Rain Boots aka Wellington Boots

AKA: gumboots, wellies, rubber boots, wellingtons, topboots, billy-boots, gumbies, gummies, gavin’s, Alaskan Sneakers, kboots

How to say it:  reyn  boots

Traditional Features: 

Rain Boots

  • rounded toe
  • usually made from rubber for waterproofness
  • traditionally mid-calf height, but can be higher or lower

21st Century Rain Boots

The 21st century woman LOVES a good rain boot and as such, the boot is available in a plethora of colours, heights and styles. From the traditional tall, green Hunter boot to short, glossy versions in the seasons hottest colour or print, a rain boot can be found on the modern marketplace to satisfy every personality and budget.

Burberry Hunter

Burberry, Hunter

JCrew Valentino

J.Crew, Valentino

Origins…

…of the style: Rain boots or Wellington boots, first appeared about in the early 19th century, but the original version was a far cry from the iconic rubber boots that we know today.

The creator of the rain boot was Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. The Duke was a military man and was unhappy with the Hessian boots that he and his troops wore as part of their uniform. So serious was his dislike of the Hessian boot, that Wellesley commissioned his personal shoemaker to create a new boot – based on the Hessian style, but made from waxed calfskin with no trim, a shorter heel, rounder toe, a fit closer to the leg and at mid-calf height. The resulting style was hard-wearing and waterproof enough for the battle field, whilst still comfortable enough for evening wear and became known as the ‘Wellington’.

The new boot quickly became popular among British gentlemen and dandies (even Beau Brummell wore them), who wished to emulate the war hero Wellesley, and remained the footwear of choice for men in Britain through the 1840s and 50s.

In 1852 Hiram Hutchinson bought the patent to make footwear out of vulcanised rubber from Charles Goodyear and established the company AIGLE, which produced rubber boots in the Wellington style in France. The rubber boot was an instant success, with farmers in particular embracing the boot for is 100% waterproof properties – no more cold and wet feet for them.

The outbreak of WWI saw the production of over 1 million pairs of rain boots for the British Army by The North British Rubber Company (now Hunter Boot Ltd); a feat which was repeated in WWII to protect the feet of the troops from the waterlogged trenches of Europe.

By the end of WWII the rain boot was being worn by the general public – it had developed a rounder toe and thicker sole and regularly covered the feet of men, women and children in wet weather conditions. The ease and low-cost of manufacturing the rain boot also made them popular amongst industrial workers, soon becoming part of the uniform in a wide range of workplaces, from mines to factories. At the same time, certain types of rain boots became the symbol of British country life and took on a reputation for being a little bit posh. The green Hunter boot is most well-known for its ‘poshness’ and for a long time was the go-to footwear for the upper class when spending time at their country homes.

In the 21st century the humble rain boot continues to reign supreme as people, both young and old, continue to wear the style for any event that may require walking through wet areas. From music festivals to working in the fields, men, women and children of all ages can be seen in the iconic rubber boot; to the extent that rain boots have become a trend, and no self-respecting fashionista would be without a pair.

Not surprisingly, designers have jumped on the rain boot bandwagon, and the boots are now produced in a range of styles and colours by everyone from Chanel to Target. Even Hunter boots have moved with the times, complementing their original green boot with versions in a range of colours and heights, and moving outside the realm of the upper class country set to appeal to a wider customer base of trendsetters and festival goers.

Regardless of how long the rain boot trend lasts, the fact remains that the boot is comfortable and practical, and whether they are ‘cool’ or not, people who live in areas where wet weather is an issue will continue to wear the boots in everyday life, and thus the humble rain boot will forever be a fixture on the footwear market.

…of the name: Rain boots are named as such because they protect the wearers feet from rain and wet conditions.

The term Wellington Boots comes from the creator of the style, the Duke of Wellington. Wellies is a shortening of this name.

Random Facts

  • the farming town of  Taihape in the North Island of New Zealand proclaims itself “Gumboot capital of the World”
  • before its entry into the mobile phone business, rubber boots were among the best-known products of Nokia.
  • miners in South Africa developed gumboot dancing as a means of communication in the mines where they weren’t allowed to speak – rain boots were part of their uniform and the sounds made by tapping/stamping etc the boots developed into a language of sorts.

For more info on Rain Boots try Wikipedia, mnn, Wellies.com or the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

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