The case for chunky American service boots - reviewing Viberg and Thursday Boots
I buy mostly British-made footwear. I don't do this for reasons of national pride (which is frankly in increasingly short supply for me these days) but because those makers are simply readily available here, even from charity shops. And on the not-too-long list of things this country still does well, alongside the production of beige food and terrible Prime Minsters, making shoes is definitely up there.
There are a lot of overseas makers I'd like to try more of, but nervousness around sizing and returns (especially with increasingly tricky post-Brexit taxes) prevents me from ordering.
Of those overseas makers, American bootmakers have held a certain mystique for me for some time. This is mostly because Reddit's r/goodyearwelt tends to put a substantial focus on these styles and makers, but obtaining pairs from high-quality makers like Viberg or Whites can be tricky in the UK. There are only a handful of official sellers, so channels like eBay or Marrkt are the best bet.
Sizing for service boots can be simultaneously easier and trickier than a dress shoe, since you expect a less snug fit than dress shoes, and they are rather more forgiving of wearing thicker socks to fill up some volume. Throw in the fact that US makers obviously use a US rather than UK sizing system as well as the usual fitting variance of different lasts, and there is plenty of room for expensive errors.
For a certain style of boot, it's hard to find equivalents in the UK market. I'm talking chunky, somewhat bulbous work and service boots here really. There are makers available like William Lennon or Solovair, but British makers continue to show a lot of the classic dress boot in their DNA that pervades many of their designs.
I've formed a small rotation of four pairs of American (well, Viberg is Canadian, so I guess North American) boots thanks to the always excellent Marrkt. I'll do more detailed reviews for each pair at some point once I have some miles on them, but in brief:
- Truman Java Waxed Flesh Captoe Service Boots
- Viberg Tobacco Hiking Boots
- Viberg 2030 Tan Leather Service Boots
- Viberg 2030 Roughout Suede Boondocker Service Boots
These are mostly stitch-down construction with 270-degree welts. The most obvious aesthetic difference in American boot making compared to British is a tendency towards rounder-toed lasts. The use case for the styling is quite clearly less blazers and flannel trousers, and more chore coats and denim, which reflects changes in my own dress sense since Covid demolished the situations where dress shoes were useful.
Sizing-wise, this has actually been relatively easy. All of the pairs above are a US 10 and the fit has been good. I take a UK 9.5 in pretty much every major British brand (43.5 for European makers). The rule of thumb for Viberg is just to take the same size as your UK size, which I think would be just a fraction too squeezed for me on the pairs I have.
The finish on both the Viberg boots and the Truman is evidently inferior to higher-priced makers like Edward Green, and still maybe more rustic than you'd expect from a similarly priced makers like Crockett & Jones. This bothers me far less than it used to - I have the kind of personality that wants to maintain the pristine condition of shoes for as long as possible, so having them already less than pristine saves a lot of angst on my part. And I'm increasingly finding that waxed flesh and roughout leathers have a lot more versatility overall than smooth calf leathers.
As initial impressions, I've so far been very impressed with the Truman pair - they are a cheaper maker than Viberg, but they are still very pleasing on the foot and that waxed flesh is a dead cert pairing with denim or chinos.
Of the Vibergs, the roughout suede service boots are really good - the contrast leather tongue is just *chef's kiss* and some of the detailing, like a yellow inner row of stitching and then a white outer row, is quite appealing. The colour is also massively versatile, though I am probably going to be wary wearing them with denim in case of indigo staining. My only dislike are the leather soles - I find the Commando soles or Dainite on the other pairs more practical.
There are still a number of makers I'd like to explore - Oak Street, Rider Boot Co, White's and Alden are probably top of the list - but for the moment I'll stick with getting some miles on the ones I already have. More detailed reviews of each pair at some point in the future.