress or winter boot. While not terribly popular the style remained into the 1950s and 1960s. They are back in fashion now and readily found in stores.
In the 1950s the step-in or pull on boot, especially with a short shaft made way into the fashion arena, even in warmer weather. Some looked like engineer boots, others western boots. The Wellington style boot with its minimal design was the most enduring, well into the 1960s. Winter boots were lined in thin fleece, thick wool shearling, or nylon with a natural leather or high-shine exterior.
With more buildings having central heat the need for a heavy rubber boot in the city was no longer. These short, mid-calf or tall wellington boots remained city men’s preferred winter boot well into the 1970s and 80s.
Blundstone- Has a nice selection of pull on Chelsea boots for women and men. Many are waterproof and they also have some lace ups with faux fur lining.
Men’s Vintage Winter Boots for You
All of these types of men’s winter boots would be excellent choices for your vintage outfits. Some are more casual or rugged while the slim-line styles would pair better with suits and dress clothes. The tricky part is finding them. Few modern shoe makers re-make winter boots. Even fewer offer warm wool lining. Sometimes your only option is to go with modern boots- and that’s ok.
These boots are ones I have found (mostly in the USA) that have the look of vintage winter boots but are made new:
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.