Blundstone: The Wonder from Down Under

Close-up of a pair of Blundstone 500 Chelsea boots
Image credit: Dylan Calluy on Unsplash

Having just committed the near-fatal error of stepping out of my front door for the length of time required to put the bins out for collection, I can confirm the bad news: We are still right in the thick of winter. While my calendar app assures me that things are, in fact, moving steadily on toward spring, I present as counter-evidence an irrefutable fact by way of a simple question: If that were true, why am I colder now than any human has ever been?  

Since bad weather is something that I experience as happening primarily and almost exclusively to me, I wouldn’t presume to speak for anywhere else in this regard. But of my own newfound home in Scotland, I can say that year after year the worst of winter seems piled into the back end of the season. Which, as someone born in the month of February, I can really only interpret as a cosmic and climatological conspiracy, not to mention a personal affront. 

Nevertheless, the enduring cold did get me thinking again about the kind of clothing that helps make the interminable months of winter bearable and — dare I admit it? — bordering on enjoyable at times. Footwear tends to be front of mind for me in this regard. While I can still wear a lot of the same clothes that I enjoy in summer simply by adding a few extra layers and a coat on top, the same can’t be said of footwear, which tends to be more rigidly seasonal in my experience. Come autumn, all sandals, boat shoes, and mocassins are retired while the boots that have been gathering dust for six months come back into rotation. As a result, I often idly dream of wearing fun sneakers and simple plimsolls when the colder months roll around, only to have such fantasies dampened by a reality of icy rain and frozen slush.

This is why a winter shoe that’s worth getting excited about is such an invaluable asset. For me, Blundstones fit this particular bill perfectly. I got my first pair back when I was a kid growing up in a rural town where mud and manual labour were inescapable facts of life. Consequently, so were Blundstone boots. While a more middle-class upbringing meant that I definitely experienced the low calory version of this particular diet, I nevertheless helped reap a harvest or two and mucked out my fair share of animal enclosures growing up. It also meant that I entered the Blundstone fold before the branding meant anything to me. I barely even registered the trademarked letters printed on the heels and pull tab loops. These were simply the same muddy, anonymous boots I saw everyone around me wearing.

For this same reason, I came pretty late to the current craze for Australia’s most famous shoe brand. For a while there I couldn’t quite shake a personal association with pig pens and potato fields, but pretty soon I saw dressers of every description using Blunstone shoes to such great effect that they came alive for me as aesthetic objects in a way that brute utility had previously obscured. I duly bought a new pair of 500s just as the seasons changed and have worn them more than any other shoes since.

Clearly, I’m not alone in this. According to the company’s CEO, the 500 model Chelsea boot has sold more than 25 million pairs around the world. What’s more, my childhood exploits and wintertime excursions are but the tip of the iceberg of Blundstones’ impressive list of achievements. In their 150 year history, Blundstone boots have travelled everywhere from the Olympic Games to Mount Everest, with ‘Blunnies’ having graced the feet of soldiers, factory workers, farmers, chefs, students, festival-goers, adventurers, and creative types of every description.

Top view of three pairs of Blundstone Chelsea boots
Image credit: Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The company traces its history back to the 1850s when the Blundstone family made their way from Britain to Hobart, Australia by way of a three-month boat ride. Sometime later, in 1870, John Blundstone founded a small concern that started off selling boots imported from England before making shoes himself from locally sourced materials. 

At the time, Blundstone was one of 350 cobblers and bootmakers in the region at the end of the nineteenth century and today is the only one still in existence. Clearly, it wasn’t easy going, and the Blundstone brand survived the adversity of their early decades by supplying footwear for Australian troops in the First- and Second World Wars and from an acquisition by the Cuthbertson family during the Great Depression (The company remains in their hands to this day).

Post wartime, the company’s boots transitioned pretty seamlessly from the battlefield to the job site and work boots soon became their primary focus. Blundstone started making specialised models featuring heavy tread, steel toes, and heat-resistant materials. They also began experimenting with alternative materials and construction methods, leading the brand away from stitchdown and cemented soles to ones made of vulcanised rubber.

At which point, enter the iconic 500. In 1968, the shoe that would become Blundstone’s best-known and best-selling offering was first introduced. A Tasmanian Goldilocks of sorts, it combined the comfort and style of a Chelsea boot with the rugged reliability of an Australian bush boot to create a shoe that the world has still not gotten enough of. Such was the success of the 500 and its fellow Blundstones that by the 1960s, a staggering 90 per cent of men’s footwear in Australia came out of Blundstone’s Hobart factory.

International renown duly followed (they are currently sold in more than 70 countries) and the operation has only grown since. Even so, the popularity of Blundstone 500s (in addition to its many similarly-styled offerings) seems to have reached something of a fever pitch in recent years. This might have something to do with Blundstones appearing on such notables as Brad Pitt, Chris Pine, David Beckham, and Iggy Pop, as well as on music fest favs like Billie Eilish and Maggie Rogers. They are also apparently popular with something called Tap Dogs, which the internet tells me is a very popular Australian tap dance production. You learn something every day.

One can only assume it’s also down to the shoe’s versatility, not simply in function but also in style. Almost any given pair of Blundstones seems to be at an ideal cross-section between a sleek mod-style Chelsea boot and the utilitarian chunkiness of a work boot, which means that it’s a shoe that looks at home in nearly any context or terrain and on any wearer regardless of age, gender, or personal style.

Man putting on a pair of Blundstone 500 Chelsea boots
Image is my own / All rights reserved

It’s this versatility that brought me back round to them and I haven’t looked back since. There are few shoes I can pair with quite as many different garments and styles.

Equally noteworthy, given the season during which they entered my wardrobe, Blundstones can be relied upon to keep your feet warm, dry, and on the ground (as opposed to flying through the air after slipping on some ice). They’re are also hard to beat in the realm of comfort, particularly when it comes to getting them on or off. When so many of winter’s wardrobe woes involve squeezing into or peeling off some unruly garment during that interminable limbo between going out or coming back in from the cold, a shoe that slips on and off without any fuss (even over several layers of winter socks) is worth its weight in gold.

It’s safe to say that this time around there’s no chance that I’ll ever forget to register the cursive script printed on those pull tabs again, especially now that they are inevitably the first thing I look for when approaching my shoe rack on my way out the door.

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