The following is the tale of one noble bootsman’s brave plunge into the unique and fulfilling world of engineer boots. Be prepared, however: the narrator encounters brushes with what broad society might consider a complete loss of sanity—borne both of fear, and also exhilaration.
Without any further preamble, Stitchdown presents: The Engineer Diaries (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tall Boot).
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T-Minus One Month: The Decision
That’s it. I’m doing it. I’m finally getting a pair of engineer boots.
And dammit I’ve faced my fear and have firmly decided that I’m going to wear the hell out of them. I’m deeply concerned, in fact, that I may never wear another pair of boots again—possibly because after all these years of just completely missing the engineer boat, the current will be so mighty that it may suck me out to engineer sea, where I shall float, now finally fulfilled, forever.
Also, I’m pretty worried that after I get them on, I might not ever be able to get them off again (I’m not gonna lie, I can’t quite figure out how that whole part works). Just a risk I’ll have to take I suppose.
T-Minus Three Weeks: Engineer Exploration
I’m spending most of my free time looking at pictures of engineer boots—Wescos, Clinches, Role Clubs, Onderhouds, Benzeins, Lofgrens, the whole range.
The only way to truly figure out what a boot style is about (from a pattern perspective, at least) is to just stare, and stare, and contemplate, and stare some more, and take a break to eat some ice cream, and stare, and contemplate. Previously, I’d never engaged in that most satisfying of boot pursuits to any true level with engineers; now is the time. And let me tell you, it is quite fun indeed.
The best part? I’m starting to figure them out. Obviously the leather and last are key, but it’s also the stitching on the vamp and counter and how they interplay, the backstay stitching, even the buckle and strap placement. The shape and finishing of the heel. Shaft height, shaft width: very important. (Let’s just get this one out there: you simply cannot avoid saying “shaft” extremely often when discussing engineer boots in any level of depth. At this point I’m unsure if that will ever feel totally natural, but either way it’s fine.)
The vamp panel—how high it rises, what shape it takes—is one aspect I’m quickly realizing is a major point of differentiation between engineer boots, especially in terms of which ones I find myself gravitating towards. Way more than I realized, it’s a huge piece defining what any particular engineer boot is. It’s certainly one of the main things you see when looking down at your boots. I convince myself that I like a more “classic” pattern, despite having no idea if the ones that I find myself liking are actually classic. But they certainly feel that way, so let’s run with it.
T-Minus Two Weeks: Let’s Do This
I call up Neil, rascal-bandit proprietor of Standard & Strange and person who has likely sold more high-quality men’s engineer boots than any other retailer in the world. Worst case he’s gotta be in the top three.
“NEIL,” I say to him, impassionedly. “It’s time. I’m ready to take the engineer plunge. Let’s do this. Change me!! …what should I get?”
We discuss Clinch—Tokyo’s ur-bootmaker that crafts what even my semi-trained eye can tell are some of the world’s most ethereal engineer boots—but ultimately discard the prospect pretty rapidly. Would I like to own what certainly seem to be the best of them all? Yes, yes of course. That’s like, one of my things. But they are mighty pricey, there’s the sizing thing, and I’m not even sure I’ll even like the damn style yet. Don’t worry Clinch, I’ll text you later. I just need to play the field a bit before settling down.
Lofgrens are mulled as well, but then Neil rolls up his sleeves and an ace flies out. “What about,” he asks, “some Wescos that absolutely nobody else will have?” (for like a month, but still). Obviously this gets my interest going.
Neil just so happens to have a pre-production pair of Wesco Mister Lous in natural Chromexcel—you know, the ones they do the photo shoots with. And they just so happen to be in my size—10.5E, which he says will fit my 11D Brannock feet perfectly. And while dragging this decision out and overanalyzing literally every aspect was absolutely my plan, I say fuck it: let’s do this. Those are the boots. My first pair of Wescos, somehow! And my first pair of natural CXL on anything other than a handsewn! Here we go!!
T-Minus One Week and Six Days: Fear
WHAT HAVE I DONE I BASICALLY JUST IMPULSE-ACQUIRED A PAIR OF BOOTS IN A STYLE I’VE NEVER TRIED AND THIS COULD GO ALL WRONG!!!!!!
T-Minus One Week and Five Days: Recovery
Ok I looked at the pictures some more and these things will be sweet.
T-Minus One Week: Ticho Time
Ticho stops by for a lovely socially distanced falafel-consumption session + hike. He brings his Onderhoud engineers—he doesn’t even wear them, he just has like six pairs of boots in the trunk of his car at all times. They are beautiful.
Again, it really is true of all boots and shoes—you really don’t understand what you’re looking at, or for, until you’ve looked at a whole lot of them. But it’s important to look with a real purpose. My purpose today is to appreciate engineer boots in ways I haven’t before. And it’s working.
T-Minus One Day: More Fear!
Ok I’m back to afraid again! Afraid I won’t like engineer boots as much as I want to like them. Afraid that I won’t have the right pants to wear with them. Afraid that my wife will think I’ve secretly purchased a motorcycle.
No turning back now though.
Day One: THE UNBOXING!
Man, this is one big shoebox. I open it (key step) and immediately fall in love. These things are SOMETHING. Just endless, endless natural Chromexcel, which on this particular pair is widely varied—largely that nice light, classic color, but featuring patches of much darker coloration in largely random places, especially on the right boot’s shaft and vamp. I’m unsure if the production run will be similar or if this was just a particularly unique hide, but I’m so into it.
After becoming a bit more studied in engineer patterns over the last few months, I’ll throw out some adjectives for these. Classic. Rugged. Muscled. Clean. Wearable. Wonderfully simple but not lacking a touch of flair here and there (sorry, that was more than one adjective).
The double-row stitchdown construction is pretty darn clean, same for the triple needle stitching on uppers and V backstay, and I love the heel: a slight woodsman, with the exact type of taper I like—not too severe, but still noticeable. The Wesco-branded Dr. Sole half-soles deliver as they always do; who knows where my engineer-head goes in the future, but at the moment I couldn’t imagine I would ever want anything but half-soles on a pair.
The Wesco Motorcycle Patrol last (the one on these boots) toe is an interesting one, even though it may not seem that way at first glance. It’s a round toe, but—and I could be completely wrong about this—to me, I get a bit of barrrrrrrrely square toe-ness from it. And I love it. It feels…old. It all just works. Engineers are cool!
Oh and then I put them on, sockless—which wasn’t without severe effort—in rolled-up sweatpants, at 11pm in my kitchen. And really start to think that I may have to wear them to bed. How in the hell does the whole getting them off part work? But hey the size—again, 10.5E for my 11D Brannock feet—is perfect. So that’s good at least.
Day Two: Slight Concern!
I finally got the boots off before bed and definitely broke a sweat, but it may have been after midnight so that’s going here in the Diary.
Next morning: back into these things. I figure knee-high socks are the move here, but my Darn Toughs are just too thick for now, given the struggles of last night. I pull on my Smartwool ski socks, which are lightly padded but overall pretty thin, and get to work.
I’ve heard tale of the wonders of broken-in engineer boots. You just throw them right on! Jump into them! You don’t even have to undo the buckles! This is not true of at least these particular engineer boots for my particular feet (which have a somewhat high instep, but c’mon).
I’m struggling: shoving the foot in as far as it’ll go, then alternately pulling up hard on the pull loop and pushing down on the toe while jamming my foot down some more, over and over. Then, finally, that ultimate satisfying final pop of the heel down into place. Whew! I’m certainly wearing these all day now.
I also need to call Neil.
Day Three: A Breakthrough
“Neil!!!! How in the hell do these welder guys on ships kick off these boots when the hot slag gets in there?? What am I doing wrong??”
Neil tells me some stuff.
First off, he assures me, my struggles are completely normal. These boots have a narrower shaft than the hot-slag gents favor, for one—so it’s going to take a bit of work. But the CXL is actually perfect for engineers, because of the give it offers, and how it’ll stretch with some work.
Ok, feeling better. Just gotta get there.
One huge tip Neil gives me: take out the leather insole inserts that come in the Wescos. Even that millimeter will give my foot more room to slip in and get to where it needs to be. Once they’re more broken in, just pop it back. And guess what: it works. Are they sliding on and off, carefree? No, not yet. But it’s significantly easier now.
I take a hike through the dense, hilly woods behind my place, and I kinda love how they fare. They’re not hiking boots; no they are not. But the half-soles have some nice grip, and with the strap cranked all the way down to keep my heel in place—especially before the midsole breaks in—they’re honestly quite fun off-road. Didn’t really expect this!
Day Four: The Feeling
Back when I first spoke with Neil about getting into some engineers, he said something to the effect of “the thing about engineers is that all that leather up against your legs really tickles your limbic lizard brain”.
So the first thing I did was Google “limbic lizard brain,” and found: “The limbic system is a set of structures in the brain that deal with emotions and memory” and also “Lizards and humans share similar brain parts, which they inherited from fish. These parts handle basic body functions like breathing, balance, and coordination, and simple survival urges like feeding, mating, and defense.”
Well guess what: lizards must love wearing engineer boots too. Neil’s 100% right—there’s something to that feeling of the engineers just shrouding the bulk of your lower leg that’s so damn satisfying. I have a pair of 10-inch White’s Smokejumpers, and I love just working the laces around that tower of speed hooks, cranking ’em down, and knowing you’re ready for action. There are few things in this boot world more satisfying.
But one of those more satisfying things may just be the ongoing kiss of the engineer boot re-contacting your legs as you walk, over and over and over. There’s nothing the least bit uncomfortable about it; instead, it’s a highly comforting feeling, one that allows you nary a moment to think anything but “I AM WEARING BOOTS TODAY!” And hey, that’s the whole idea, right?
Day Seven: The Zoo
After taking a quick break from the Wescos (I do have other boots), the engineers and I are headed to the Bronx Zoo. The boots and I take photos with peacocks—they’re clearly impressed—and follow my three-year old on this crazy/wonderful wooden mega-jungle gym rife with bridges. These boots are still inspiring confidence. And if the other humans at the zoo weren’t seemingly satisfied with their Allbirds and Crocs, they’d surely be impressed too.
I’ve been mostly wearing the engineers with my daily driver pants: Naked & Famous pajama jeans, aka deep indigo stretch selvedge, which simply can’t miss with basically any boots. And while I’m very curious about how wider-leg pants will work with these babies, today I try out my (also quite slim) Taylor Stitch corduroys, which offer a still-casual but slightly classed-up look.
That’s another thing I didn’t expect about engineers: the ability they posses to flex up from completely casual with worn denim, all the way to something that’s got some legit fashiony flair with the right pants.
They’re a statement, but a quieter one than I anticipated. Less “LOOK AT ME I’M A MACHO MOTORCYCLE GUY” than “I have an appreciation for well made and historical boot styles and these are the ones I’m wearing today.”
And you just feel fucking cool in them.
Day 10: Further Pantsperimentation
I also picked up a pair of Indigofera grey/black hickory stripe Swearengen pants from S&S, so I try those out with the Wescos. They’re honestly perfect—not hugely wide-legged at all, which I like, and they provide an old-timey-ness that really matches the engineers without everything feeling too costume-y.
I also have another pair of striped denim I scored for cheap off ye olde Stitchdown Premium Discord, which aren’t nearly as nice as the Swearengens, but also go quite nicely.
I’m certain there must be limits, but it seems like engineers work with…kind of any pants at all. Which I did not expect!
Finally, I try out my Blue in Green olive chinos, which are a fair bit wider than any other pants I own. I’ve really gotten to love these pants, especially with monkey/lineman boots, and they work well here too. Although even though it may exasperate Neil (and gain applause from Ticho) for right now, the slimmer look with engineers is my lane. But I’m going to keep pushing.
And while I’ve confirmed that part of the fun is pairing engineer boots with something that matches their overall swagger, it’s nice to know that regular ol’ jeans and chinos can be perfect as well.
Day 12: Desk Chair Patina
They’re picking up a LOT of that. Don’t really mind it though. Oh and these pants are J. Crew stretch brushed twill trousers from J Crew I somehow picked up for $11.20.
Day 15: Theft
My three-year-old daughter comes down to my office/shoe shelves at the end of most work days, tries on about a dozen pairs of shoes, walks around in them quite poorly, and makes a gigantic mess.
But now she has eyes only for the engineers. Which I love, because 1) it proves she has footwear taste that will make me endlessly proud throughout her life, and 2) it makes things a lot easier to clean up.
Day 18: A Thought
I once did an Instagram post of engineer boots on a wedge sole and got yelled at. I now realize why. While I’m certain they’re endlessly comfortable (and who am I kidding, I still kinda want a pair), the interplay of woodsman heel, the brass buckles, the strap, the unstructured toe—it all combines to make a boot that is absolutely, perfectly timeless. A silhouette that’s vintage without feeling like some anachronistic try-hard museum piece. They’re just…goddamned cool.
And I think part of my initial fear with engineer boots is that I simply wasn’t cool enough to pull them off. And I may in fact not be! But after almost three weeks of wear, I somehow feel like I am. The boot forgives so much when worn with even a touch of confidence.
Day 23: Progress!!
I’ve probably worn these things between 10 and 15 times now, and the getting in and out part is drastically improved. Still a little wiggle required, especially upon exit, but it’s very hard to be upset with the progress. Still wearing the ski socks—in a few weeks I might be able to safely up the thickness, which will give me an even better, snugger fit. Man is this a powerful feeling.
Day 30: A Party (Kind Of)
So I did something I haven’t really done in over a year: brought my kids over to a friends’ backyard, where other adults I’d never met were present (three of them, but whatever). Vax party!!
As with literally any time I leave the house, there was a major footwear decision to be made. And I imagine you can guess where I’m going with this, but…I wore the engineers.
I’d worn these boots everywhere: hikes, walks around the neighborhood, Home Depot, the local gyro shop, a deli with the best chicken cutlet sandwiches I’ve ever had, the zoo, my inlaws’ farm, innumerable playgrounds, the post office (where a woman stopped me to compliment my sweater and it took everything to not say “I believe you meant to compliment my boots”).
But today, it’s real people, who I will presumably have real, extended conversations with. Will they think these things are really cool? Will they think I’m weird? Or showy? Or a welder?
WHAT WILL THEY THINK OF ME???
About two hours in the answer finally comes, from a fellow dad who had been asleep on the couch for the first hour and 45 minutes, and was wearing some very, very old Pumas.
“Hey by the way, what kind of boots are those?”
“Oh these things? Wesco engineer boots. I’m kind of the boot media, and I’m writing a story on them,” I tell him, as a truthful piece of cover in case they were met with resistance.
“Ah. Really cool boots man.”
And then we got back to discussing the pizza.
(The pizza was pretty good)