The year was 2014. Obama was president. Metal reusable water bottles and stick and poke tattoos were still vaguely niche, and majoring in “Critical Theories of Social Justice” seemed totally worthwhile. At my 1,900-student overpriced liberal arts school, it was standard to see people wearing “Vagina Monologues” T-shirts with sayings like “Pussy Power” or “Clitorally, can’t even” on them. And even in the extreme Los Angeles draught and year-round warmth, all-weather, lug-sole pull-on leather boots made a notable appearance across the student body.
I am, of course, talking about Blundstones, the workboot-turned-fashion staple that’s taking over American streets. I promise you’ve seen them, even if you didn’t what you were looking at. They’re a leather pull-on boot with elastic sides and two tabs ― perhaps to help with getting the boots on, or perhaps just for fashion.
I first saw Blundstones on my campus quad via thin nature girls and people who earnestly like to ride bicycles. They were a practical shoe, endearingly so, a sign that you were evolved enough to not care about vain things like fashion, yet still connected enough to the material world to afford a $200 pair of shoes at age 19.
It’s true, the price point has always driven me away. What can I say? I don’t like expensive stuff, even if it’s “worth the money” or “sustainably made.” I especially don’t like expensive versions of “workwear” that aren’t actually going to be worn during manual labor. Which, as a non-binary person in Philadelphia in 2022, is all the fashion I see. For both valid and self-righteous reasons, I’ve developed a resistance to these rubber-bottomed boots.
Yet, as the weather continues to drop, and my Goodwill Dr. Martens continue to make my feet wet and cold in the snow, I find myself questioning my self-imposed Blundstone abstinence. All around me, Chelsea boot wearers appear both happy and dry. They wear Blundstones in the snow. They wear Blundstones out to dinner. They even wear Blundstones in the summer, like the members of the recycling club at my college.
So, what are Blundstones?
In the shortest terms, Blundstone is an Australian work boot brand. The shoes come in a bunch of different styles, like thermal, high top,waterproof, fur-lined, lace-up and heeled, but they’re known mainly, at least in the U.S., for their Original 500 Chelsea boot.
If you’re a history geek like me, you’ll be interested to know the company was founded in 1870 as “John Blundstone and Sons” in Tasmania, Australia. Through the late 1800s and early 1900s, Blundstone boots took off in Australia, and the company eventually manufactured boots for the Australian army during World Wars I and II. As the company grew, they used their “army” base model to develop other kinds of work boots: durable boots for farm and fieldwork and boots for metalworkers that would withstand high temperatures. The 1960s gave rise to the now-famous 500 series of pull-on Chelsea boots, and by the ’90s the brand really blew up and broke into the “artsy person wearing workwear but not doing manual labor” scene when the company teamed up with a Sydney-based dance group called “Tap Dog.” They’re still based in Tasmania, and now are available for purchase in the U.S. at places like L.L. Bean and REI.
It’s important to note Blundstone’s website states the ’90s were also when the company started specifically making work boots for women, as “an acknowledgment of their place in the industry.” Do with that what you will.
Are Blundstones worth the hype?
I asked the Blundstone-wearers in my life (of which there are plenty) if the boots are worth it. Worth the money. Worth the hype. Worth the cult-like following they’ve developed. About a dozen people I spoke to remarked about the comfort of the shoes. Many said these boots didn’t need to be broken in or that they broke in quickly, and can be worn in all sorts of weather, even if you don’t get the “waterproof” ones. They also noted the versatility of the shoe and how easily they can be dressed up or down, making them even more functional.
Writer Sarah Fielding notes that she, too, had a resistance to Blundstones before purchasing a pair for herself. “I went from a high school where everyone wore yoga pants and Uggs to going to the Fashion Institute of Technology for college, where everyone dressed to super impress,” Fielding told HuffPost. “Now I’m like, let’s all find a middle ground and be comfy, people.”
Like me, Fielding was initially turned off by the price of the boots and opted for a cheaper off-brand pair — twice. “I wore them for maybe three months and they totally broke. Bought them again, same thing,” she said. “I want to be much better at conscious spending, and that meant spending more for boots that would last and never not be cool.” For Fielding, this meant bucking up for a pair of Blundstones, a choice she doesn’t regret at all. “They are crazy comfy, go with everything and are so durable,” she said. “I now have two pairs of the dress style ones. I didn’t know if it would be worth the money, but I wear them pretty much every day.”
Urban ecologist LJ Brubaker agreed, saying that Blundstones are an “ideal combo of form/fit/fashion/function.”
“I have wide feet and these fit great and are super comfortable; I can literally wear them like all day doing anything,” they said. “I wear these doing anything where I’m going to be messy or I need a sturdy pair of shoes, and these do the job every time.”
Rather than spring for a new pair, Brubaker got a second-hand pair of boots that have kept up through time. “I don’t want to spend over $30 on any article of clothing ever, but having owned a pair now for like four years I can say that they’re probably close to worth the listing price,” they said. “I’ve beat mine to shit through everyday wear and the challenges of fieldwork and I feel like these will still last me years to come, which is not an experience I often have with shoes.”
Zoë Paddock, an American ceramicist and law student now living in Toronto, also loves the longevity of these shoes.
“I got mine in 2015, and they refuse to die,” she said. “I WANT a new pair at this point in a different color, but I can’t justify it until these wear out, which they are nowhere close to doing. I’ve never had a better, more functional pair of shoes In terms of winter wear, wearing at work, wearing on long walks.”
Paddock also said the shoe is popular in Canada, especially during the winter. “It feels like every single person in Toronto has them,” she said. “There’s a joke about needing to label your shoes before you go to a house party in winter so you don’t end up with someone else’s.”
Through the surge of positive Blundstone feedback, I did hear one Blundstone nay. Charles, a farmer who works harvest on wine vineyards in Oregon, thinks that since the shoe’s rise to popularity in the late 2010s, they’ve lessened in quality.
“They used to be the best shoes I had for working,” he said. “But now that everyone has them, I’ve noticed they’re not made as well anymore. I’ve switched to Redbacks, which are also Australian, but they’re uglier but hold up better in the field and aren’t as popular yet.”
In light of Charles’ experience, I asked my ex-turned-best friend, a carpenter, for his opinions on Blundstones. “I’ve never heard of those,” he said, which maybe is its own point.
Do I need a pair of Blundstones?
As I gear up to buy an actually warm and useful pair of winter boots, Blundstones seem like a pretty good option. As I don’t farm or build things professionally, I don’t really need a boot that endures intense conditions. I really just want something comfortable that’s not totally heinous. As they become more popular, Blundstones are crossing from the “ugly but trendy” category to “just trendy.” They’re apparently easy to clean, making them extra ideal for indoor and outdoor use.
If you’re looking for a winter boot that’s not super bulky and can be styled with a million outfits, Blundstones may be a good option ― that is, if you’re willing to spend about $200. While they can be spotted across second-hand sites, they’re an increasingly hot item and even the resale price is starting to climb. As longtime wearers will tell you, these boots stand the test of time. And the simple silhouette means they’re classic enough to stay in style for years to come.
If you’re ready to order a pair, the site recommends going a half size up for a “wider fit” ― that, and waterproofing or waxing your boots to ensure they repel water in the snow, ice and salt.
While I may never identify as a nature girl or a bicycle rider, I’m getting closer each day to being a dry and comfortable Blundstone wearer.
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Blundstone BL500 Original 500 Chelsea Boot
These are “unisex” boots that you can order in women’s and men’s sizes.