I have found this thread rather interesting, if only for the great degree of confusion in some of the posts.
I have many RM Williams elastic sided boots, many of them custom made. I therefore thought it a good idea to put up an aficionado's guide to RM Williams boots.
There are three basic options in leathers for RM Williams dress boots. These are:
- Yearling leather
- Veal calf
In addition to the above, RM Williams do MTO boots in crocodile and ostrich (of which more later).
Yearling leather is a good option for a boot which is going to receive a lot of wear. RM Williams started out, and still gets most of its business, from graziers, stockmen and the like. The yearling leather is therefore a leather intended to be tough enough to survive many years of service to its owner in the saddle. That means it may not be quite as supple as some of the leather forum members are used to enjoying from their upmarket shoemakers. It also tends to wrinkle a bit because it takes about six months to get any RM Williams boots t mould to your feet.
Be aware of what leather you are choosing. I have RM Williams riding boots in yearling (the Bushman boots in fact) which have been with me for many years, and show the signs of some hard work in the saddle. They are great boots and it is a great leather, but I don't want them on my feet all day in town.
For dress boots I therefore always prefer veal calf over yearling leather. The veal calf is a beautifully soft leather, and if you polish it with Waproo polish, which uses natural oils rather than petroleum, then leather takes on an incredible depth and unique shine. Don't try to polish them to look like parade boots, though. If you wan that sort of shine, buy the yearling leather. The only issue with veal calf is the lack of colour choices. There are many more varieties of colour on offer in yearling leather, because they produce more of them and have, until recently, been slightly cheaper than veal calf.
Having said that, there are two points to note. First, I have always thought the extra A$50 for veal calf has been a good investment. Secondly, and better, I ordered a new pair of custom veal calf boots this week and was delighted to be given the same price as if they were made from yearling leather.
Kangaroo is the third option. If you understand the characteristics, it can be a very good choice. Kangaroo is a lighter leather than normal cowhide, and ounce for ounce, is stronger. It polishes up brilliantly, and i supple from the beginning. It doesn't need breaking in. I have had a pair of black leather stockman's boots for ten years, and I expect them to last quite a few years yet. My only criticism of kangaroo is that it wrinkles easily, but in a way that is different from cowhide. The wrinkle you get with kangaroo is more like a roll in the shape of the shoe, than a hard crease. I don't like the look of overly wrinkled boots, so I generally eschew the kangaroo leather, but that is a matter of personal preference. Technically, it is a great hide.
Suede is also an outstanding choice. RM Williams uses a very soft suede, and with proper application of scotchguard or waterproofing spray every month or so, they will render excellent service. My father in law recently bough some black suede craftsmen boots, and they look fantastic, and are easy wearing. I am rather jealous, I have to admit.
There are also seasonal leather options which offer different shades of yearling, kangaroo, suede or veal calf. They also include other choices such as basketweave or crocodile print leathers.
In addition to the above, RM Williams dress boots are also available in crocodile and ostrich. Both are MTO boots.
The crocodile hides used by RM Williams are definitely first class Australian saltwater crocodile belly leather. (For those tasteless American forumers who like hornback crocodile, you simply won't get anything as crass as that from RM Williams.) This is a light, durable, high polishing leather that is a delight to look at and wear. The price is very high, however, and not one I can justify. For those of you who can, I would encourage you to buy some.
RM Williams also produce elastic side boots and cowboy boots made from full quill ostrich. They are lightweight, supple, and definitely flamboyant.
There are a number of options here, and it is important to understand them.
The standard option on craftsman boots is a leather welted sole. It is flexible, breathes well, and very comfortable. They also do brass screwed leather soles, which are more durable at the expense of some slight give in the sole. They are great for riding boots and work boots. My only criticism of the leather sole is that it will, like all leather shoes, eventually admit water when it is wet.
For many years the only alternative was a composition sole, which was basically rubber. This makes for a heavier shoe, but definitely waterproof.
About two years ago they added a "comfort" sole to the craftsman range. This is a variation on the composition sole which uses leather as well as a padded innersole. I have a pair of these and they are definitely easy wearing, especially if you are likely to be on your feet all day. The heel takes out much of the shock of stacked heather heels on hard surfaces, and the foot gets fantastic cushioning. My criticism of the comfort sole is that it is a little inflexible, and also somewhat heavy. I wear the boots with the comfort soles only on days when it is wet. The rest of the time I prefer my traditional leather soles.
Clearly I am not the only person to have had this criticism. This month they introduced a new "dynamic flex comfort" sole. This uses a leather and rubber sole, with the leather under the arch. They have also slightly changed the innersole to replace the leather board insole with a cellulose board, and the steel shank has been replaced by fibreglass to be lighter, and avoid setting off airport scanners. I haven't tried this sole, so I can't comment on it.
They will also do a traditional leather sole with a comfort innersole. I think this is a better option to reduce water intrusion, and provide cushioning to the foot. I am looking forward to trying it.
Reading this thread, fitting seems to a real problem, mainly for American readers. I sympathise with many of the complaints.
I have to say, however, that anyone who wants to buy a pair of fine boots over the internet or by mail order, without getting properly fitted, has rocks in their head. This is especially so since RM Williams is happy to provide mismatching sizes (e.g. 9.5H on the left and 10G on the right) for those with funny shaped feet. You simply can't expect the bootmaker to do the best possible job for you, if you are unwilling to invest the time in getting the fitting right.
Over the years, I have enjoyed many custom made efforts from the RM Williams factory. These have included black veal calf craftsman boots with emu leg skin up the back of the ankle, and also these beautiful aquamarine nubuck craftsman boots from custom dyed leather I had produced in Italy.
Okay, so now the guys at RM Williams will know who I am!!!
If you can persuade the RM Williams factory to produce something like this, I think you will have the finest boots in the world. Be aware, though, that they won't produce just anything. It has to be based on a traditional RM Williams last, and also be consistent with the company styles. I think they are very protective of their image, and I can certainly understand that.
"Breaking in" the boot
Like all shoes or boots, RM Williams boots require time to be broken in. They are built around an elastic sided boot, but one cut from a single piece of leather. The boots goes above the ankle, and initially will fit tightly where the elastic is. This means the boots will feel a bit tight at first. I certainly find this to be the case, as I have a very high arch, and that is why I go for a size or two bigger than my proper size.
If you wear your boots only every second day, expect that it will take about twelve months for the boots to really loosen up, especially the elastic. An alternative, if you are getting MTO boots, is to ask for them to add an extra quarter of an inch to the elastic. This will give much more flex through the ankle.
The leather will break in before the elastic, in my experience, and this is assisted by always using shoe trees when the boots are not actually worn.
After two years, the leather soled craftsman boots will feel like a perfect fit on your feet, and will remain so for the life of the boot. After about eight years you may find the elastic has stretched too much. if this is the case, you can ask the company to put new elastic into the boots when you have them resoled.
So how long will a pair of these boots last? The answer depends on wear, but the general consensus for boots that won't be out in the paddock that much is at least ten years. I've been fortunate to have really good wear, but that's because I try not to wear any pair for more than two days in a row - ideally only ever one day before rotating to another pair of boots - dry them properly when they get wet, and polish them only with Waproo polish so the leather never dries out.
I find the soles wear through about every twelve to eighteen months on my regular shoes. I simply bring them in to a store and they are resoled and reheeled within two weeks.
If you have custom nubuck boots you need to care for them meticulously as it will mark if wet, and can also get dirty or scuffed. The store can give you good advice on caring for such items. I never wear nubuck boots if it's likely to rain anyway.
Lest it seem I am a paid spruiker for RM Williams (I am not!), I thought it a good idea to put my criticisms on the record as well.
First, I would love more colour options int he veal calf. It is a great leather, and additional colours would allow fantastic customisation.
Secondly, I would discourage people from buying the comfort craftsman option for the reasons outlined above - it is not as flexible and a little heavy. If the dynamic flex comfort options works, then maybe they should supersede the comfort one.
Thirdly, the company has produced some great nubuck leathers from time to time, but these don't get enough play. For example the current season features a blue and cream boat shoe in nubuck, but the blue nubuck isn't available for the boots. I have a pair of light tan nubuck boots made some years ago, but the leather has never been produced since. Nubuck really exploit all the natural strengths of this boot - lightness, flexibility, ease of fit - and the company doesn't make enough use of it.
Finally, for those considering the options for MTO boots, the catalogue is simply indecipherable, and the online catalogue even worse. The printed catalogue's MTO boot information hasn't been upgraded for years, and often lacks information on current seasonal leathers. This is a real shame. The company made its name with it boots, and they deserve proper explanation and description in the catalogue.
Not your traditional fashion label, but in my opinion perhaps the best off the shelf boots in the world.
Because they are a quality item you need to invest the time in getting the right ones, and need to care for them. They will repay your efforts for many, many years.