They call her Chelsea.
Jodhpur, paddock, dealer, beatle — a boot by any other name would look as sweet.
Equestrian in provenance and democratic in style, the beloved Chelsea boot has over 160 years of perennial growth that has fine-tuned the footwear into a contemporary favorite. The name, however, was not coined until the mid-1950s, when the boot became a staple for a West London group of creatives and fashion icons named the ‘Chelsea Set’. As the ‘60s approached, so did the presence of young Brits with new money and a new fancy: fashion. All it took was a little interest from a little band (The Beatles, look ‘em up), and our epochal shoe was off.
J. Sparkes-Hall embraced the invention of vulcanized rubber in the early 1800s as an opportunity to simplify the buckled rider boots of the time, and thus the Chelsea boot came to be. Known for its elastic side panels and looped heel tab, the close-fitting, ankle-high boots were deemed fashionable by the late 1840s. An uncomplicated laceless silhouette provides a lean and simple aesthetic that pairs perfectly with its traditional utilitarianism. With great simplicity, however, comes great incident for assimilation. From Savile Row to SoCal, the Chelsea paradoxically became synonymous with beatnik, biker, and well, Beatle.
Popularity amongst a multitude of tastes alters the boot into distinct varieties that are sure to keep cordwainers on their toes for at least the next millennium. The Beatles’ namesake style features a taller flamenco-inspired Cuban heel and pointed toe with a higher ankle and occasional zipper, while The Stones’ stuck with a lower classic look that embraced a good beating. If you spot a buckle or strap, you’ve got a Jodhpur on your hands. And if you hit the heavy-soled Blundstones, then you’re either in Australia or too busy building a carburetor to be reading this.
Another small-time artist, George Lucas, picked up on the allure of the boot in the 1970s when he outfitted Lord Vader’s entire army of stormtroopers in white-washed Chelseas. Who knew that the former Queen of the UK, Mick Jagger, and the Imperial Army could have so much in common?
While popular, the Chelsea boot wasn’t necessarily deemed “chic” until the ‘90s, as trends began to favor the minimal. Since then, nearly every designer has left footprints with the classic, and though it’s had seasonal debuts with patterned pony skin and fussy broguing, our classic boot always returns to its simple-silhouetted roots.
Droid hunters and dapper dons agree: the Chelsea’s versatility and enduring relevancy elevate this classic from statement to investment piece, guaranteed to play nice with any existing wardrobe.