Monday, December 3, 2012

Trad-Ivy Tuesday: Red Wing Boots

I bought a pair of  Red Wing boots way before either the manufacturer up in Red Wing Minnesota or their retail suppliers across the country ever thought of their goods as fashion. Red Wing’s lineage is quintessentially American, martial and blue collar. Only recently have they dipped their steel toe into the mosh pit of adjectives that could be anything but true to their heritage.
Red Wings and Trad-Ivy Tuesday? How? Why? Why not? I don't know. Other than the fact that Barrie Ltd. ... neighbor to J. Press in New Haven, sold what surely was a Red Wing made boot at one time.
There was a slaughter in Europe known as World War I and the facts show that virtually one hundred percent of our soldiers, whether they died with their boots on or wore them on their return home, were wearing Red Wing boots.
But I reckon that Red Wing’s most enduring legacy is in spec-precise, steel toed, static dissipative, safety shoes and work boots. Men, mostly I suppose, who over the years had to shod themselves in boots or shoes that passed specific performance rigor, would usually get them from a Red Wing supplier. Think equipment.

Certainly I didn’t in 1989 nor do I now, need a pair of boots that pass all of the industrial or martial rigor that Red Wing so proudly delivers on. But I wanted a pair. I’d been out in Orange, Virginia with my best buddy JTS where his daddy has a farm and just enough land for inside the Beltway frustrated wanna be country boys to piddle around, drink, shoot at shit and shoot the shit before heading back inside the Beltway vortex.
He had on Red Wings and I had on L.L. Bean hunting boots. Bean stuff rarely fails and mine probably weren’t failing on this icy-cold, raw February day. But they seemed to have mildly less stamina than JTS’s Red Wings and my toes were cold. Plus, the easiness of his no-buckles, no brogueing, no-anything Red Wings appealed to me through their silent, puncture-proof, steel-toed simplicity. Fashion and aesthetics weren’t at the time nor had it been during Red Wing’s previous eighty years, part of the Red Wing oeuvre. Matter of fact, methinks that even amidst the Minnesota nice of the Red Wing manufacturing plant, if one uttered thangs like oeuvre and fashion, an ass-whipping mighta been de rigueur. Same with using phrases like de rigueur. Shut up…you non-steel-toed, foppish ersatz-boot wearing p_s_ies.
So when I got back to Old Town I went to Monument Shoes on upper King Street. It’s long gone now. I can’t recall exactly when they relented and sold their little patch to developers who would ultimately turn the pithier and dodgy end of King Street into the posh boutique strewn strip that the lower end of the street had long since become. But Monument Shoes was there for one reason only. To supply men who did work…who did physically demanding and probably dangerous work, with the proper footgear to assure that something as silly as a dropped wrought iron pipe wouldn’t crush a foot and cost the company a man and provide the Unions more fodder for demanding better work conditions.
I can’t find any photos of upper King Street that include an exterior view of Monument Shoes. I wish I could because it would at least give you an outer glimpse of the interior that I’m a try to describe. The fella who approached me from behind the counter looked like the customers he usually served. He just as soon could have come off of shift work at the Potomac Yards railroad facility a couple of miles away. The floor was tiled in those chalky squares of worn out flooring that surely hadn’t been replaced since the 1940’s and there was no reason to. Customers came to Monument, probably with some kind of company spec-sheet in hand and perhaps even a dollar allowance from their company or Union, to buy their work boots or shoes and that’s it.
I might be imagining this but maybe not. Seems like I remember one of those Rigid Wrench girlie calendars on the wall behind the cash register. 
The interior of Monument Shoes looked like an auto parts store from the 1960’s. Practical and utilitarian with not an ounce of pretense. And I remember one of those industrial looking art deco sturdy-ass freestanding ash trays.
And the guy running the place…the only guy in the store, I’d learn in a moment, took over the store from his mom and dad and he had those World War II hula dancer forearm tattoos. Long since faded. Suffice it to say that if he was still in business today and some foppy-ass Belgian shoe wearing flâneur came in seeking a pair of authentic-artisanal-heritage rich Red Wings, the alpha energy in the store alone woulda tossed the little priss pot out on the street.
So sixty something bucks later and I walk out with my Red Wing boots. I opted not to buy the more expensive but identical version with steel toes. Just didn’t figger I’d be needing that feature. And since 1989, my Red Wings have had a precise role in the line-up. My R. M. Williams, above, are lighter in weight and  a bit leaner of line...and I consider them nice looking enough to wear with a suit to client meetings when the weather is gnarly.
My Red Wings are heavy. They’re meant to be. So I wear ‘em when the muck and mire are considerable and I wear them like the man who sold them to me suggested. A half size larger and with thick cotton socks. The self-shot above from a couple of years ago sees me with Red Wings and flannel lined L.L. Bean khakis. Chevy Chase must a been mucky and mired on this day…a day of sojourn to Polo Ralph Lauren.
I suppose it was probably 1996-ish when my then current love of my life and I were out at JTS’s country place and it was bitter cold and snowy in a rural Virginia kinda way and we decided to stay an extra couple of days. I had my Red Wings and since we were gonna stay over because of the snowy-icy, beautiful country weather, we wanted to go out in it. One problem, my gal, later LFG’s mother, didn’t have proper shoddings to frolic. So we all piled in JTS’s old Waggoneer and we head to a farm supply co-op either in Louisa or Orange. I forget. But I do remember that it was one of those classic Feed and Seed places. Nothing fancy--kinda like my great grandfather's general store above.
My uncle David had a local artist capture the Seloc railroad stop and my great grandfather's store in a watercolor years ago. Seloc is Coles spelled backwards--yes--we were an ironic bunch back then. Cole is my mom's maiden name. I'm digressing. Shut up.

But the miracle was that the farm supply place had a pair of Red Wings identical to mine in an equivalent to a woman’s size six. Bam. We are in business. Chances are after that weekend, LFG’s mother never wore them again and certainly, they were out of my sight and mind. Fast forward all of these years and I had completely forgotten the piccolo sized Red Wings and the memories of such a fun snowed-in weekend out with my friends in the country.
Till a few weekends ago. Much to my absolute over-the-top delight, LFG showed up with her mom’s Red Wings on. “Dad, everyone at school wants to know where I got these and now that I’m wearing them, mom wants them back! And Dad, nobody else has a pair.” I took great relish in all of this pre-pubescent who wears what, I wanna be unique but fit in, melange of LFGness all the while enjoying the repopulation of my memory…recollecting my trip to the long gone utilitarian Monument Shoes as well as the snowy-icy weekend that saw a car load of city slickers slink into an Ag store and discover a diminutive pair of Red Wings for a woman who then reluctantly walked the snow dusted cow pasture and bottom land of JTS’s dad’s place.
Last weekend saw LFG concerned about a blemish or two on her Red Wings so she and I saddle soaped mine and hers. Kinda of a mother-daughter in the kitchen making bread thang. But different.
I know personally, a few of you who made snarky comments on my tumblr about my LFG wearing her Red Wings and jeans to the Old Angler’s Inn for Thanksgiving dinner with me and her mom. And because we love each other, you won’t be angry at me for too long as I tell you to kiss my ass. As for the anonymous commenter who suggested that I allow LFG counsel and vetting rights to what I display when it concerns her, here’s my response to you…First, thanks for the comment. If you look at the history of my blog, you’ll see that as LFG has matured over this past year or so, there are fewer photos of her in general and even fewer uncropped shots. I hear what you say and appreciate your comments. And for those who defended me, LFG and the tumblr photo, I love you too.
Red Wing is thriving today and you can still get your government, martial or OSHA compliant shoddings from them. But alas, like the upper end of King Street, they too have given over, ever so slightly, to the posh and trendy. Something tells me though, that their Minnesota sturdy heritage will prevent them from tipping completely over to the derivative.

Onward. Red Winging it.


Anonymous said...

A masterpiece. In every way. Lump in throat over your skillful finessing of fragment arcs into that elegant family circle. Something hints you may have had the same tear come to your eye that you forced out of mine. Lesson learned the hard way: if we who snarked had any idea whatsoever the emotional power behind LFG wearing her Momma's historic boots to dinner that night weeda never shown our backsides like we did...well as I say, lesson learned.


RHW said...

ADG I bought my first, and only still, pair of RW Pecos boots at the Sear's Shoe Store on Chicamauga Avenue right outside Chattanooga, TN in 1988.

I wear them weekly, and on their 4th or 5th resole too boot!

LFG wearing her mom's forgotten RW's is terrific.

The Leopard said...

ADG, being a Texan I can't even remember how old I was when I got my first pair of Red Wings, in the early seventies when I was in high school this was the shodding of choice. Red Wings, 501's, khaki hunting shirts and ranger belts made up the utilitarian garb of the day, you couldn't destroy the stuff, of course it was all better made back then, glad to see they're still around, great post.

Pigtown*Design said...

What Flo said. Well done, you!

? said...

Another Texan here. I have worn Redwings since 1985 when I was in middle school. When I was in high school kids used to drag a new pair behind their pickup truck on a dirt road to "season" a new pair.

However, nobody ever cleaned their boots. The only maintenance was to coat them with way too much mink oil once a year, dirt and all.

Young Fogey said...

"Half the fun of having feet is Red Wing Shoes."

Ennybuddy else amember that jingle?

My brothers transmogrified into, "half the fun of having feet is having legs too," perhaps a childish way to deal with the macabre knowledge of Thalidomide and its effects. Or maybe they were just twisted little snot-nosed sickos.

"those industrial looking art deco sturdy-ass freestanding ash trays"

Man, I miss those! I don't smoke, and I don't like to be around smoke, but those were part of the ambience of the barber shop, as well as certain other establishments. Such public ashtrays I miss, mainly because the priggish, prissy establishment hates them so much.

BTW, how can you come so close to maudlin and yet never get there? Amazing. Love them LFG stories—keep 'em comin'.

A.E.F. said...

Hmm, I still think you need a pair of Uggs....

ADG said...

AnonFlo…You ain’t gotta learn no lessons.

RHW...I’m glad that my story stirred up similar memories for you.

Leopard...I think you know how deferential I am to Texans when it comes to boots as proper gear. While I’m not a Texan and my college crowd only had a small subset of die-hard fur and feathered creature hunters (I’d grown way too lazy to sit in a duck blind), we did have a similar uniform that included khakis and Duxbak solid color chamois shirts.

Megtown*Design...Thanks, you! I wish I had the time and energy to write more regularly.

?...I love the idea of dragging them behind a truck to knock the new off of ‘em! And the only reason I cleaned mine the other day is because I cleaned LFG’s.

Young FogeyMon...I don’t remember the jingle. But I do remember Thalidomide. And weren’t those deco ash trays kinda cool? Rather symbolic of America in their sturdiness and unwavering stance on things. The Lord keeps me from tipping over into full monty maudlin. Remember Monty Hall?

Anonymous said...

Great post ADG. The Red Wing 1178 is the best shoe/boot I've ever owned. Keep up the great work.

gentleman mac said...

Lemme get this straight: Those that LFG has are actually the former mrs. ADG's pair? If so, wow! Those really hold up. Never had a pair of Red Wings (yet).

Young Fogey said...

Yeah, but when I stayed home sick from school, I was more of a "The Price is Right" watcher. Sure, I sometimes watched "Let's Make a Deal," but when it comes to 70s game shows, there's nothing like a show MC'd by the ultimate 70's game show host, Bert Convy. His afro could deflect bullets.

GSL said...

Red Wings are classic Americana. I traveled to Red Wing, MN extensively in the late 80s & 90s and always stayed at the old Saint James Hotel overlooking the mighty Mississippi. Classic American town, company, & boot.

Anonymous said...

As an Australian I’m glad that you have discovered R.M. Williams boots. Please forgive us for the horror of the Ugg Boot.

Mason said...

I wear lace-up Chippewas and Justin ropers, but I've been eyeing several RW styles for awhile. It's great to see a Trad-Ivy-Flâneur blog pay some attention to "shitkickers," as my MO relatives say. Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

“Dad, everyone at school wants to know where I got these and now that I’m wearing them, mom wants them back! And Dad, nobody else has a pair.”

Gets me every time I read this. You've been waitin, Max. Here's your milepost. Nobody else has a pair.

-notes from the middle

Cubanchem said...

Great, now I have to buy a pair of Pecos boots.

Anonymous said...

The owner/proprietor of Monument Shoes was a fellow named Art. Well known as a Harley fancier he was one of two unique shoemen in Alexandria in year past. Art was a believer in the best fit and spent a lot of time helping us find the right fitting Frye boots. As a college girl in Richmond it was essential to have weejuns, Frye's and pappagallo which entailed lots of shoe shopping. Chili, a weathered hippy and former Alexandria policeman, ran the Bootery in Tavern Square...he had weejuns and special cigarettes for pretty girls. Shoe shopping was a real trip on King Street in the late sixties and seventies. By the eighties my boys were devoted to Art at Monument Shoes since he was one of the great characters of our fair city!

Anonymous said...

Living in Iowa, red wing boots are part of the air we breath. The nearest shop is a mere saunter from my house. You east coast boys only think you stumbled upon something great when we've been livin' the dream/wearing it for decades. Wanna know how old mine are? If I told, I'd give my age away and a lady NEVER tells her age (but she does wear Red Wing)

Anonymous said...

"My uncle David had a local artist capture the Seloc railroad stop and my great grandfather's store in a watercolor years ago. Seloc is Coles spelled backwards--yes--we were an ironic bunch back then. Cole is my mom's maiden name. I'm digressing. Shut up."

That is my Great Grandfather's Store. My Grandfather L. R. Cole moved my Granmother and their 7 children (including my father) from Seloc to Florida during the Depression. I have this same painting hanging in my house in High Springs.

Farnell Cole