The short answer, of course, is “Yes.”
Well, maybe. But mostly “Yes.”
Red Wing is the most iconic boot brand in the heritage sphere. So how did they get there? Is the price worth it for the quality? Or are you simply paying for the name on the box. Read on and we will walk through the brand’s history, rise to icon status, and some of the best looks to come out of Minnesota since Prince.
[Learn more: The 5 Best Red Wing Boots]
Red Wing History
Charles Beckman began as a shoe salesman who saw a need in the community: a great boot that fit well. After searching for a supplier that could fit the needs of a growing workforce Charles, along with some investors, began the Red Wing Shoe Company in 1905. Their goal was to provide durable and comfortable boots that met the needs of the workers, be it miners, farmers or loggers.
Red Wing continued to make work boots throughout the years, including the introduction of the signature 877 Moc-toe in 1952. It wasn’t until 2007, in partnership with J Crew, that Red Wing launched their Heritage line that was inspired by 20th Century working men’s footwear. The Heritage Women’s line was introduced in 2016.
Role in World Wars
Red Wing Shoe Company also has a history of providing boots to soldiers fighting overseas. In WWI Red Wing made shoes using the Munson Army Last which, unlike most boots of the time, was wide enough for the toe to spread and allowed the foot to move more naturally. With most of the young men being sent off overseas, production work was left to the women of Red Wing, MN.
In WWII Red Wing continued their support of the war effort, producing the Skytrooper, a boot designed specifically for Paratroopers.
Many would say that heritage alone makes the boots “worth it,” but the real calculation comes in their materials and craftsmanship.
How Red Wings Are Made
Here are some of the main bullet points to keep in mind when thinking about how these boots are made.
Red Wing, Minnesota
When you are pricing out domestically made goods, the cost of labour is something that simply cannot be overlooked. You can rest assured that when you are buying a pair of Made in USA Red Wings they are being produced by an expert in the field, some going back four generations.
Founded in 1872 by Silas B Foot and George Sterling, SB Foot Tanning Company began supplying Charles Beckman with leather in 1905. The facility was passed down through several generations of Foots until in 1986, under the leadership of Silas Buck Foot III, Red Wing Shoe Company acquired the tannery.
Today, SB Foot provides all the leather for the Heritage Boot and shoe lineup. You can also purchase their leather through a variety of distributors listed on their website.
Puritan Triple Stitch
Patented in the 1860s, the Puritan sewing machines have been used from the beginning. Many of the machines still in use at the Red Wing factory in Minnesota date back to the 1920s. The machine pulls all three threads through melted latex, helping to make the boots more water resistant.
Red Wing Heritage’s typical triple stitch makeup of black thread on the outside and white in the middle add a pop of color without drawing too much attention.
Red Wings do carry a premium price tag but are made with premium materials. The uppers are S.B. Foot full-grain leather and feature vegetable tanned leather midsoles and cork filler help mold to your foot as you wear them. While the majority of the boots are Goodyear Welted with leather welts, they do have some stitchdown constructed boots and shoes.
They also offer a mix of outsoles including Wedge soles and a variety of Vibram soles, ranging from the Mini-lug 430 to the Montagna 100 lug commando sole.The premium materials, construction and the labour more than justify the price-tag.
The Most Iconic Red Wings
If you’re still wondering whether Red Wings are worth the cost, you should peruse their most beloved offerings. The following boots are the Heritage line’s most popular models and veritably fund the entire enterprise.
875 Classic Moc-Toe
Moc-Toe boots get their name from their moccasin-like toe design. The full stitching along the u-shaped cut-out of the toe box help create a structure that, despite not being steel or composite, give some protection to your toes. Most moc-toes feature a Christie or Wedge sole that make it perfect for working on concrete and steel. The lack of a defined heal also help to avoid your boots getting caught on rebar or other hazards on the jobsite.
This silhoutte is loved by newcomers, celebrities (Drake and Ryan Gosling have both been seen wearing the 875), and boot snobs alike. Along with some Red Wing NYC employees, we recently named the 875 Red Wing’s mode iconic boot. It would seem that Red Wing would agree, for in 2004 they constructed the world’s largest boot, the 875 in size 638 ½ (D).
The 875 takes its design cues from classic work boots and were first made in 1952. They feature Red Wing’s Traction Tred outside and are by far the most casual boot in the Red Wing Heritage lineup: nearly impossible to dress up, but the perfect companion to any casual outfit. The roomier #23 last may be more difficult to size correctly, so my recommendation is to take full advantage of the multiple widths offered and go with the shortest length that is comfortable. This will help avoid a clown-toe effect.
Everyone’s first Goodyear welted boot, the Iron Ranger is a legend. It’s endlessly wearable. Welcome just about everywhere (maybe not a funeral) and ages beautifully. Featuring a 270 degree Goodyear welt, true quadruple stitched toe cap and Vibram mini-lug sole, it can withstand pretty much any environment.
The bulbous toe might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it only looks silly if you think it does. Wear them with confidence and trust that you can pull it off (just make sure you get the right size). The Iron Ranger is offered in multiple widths so finding your right size shouldn’t be too difficult.
The 8111 In the Amber Harness can be more easily snuck into the office, while the 8085 Copper Rough and Tough will patina more heavily as you wear in the boots. My personal favourites are the 8083 Roughout Hawthorne Muleskinner and the harder to find (but still available some places) 8119 Mesa Oxblood. But more on those later.
If you haven’t seen our latest video with the staff of Red Wing NYC and the Red Wing superfan CJ Cook on the best Red Wing Boots, allow me to summarize: the Blacksmith is the best Red Wing Boot. Period.
If you ask both a kid and an octogenarian to draw a boot, they will both draw the same silhouette: the Blacksmith. It’s more than just an Iron Ranger without the Toe Cap and speed hooks. Strip away the flair and what you are left with a true work horse in every sense of the word. Dress it up, dress it down or simply kick the shit of it. You can trust that the Blacksmith will have your back all thanks to the Vibram Mini-lug sole, 270 degree Goodyear Welt and Puritan triple stitch. The Blacksmith is built on Red Wing’s #8 last, so stick with your Iron Ranger size for this as well. Unfortunately however, they do not offer extra wide widths.
The 3345 Black Prairie and 3341 Charcoal Rough and Tough are fantastic Blacksmiths i you are looking for a black boot that you can still pair with more subdued earth tones. My personal favourite, however, is the 3340 in Briar Oil Slick. Treat it right (by not treating it too often) and the leather will lighten and allow for the red tones to be more pronounced. Add more oils and conditioners and you will still be left with a beautiful deep brown that will turn be more than welcome in any business casual setting.
Are Red Wings Right for You?
Part of what makes the Heritage menswear scene so much fun is finding your niche. I love being in the know, getting there first or simply having that thing no one knows about. I mean, if we all wanted to look the same, we would shop at the mall, right? Well, you can get Red Wing’s at the mall.
So, are Red Wings right for you? Maybe not. Not if you don’t want someone else at the party to have the same boots as you. But then again if a brand is great, shouldn’t we like them just as much even if they are popular? If a they are still making a quality product in an honest and ethical way, then not only do can you appreciate their success, you can help to cultivate it.
With that in mind, go ahead and rock those Red Wings, and if you’re worried about standing out you can still break from the norm. Instead of the top 3 you can work with a slightly different silhouette. The 1907 Moc-Toe features a storm welt, leather laces and removable footbed. The Roughneck adds a Vibram 100 Lug outsole to the Moc-toe upper. You can also try some unique leathers — the Hawthorne Muleskinner, Mesa Oxblood, Navy Portage are all fantastic options that can help you stand out from the crowd while still taking advantage of the Red Wing value prop.
It’s going to be hard to match Red Wing’s quality and price in another Made in USA boot. This is truly a case of a product being popular for all the right reasons. Are Red Wings worth it? Damn right!
Red Wings are like a gateway drug. Once you get over the break-in and see how they start to reflect how you wear them, one pair is hardly enough. Your Instagram feed starts to have more boot wearers and boot makers. And what’s with all the cuffed jeans they’re wearing? And why do I care what they’ve got in their pockets?
Quality is a drug. An expensive drug. But one that only gets better with time. Whether you are ready and willing to dive into the heritage rabbit hole or you just want sturdy boots that will provide a great return on your investment, then Red Wings are a fantastic addition to any man’s wardrobe.
Welcome to the club.
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