Not so long ago, if you were attending a wedding, or taking an important job interview, and asked a knowledgeable shoe friend for advice on what to wear, there was but one “answer”: sleek black oxfords, no brogueing, cap toe optional. A classic shoe, although not a very exciting one. That’s just what you were supposed to do. Rules!
But push that question forward in time—through the end of the aughts, and a pandemic that had even the most dapper of individuals at least sometimes at home, sittin’ on Zoom, Cheeto dust threatening to entomb them—and the answer would likely be different. Maybe even: “whatever you want, as long as you can own the look.”
And if you want to own chonk, you can now own chonk. Even in some of the world’s finest dress shoes. As far as I’m concerned, this is a very good thing.
What Is This Chonk You Speak Of?
Although I sure wish it was, “Chonk” is not a word I came up with. It arose, as far as I can tell, from the brilliant and pointed hive mind of the shoe internet. But man do I love using it.
Presumably derived from “chunk” (not the kid from The Goonies) or “chunky” (not the rightly ignored Nestle bar infested with raisins), chonk tends to mean “big” when it comes to footwear, often aggressively so.
Bigger, rounder lasts making up the shape of the shoe. Bigger, thicker soles, often but not limited to a lugged or commando type. More robust, less refined, often wider (and 360-degree instead of 270-degree) welts creating a bigger, broader visual and physical heft. All of these can be mixed and matched, or unleashed all at once, to create chonk.
A Brief History of Chonk
Chonk is not new. Work boot makers in the US—especially those from the Pacific Northwest like Wesco, White’s, and Nicks—have been trading almost exclusively in chonk for centuries. Military boots and their accommodating, anatomical Munson lasts designed to fit literally any foot they could find? Chonk. If chonk ceased to exist, hiking boots would simply vanish off most feet on a Fourteener.
It took Red Wing’s Heritage line to de-chonk a thing or two out in Minnesota, specifically what Friend of Stitchdown Michiya Suzuki developed for the Japanese market, a la the Beckman Flatbox. But a Red Wing classic Moc Toe is chonk. Iron Rangers are often termed “bulbous”, which is, without question, an important variant of chonk.
One could rightly consider the made-in-Massachusetts Alden longwing and its wide 360 reverse welt—the 975 color 8 shell cordovan version of which I got blissfully married in myself—to be chonk. Same with the bulk (ha!) of the 975’s past contemporaries from Florsheim, et al (see Other Friend of Stitchdown David’s blog VCleat for plenty more on vintage shoes of all kinds). And today, Crockett & Jones’ absolutely perfect Pembroke.
The chonk on a longwing is somewhat more inherently about the last and welt than the outsole most of the time—one of the reasons (along with the heavy brogueing) that longwings were traditionally considered a more casual shoe than a clean, slickly lasted oxford. Hell, the style’s called a gunboat for a reason. Naval watercraft designed for the express purpose of carrying one or more guns to bombard coastal targets have likely never been sleek.
More OG chonk: Tricker’s, the Northampton, England-based creator of the original country walking boot, the Stow. Yes, Tricker’s lasts are more almond than truly round, but not in a dressy sense. And yes they have their “Town” line that’s generally slicker and sleeker. Regardless, Tricker’s is chonk, and has been for 192 years.
The French brand Paraboot, whom I consider to make some of the most comfortable and flexibily wearable chonky shoes available, has been at Chonk Level 11 for quite some time. Paraboot’s chonk is driven largely by its trademark made-in-house thick rubber treaded outsoles that provide unparalleled bounce and extreme comfort; chonk derived in some ways purely from function. But also to be considered is their heavy, low stitch-per-inch white Norwegian welt stitching—which, as I said in this truly ridiculous but hopefully fun story, has caused more people than one to compliment me on my Doc Marten’s while wearing my Paraboot Avignons.
Joseph Cheaney & Sons is another oft-overlooked but important role player in the game of chonk. Also based since 1886 in that cradle of shoemaking that is Northampton, Cheaney manufactures the whole range you’d expect, including dressy, slim oxfords and double monks and all that.
But Cheaney’s current signature shoe, to me at least, is their Cairngorm (do not ask me to pronounce this word please). A descendent of the similar shoes made by sadly shuttered UK brand Lotus, it features a full commando sole, thick protruding welt, the rarely seen Veldschoen construction, which itself is not shy or quiet. A not defiantly round, but certainly boxy toe shape. All the constituent elements of chonk.
The Impending Chonk Revolution, Led by…John Lobb??
Let’s talk about today, and with any luck, tomorrow. Without warning, chonk is happening everywhere you look—even in some very unexpected places.
Chonk-hibit A: The John Lobb City II New Standard Oxford.
John Lobb is one of the most famed shoemakers ever to wield a fudge wheel. (Btw right now we’re talking about the Paris-based version of Lobb, not the London-based original who eventually sold their naming and ready-to-wear rights to Hermes in 1976. As always, Friend of Stitchdown Jesper has the full goods on the history over at Shoegazing.)
Lobb’s MO through the decades has been the refined-est of refined dress shoes—the most dignified buck you could spend on your footwear. And man has it made a name for itself in that realm. Here’s what I mean:
That’s one of Lobb’s absolute staples: the City II oxford. As clean and quiet and low-profile as shoes get. A classic for a reason.
But now, look at THIS:
That’s the John Lobb City II New Standard. And I have to say I heartily approve of the name’s boldness. If this was truly the new standard, we’d all be swimming in beautifully executed chonk. Now here they are side by side.
These are definitely not the same shoe! Except, they kind of are the same shoe.
Let’s break the chonk down.
First off, the pattern is essentially identical. So how are they different? Basically every other way.
As always, the last shall come first. Lobb describes its classic 7000 last, which the OG City II is built on, as “a slender last with slightly sharp profile on the toe. The toe shape came from our bespoke model.” Meanwhile, the 0015, the New Standard’s last, is “a contemporary rounded toe last, with a sophisticated, strong silhouette.” You can see it a bit from the side profile above, where the toe box is a bit abbreviated, and higher, than that of the 7000 last. But even more so when you look at it from the top…
At which point, we see the next element of LobbChonk: that welt! It’s huge! It’s muscled! It’s aggressive, and just about shamelessly so.
And despite all that, I dare say it’s beautiful. As you can see, the City II welt is barely visible from above—what was long thought to be an essential feature of a true dress oxford. The wide welt gives the shoe form, and heft; a base to truly stand on. If you were in a tug-of-war, maybe even, say, a Squid Game tug-of-war, but they issued you Lobbs instead of Vans…which shoes would you want?
Finally: the outsole and heel. The heel stack itself has certainly mitosis-reproduced new layers at significant clip, and the overall height of the shoe has basically doubled itself. Much of that is owed to the double leather sole, each of whose layers appears thicker than the single leather of the original City II. Add on the extra-thick welt, and guess what? A completely different shoe.
Guess what else? Chonk.
But this is not true chonk, you scream! (Presumably while wearing chonk.)
Oh but it is. While some footwear is indisputably chonk, chonk is not absolute. Chonk is relative. Something that was not chonk can become chonk by adding a simple, measured dose of chonk. Just a little jolt of the stuff. Something that is already quite chonk can become greater chonk with, say, an extra midsole layer. Something that is moderately chonk can be chonked up or down through various measures, while still remaining chonk.
Whatever I’m nonsense saying above, these Lobbs are, without a doubt, chonk.
Further Dress Chonk
The chonk revolution most certainly does not end with Lobb. One of my favorite brands, the storied 130-year-old French outfit J.M. Weston, has been dabbling in chonk for years now. Decades, if you consider their 877, or Chasse, perhaps the greatest ready-to-wear shoe in existence, and in no way a streamlined piece of footwear—it’s a beautiful battleship.
And I’ll also include the J.M. Weston Golf below, my personal favorite “dress” shoe to actually wear with any frequency—but it’s literally derived from a golf shoe, so, no true points won there. Whatever, J.M. Weston Golfs are one of the greatest shoes ever made and you should own some.
But a few years back Weston started slapping some of its classic patterns on triple-welted triple leather soles, including their shortwing, which you can see below, including the Golf! (Grenson’s also been doing this for years, but I personally feel that Grenson is a brand built on chonk, at least recently. So points awarded, sure. But, different points.)
And then there’s one of the foremost apples of my leathery eye, the shoe that—when I finally obtain it—will likely not even stay on my feet for a decade or so, until the monster chonksole begins to flex. The J.M. Weston Triple Sole 180 Moccasin penny loafer. Weston’s most iconic pattern—not a dress-dress shoe, to be sure, but one that can flex over to suit duty in most workplaces these days—let’s just say it: chonked the fuck out.
Technically, especially in terms of being a shoe that’s immediately wearable/exquisitely comfortable, it makes little sense. Aesthetically, it’s a damned vision.
Meanwhile, Crockett & Jones seems prepared to reach Peak Chonk simply by commando-ify-ing almost everything in their lineup. Functionality is at play here, to be sure. And I obviously can’t be fundamentally against that. But the chonk revolution will never hold the power it deserves unless form actually sits first.
Which gets us back to the Lobbs: the New Standard isn’t a more functional shoe. It’s not some winter-ready product. It’s a new last, a new welt, a new heel height, a new sole. The whole thing is meticulously designed from a how-do-we-make-chonk-beautiful perspective.
It took serious development work to remodel that pattern into something that isn’t a Frankensteined mess (I’m not saying that’s what anyone else is doing, but I am worried that it could happen). When the work is put in, the results can be absolutely splendid, and just make a ton of aesthetic and philosophical sense.
And finally, Church’s. The chonk on their Falmouth oxford derives more from the last side of things (this one I don’t personally love, which isn’t an indictment of any kind—and if people are into this kind of chonk, I do approve heartily). But their description semi-nails it: “this generous silhouette gives it a more casual feel not restricted to professional spaces.”
Church’s, you’re on the right path, but a touch shortsighted: chonk IN professional spaces should be wholly welcomed. If you’re doing chonk right, at least. And I don’t think anyone’s going to get fired for wearing those Lobbs.
So, Uh, Why Is All This Chonk Happening?
How style motors itself forward, and shape-shifts, and the reasons for it…they’re not always clear. But there are definitely some not-at-all farfetched chonk-forces at play here.
First off, that “you wear this and only this shoe to this event” formality code has been getting chipped away at for decades—hell, traditionally quite stiff world-controller Goldman Sachs released its workforce from its formerly enforced dress code in early 2019 (although you know they were rocking loafers well before then). That trickles down to who those suddenly free Sachs-ers. And then last couple couple years (this might not be news, but there was/is a global pandemic) have run the larger sense of sleek, 270-flat-welted, oxford-only formality right through Cousin Greg’s paper shredder.
The last two years have also seen many formerly presentationally obsessed, highly chonk-averse workers sitting at home, with laptop video cameras not exactly pointing at their feet. Boot sales—often the more rugged the better—have ticked up significantly, with wait times from top manufacturers stretching out to levels really unseen before.
Now that people are back in the office again, are out and about again, the natural progression towards “Sure I can wear this to work, but I can flex it over to drinks afterward, or the weekend, and I want it to be something I want to wear, because that’s what I got to do for almost two goddamn years so try and stop me” is a natural one.
But in addition to the lack of true need—formally imposed or otherwise—for sleekness, we’re likely seeing likely a phenomenon of people just viewing their existing footwear lineup with fresh eyes. If you feel like you need to wear a classic black oxford every day, then you just wear it. What’s the point of thinking about it? You’re stuck either way.
Now, with the gates of formality wide open (Or…locked shut? Who knows. You get the idea.), there’s an opportunity to bound out of that, and drift towards something more versatile and personally appealing and just relevant. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the true relevance of classically formal dress shoes has been slipping in the last 5-10 years. And I absolutely love people who remain fully committed to it (even if I am not currently one of them).
But for everyone else, if you don’t have to do it the old fashioned way…why not chonk??
So What Does Our Chonky Future Look Like?
I think it’s safe to say the chonk will not stop here. Lobb certainly hasn’t overhauled their entire lineup to Full Chonk, but the New Standards aren’t a total outlier for them. Weston may one day offer a chonk version of every model—they’re not far off currently. Other brands will follow. Pieces of this chonk will bleed down to brands less on the bleeding edge of design and style, without question.
Not everything will become chonk. Even I don’t want that. For one, if all is chonk, then chonk’s uniqueness and importance diminishes severely. Dangerously, even. We risk chonk whiplash, and all of a sudden it’s back to all sleek, all the time. Vital progress becomes undone. This is the worst of all possible outcomes.
And also there are times and places for different types of footwear! Of course there are. I applaud that. Sometimes I want that too. Hell, I’m even working on some collaborations for next year that de-chonk traditionally chonk boots. If you’ve got a great base, stripping it down is every bit as fun and valid as building it up.
But right now, especially in the dress category, let’s build. Let’s chonk.