The Stitchdown Patina Thunderdome is coming up Oct 1, in case you haven’t heard. And the concept underpinning this whole crazy/wonderful venture—wear the hell out of your boots (or shoes!) while still caring about them deeply, and let’s all watch what happens together—may be largely straightforward.
But with almost $15,000 in prizes (mostly boots) on the line for dozens of winners, of course it would be helpful to understand what our esteemed judges will be looking for. So here they are.
Jesse Ducommun, Guarded Goods
I’m more than excited for this competition, as it’s going to give many folks the opportunity to see how far some of these leathers can go. Working with leather on an almost daily basis allows me the luxury of experiencing most of the leathers that will be used first-hand—but in their pristine state. There is nothing better than getting an email or message from a customer highlighting how their wallet has aged and the story accompanying it. The journey of the various varieties of leathers that we, as a collective group, will get to see age will provide an invaluable resource to anyone into leather goods or footwear.
There are many ways to go about wearing and caring for your footwear. You can beat them up and give them no type of care. You can artificially patina them with sunfading, sanding, dying, or throwing them in the washing machine (please don’t do that!). Or you can give them some well-earned natural patina by balancing the hard wearing of your boots and giving them the occasional care and attention they need.
It’s evident when a pair of footwear has been babied, or similarly, when a pair has been utterly thrashed. I will be looking for the perfect balance of both. Aged, darkened, and visibly worn leather that has obviously seen some amount of care (brushing, occasional conditioning) is what I’ll be seeking—and done through simply living your life in your pair, not by artificial means.
Wyatt Gilmore, Grant Stone
One of the upsides to better-grade footwear is the ability for them to patina naturally. In my experience, some of the best patina comes from normal wear and routine leather care. In other words, it isn’t necessary to subject the boots to abnormal or extreme conditions to achieve a rich aesthetic. For example, when the leather patinas naturally, the sole, toe spring, vamp creases, and upper wear age in tandem. This is the main reason it’s so difficult for brands to distress new boot to provide a vintage look. It can be done through stone washing, burnishing, and staining techniques, but it rarely has a deep, full-bodied character that a truly heavily worn pair will.
While personal opinion, some of the best-looking worn boots have a slight sheen and depth in the leather due to conditioning when needed. Wear them hard, but there is no need to neglect the footwear! Regardless of the brand, a pair of quality welted footwear should last well beyond the life of the Dome—and that’s the idea here.
While it may be obvious, some leathers are far more receptive than others, so this should be considered. That is not to say chrome-tanned calf cannot age beautifully, it just may not be as dramatic.
One tip: applying a conditioner or cream of your choice on the welt/midsole/sole edge can help richen the leather and won’t take away from the character. Avoid using a darker color as it can limit the depth, giving a pigmented look. When in doubt, use neutral.
Neil Berrett, Standard & Strange
I’ll be looking for boots that have been transformed by the wearer. It does not need to be an extreme transformation or the most aggressive patina, but rather one that shows they’ve been well loved, lived in, worn, and been through abundant experiences—like the face of Ron Perlman. Boots in obvious disrepair will be judged negatively. Wear your boots hard, but take care of them and show them the respect they deserve.
I’m also looking for effort in your submissions—approach it as if you’re submitting them to be published. The photos don’t need to be professional quality by any means, but take some time with them. They should be properly exposed, interesting, and your boots should look great.
The written story at the end of the competition will be nearly as important as the photos to me. Put some effort into sharing how these boots became a part of your life for seven months, what you did in them, what it all meant to you. Be genuine. Be creative. Make it interesting. Tell a story, make me curious and wanting more. Abandon formal writing structures if necessary, but I need to see effort. You are presenting a report to judges that hold power to give you cool prizes and very possibly internet fame amongst niche footwear enthusiasts (for better or worse).
Some morsels of insight into what kind of judge I am: I’m a photographer, a grouch, am annoyed by superlative statements and excessive internet slang, but am easily amused and love a clever gag. I do sales for a living and can smell bullshit from a mile away. Above all, I value genuineness and authenticity over hype and braggadocio.
Vic Tsao, Dr. Sole
When it comes to boot-aging, I’m looking for the natural beauty of fades on the surfaces and creases on the vamp and shaft generated by the daily use.
There are many factors affecting the result of aging, such as the leather you choose, how you wear them, how you clean and condition them, and so on. For me, the attractiveness of boot-aging is that there are no two boots on Earth that will age exactly the same way. Every type of leather has its own characteristics, and every wearer develops his/her/their own unique aging result depending on their lifestyle, and how they treat the boots.
The reason why I care so much about the selection of leather is that every leather has its own potential and limit. For instance, some leathers look stunning when they are brand new but they might not be as impressive after being worn; some leathers might look plain at the beginning but have endless potential to develop beautiful results.
To sum up, it’s essential to learn what kind of leather your boots are, always do research, picture the potential result in your mind, and wear them with pride.
Ben Robinson, Stitchdown
Our esteemed judges are much smarter and better-looking than me, so it’s no surprise that they pretty much covered it with their statements above.
Neil mentioned how important the short written story at the end of the Thunderdome will be to him; I 1000% agree, but the boots need to tell their own as well. So wear them hard—because they can take it and will look better for it—while still always treating them right. Maybe most importantly, my sincere hope is that everyone will use these seven months as a constantly regenerating excuse to GO DO THINGS. So, get out and have some fun. The boots will certainly tell us if you did.