If you’ve watched my reviews you may have noticed that despite having lived in New York City for many years — which has kind of mangled my accent — I speak with the dulcet tones of a man born in Australia. And every single time I upload a new review my Australian friends and family ask the same question: When the hell am I going to review R.M. Williams?
Today is that day. The Comfort Craftsman from R.M. Williams is not just Australia’s most famous boot, it is a true blue icon of Australiana. If you’re an Australian male, you own a pair of R.M. Williams. (Or your dad does. If no one does, your citizenship needs to be revoked.) The company is in fact so Australian that they outfitted the Australian army with thousands of black Craftsmans to wear in military parades.
The company was public for a while but they privatized around the turn of the century and have experienced double digit growth ever since. That’s because despite the timeless Australian roots, the footwear has serious appeal outside of Australia. Bill Clinton wore a pair to his second inauguration and today they export to 15 different countries.
They’ve even got a store in downtown Manhattan, which is where I headed to buy my own pair of their signature Comfort Craftsman. Here’s what I thought of Australia’s national boot.
R.M. Williams Comfort Craftsman Overview
- Rubber sole
- Whole cut upper
- Yearling leather
The Comfort Craftsman is one of the three main Chelsea boots on offer from R.M. Williams and the main difference between them is the sole. The Classic Craftsman has a leather sole and is meant to be dressier while the Dynamic Flex has a combination rubber and leather sole, but the Comfort Craftsman has a more comfortable, hard wearing rubber sole and is meant for everyday wear.
The upper is made from whole cut leather, so it’s just one piece that’s stitched together at the back. There are no side seams, which adds to this nice, clean look. The leather itself is yearling, meaning the cow was slaughtered at one year of age — it’s not quite veal and not quite steer, making for an unusual leather that’s softer than cowhide but more masculine than calfskin.
The color of the leather is called Chestnut and while that sounds pretty brown, the color is quite a bit closer to burgundy or a deep purple, something that I loved but some consumers might be turned off by. If that’s you, pick up the rum or dark tan, which look a little more traditional. That said, this Chestnut really draws the eye and looks excellent with khakis or jeans. Just don’t wear them with grey khakis as I did in these pictures, since it makes them look washed out. (Sorry about that.)
Besides the great leather, the most remarkable thing about the boots may be the square toe, which is distinctive of the brand — kind of their trademark look. Overall it’s a pretty slim, very uncomplicated boot that isn’t that formal but really makes any outfit it’s worn with. If you do want something that can be worn with slacks, consider the black leather. Hey, if it’s good enough for the Australian military…
R.M. Williams Comfort Craftsman Leather
- Mildly grainy yearling leather
- More durable than veal calf
- Softer than adult steer
- Wrinkles finely
Yearling leather is a calf that becomes boots for his first birthday. Not that young, not that old, it’s the perfect leather for guys who just can’t decide between calf and steer. It’s soft, mildly grainy, and the fact that it’s a compromise between young and old might turn off some guys who want a dress boot or a hardy outdoor boot. It’s both and neither, but I do want to emphasize that these shoes are great in the outdoors.
Within a week of wear the boots did accrue some wrinkles, as you can see in the picture above. But I found it wrinkled finely, more like calf than steer, which some consumers will be happy about. That said they did wrinkle pretty quickly, and while it’s not super noticeable, don’t expect that clean, sock-like appearance to last forever.
R.M. Williams doesn’t have much information about the tanning process but it is worth reiterating that the Chestnut color is probably going to be more burgundy than you expect, so remember it comes in rum, nutmeg, and dark tan as well if you’re more of a traditional fella. Personally, I fell head over heels for Chestnut. The boot is also available in kangaroo leather, distressed leather, and a couple of other varieties.
R.M. Williams Comfort Craftsman Leather Care
- Use R.M. William’s own polish and conditioner
- Condition every 4 to 6 weeks
- R.M. Williams’ factory is able to make repairs
The leather care might be the biggest downside to the boot. The good new is that R.M. makes it pretty simple by having their own line of products that includes leather cleaner, boot polish, and conditioner, so you don’t have to spend too much time worrying what kind of products to use. The polish isn’t completely necessary if you’re not bothered about shine, but the conditioner needs to be applied regularly to keep things water resistant. Use a soft cloth to rub it on.
What’s a little frustrating is that you’re asked to apply the conditioner every 4 to 6 weeks, which is super frequent. Most boots, depending on how frequently you’re wearing them, only need conditioning every three to six months or so. But since this is yearling leather, and since the boots are pretty expensive, I’m inclined to believe whatever R.M. tells me to do with these things. So that’s the long and short of it: monthly conditioning
One cool thing about the company is that they’ll take care of boot repairs for you at their factory in Australia. R.M. says their boots are made to be taken apart and put back together and the facility carries out 21,000 repairs per year. The processes cost anywhere from $50 to $225 depending on what needs to be done: a re-last and back lining replacement is the most expensive procedure, while your standard resole costs $165. That’s a lot less than a new pair of boots, but of course you have to take into consideration the fact that if you’re living overseas international shipping on a pair of boots gets pretty pricy.
R.M. Williams Comfort Craftsman Sole
- Oil resistant rubber
- Sewn welt
- Fiberglass shank
- Padded heel lining
This is an oil resistant rubber sole that has a kind of mottled feel to it. There are no lugs or studs, making for a pretty classic looking boot, but the grip is excellent. I wore these all over Brooklyn and had no complaints with the grip, which was a little surprising for square toed boots with a comfort innersole that don’t look all that rugged.
But these are some rugged shoes. It’s got a sewn welt so it’s easier for it to be resoled, but the welt is very subtle and kind of disappears toward the heel, making for a slimmer silhouette around the back of the boot that gives it a pretty sleek appearance. One thing that’s very unusual is that instead of a steel shank, the Craftsman has a fiberglass shank. (They call it “airport friendly,” which I liked.) That shank reinforces the shape and provides really good arch support. Meanwhile, the heel support in this shoe is also excellent, partly because there’s also some padded heel lining so it absorbs shock super well.
R.M. Williams Comfort Craftsman Fit & Sizing
- British sizing runs roughly a full size smaller than American
- Measure your feet to be sure
- No break in period
- Very, very, very comfortable boots
The fit might be confusing for American customers. It calls itself British, but it’s not quite consistent with British sizing I’ve encountered in the past. On a good old fashioned American Brannock device I’m between an 11.5 and a 12, and just about all of my boots are a size 11 because boots tend to run large. At R.M. Williams’ Soho store, I had to get sized up on their own sizing device which put me at a 10.5, which is the size that ultimately fit me.
But the widths can also be tough to figure out, coming in F, G, or H. I found myself to be a G, which is meant to be analogous to a D (or “normal”) width in American sizing. In the video above, R.M. recommends running a tape measure around your foot’s width and tracing an outline of your foot on paper and all sorts of things to figure out your size. It’s frustrating, but I’d highly recommend it if you’re going to buy these boots online because the sizing is a little tricky for Americans. Hell, it was tricky for me and I grew up in Australia.
The good news is that once you have the boots they don’t need any break in and are, in fact, stupid, crazy, insanely comfortable. These shoes are so damn comfortable. The arch support is great, the heel support is great, there are no seams anywhere to irritate the foot, they really feel like nice, thick socks. When I come home from work in these, I prefer not to take them off, which sounds like a lie but I swear I’ll lie around in these shoes watching TV. Boy, I love how these boots feel.
R.M. Williams Comfort Craftsman Price
Both on their website and in-store, these shoes cost $545 per pair. It’s the same price for their other Craftsman boots except for their Signaure boot, which is made from calfskin, has finer stitching, and is signed by the shoemaker himself. But you’re looking at $545 and while pairs will sometimes appear on Amazon for less, the vendors seldom have all the sizes or styles available. Another option is Bootsonline, where prices can sometimes dip under $400.
R.M. Williams Comfort Craftsman: To Buy or Not to Buy?
The Comfort Craftsman is not without its downsides: the tabs frequently peek out from your pant cuffs, necessitating frequent rearranging. The conditioning is a real pain in the ass. The sizing is confusing. They wrinkle quickly. And yes, they are very expensive. Like Alden expensive.
But they really take Chelsea boots to another level. The leather is a great middle ground between calf and steer, they’ll last forever, the grip is great and above all these are literally some of the most comfortable boots I’ve ever worn. When a shoe costs over $400 I always have difficulty justifying the price and frankly, I’d have hard time convincing the average joe to spend this much money on Chelseas just because they’re so much more comfortable than competitors. But If you’re willing to spend the dough and have been looking for a pair of Chelseas, you absolutely cannot go past this unique, eye catching, quintessentially Australian boot.