Distressed Boots: Fabulous for Winter

distressed frye boots

“Distressing” is a trend that, overall, makes me feel a bit cranky. Ripped-up jeans have been a stylish on and off for decades but, generally speaking, it was expected that the owner would handle the ripping, washing, and crafting of the various holes and associated fringe. The very idea that premium denim manufacturers believe they can and should charge $200+ for “distressed” or “destroyed” jeans – jeans with pre-made holes, rips, and fringe – blows my mind. “Distressed” tees, jackets, and other clothing also sell for bizarrely high prices and the whole thing just seems like a racket to me.

BUT. I feel quite differently about distressed boots.

In my opinion, hardly a thing in the world broadcasts power and confidence like a gorgeous pair of boots. And, for years, I stuck to sleek, shiny, supple leather boots that worked beautifully with my wardrobe. But in recent years, I’ve realized that distressed boots – be they real or faux leather – are fantastic tools for making it through a sloppy, slushy, cold, oppressive winter in style. Here’s why:

  • You can get them wet: I’m in favor of weatherproofing all footwear, and doing so will help in many cases. But the fact is that some shoes and boots WILL get damaged if they suck up too much moisture, no matter how conscientious you’ve been with the spray treatments. Distressed boots – especially those with substantial soles – can take some rain, snow, and slush without looking ruined. You should still get them clean and dry once you’re indoors, but for transitional winter trompings, they’re a great choice.
  • You can get them dirty: Heck, they already look kinda dirty right out of the box! So what if you sink your heel into an unexpected mud puddle? So what if a passing car throws some road water on your calves? (OK, not really “so what.” That would just suck. But it wouldn’t destroy distressed boots the way it might other footwear.) Bring on the grime and grit of winter, distressed boots can take it.
  • You don’t have to worry about nicking/scuffing/hurting them: Sleek, shiny, supple boots are delightful little critters. But, in my case, they stay sleek, shiny, and supple for about 4 seconds before I trip over an invisible obstacle, scrape them against my chair, or spill my soda on them. Soda is no balm for distressed boots, but at least a drop or two on the boot shaft won’t cause the wearer to have a heart attack.

As I’ve said many times, I advocate wearing waterproof boots outside, carrying your indoor shoes in a tote bag, and changing into them upon arrival, especially for office/academic/indoor workers. Even distressed boots will get ruined if they’re treated as actual snow boots in actual snow, slush, sleet, and general winter nastiness. If you commute to work, you can extend the life of your shoes by carrying them along for winter commutes and slipping them on upon arrival at your destination.

Another important note: I don’t wear my distressed fashion boots if I’m going to be hiking in the wintry woods, if actual precipitation is happening at the moment, or if there is unplowed snow. I can’t speak for other snow-intensive areas, but here in MN the streets get plowed relatively quickly and residents shovel their sidewalks right away. On days when plowing and shoveling is yet to happen or still in progress, I stick to my snow boots. But once it’s dealt with and walking areas are relatively snow-free, I feel comfortable doing distressed instead. Again, they are no substitute for a great pair of snow boots. But once the snow is mostly plowed and the sidewalks mostly clear, I haul ’em out.

My smooth leather boots still get plenty of wear on days when I’ll be keeping myself indoors. My small but mighty collection of distressed boots, on the other hand, is my secret weapon for staying stylish through the long, brutal Minnesota winter.

Image courtesy 6pm

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  • I like boots both (all?) ways – and there’s definitely a place in my wardrobe for distressed boots. Esp for the reason you stated: no anxiety about the occasional scuff. For Florida downpours, out come the Wellies of course : >

  • My only fancy boots are distressed and I really prefer that. I live in the south so it rarely snows but I walk to pick my son up from school every day on a gravel/dirt path so shoes that can take some wear are a must. As for other distressing I do sometimes buy slightly worn looking things but rarely holey. I like things soft and comfy more then starched and new. I’ve also been researching distressing denim since I started making my own jeans. Not a lot of success yet though so I’m glad dark denim is still in.

  • Katharine

    I like a distressed boot (and even certain other types of distressed clothing, although I feel you on the overpriced jeans that have been carefully crafted to nearly fall off your body when new!)

    However, the only pair of distressed boots I personally own are my Frye Veronica Slouch, and I have to admit, they are not very good in the wet; the leather is very soft and porous, and they immediately get soggy (not to mention the soles are leather too). I have other boots that are “distress friendly” (like my Doc 14-holes) and though they still look sleek and new, that’s not for lack of exposure to battering!

    However, I don’t wear any of my fashion boots in snow, not even the Docs. Even if the snow’s been “cleared’, there’s always that one dude who doesn’t shovel his sidewalk, and random ice everywhere — and not even Doc soles are slip-proof. Not to mention, we are just WILD about the salt here, and at the first sprinkling from the sky, everyone’s out scattering leather-destroying chunks about with abandon. Even a distressed boot looks sad with giant salt stains around the bottom, and one misstep into a salty puddle makes a ridged scar that not even the best salt-remover spray will fix. (I know this through sad experience.)

    I’ll wear my boots in the rain and wet (with heavy applications of waterproofing spray) but as soon as it gets winterish, the nice boots move to a tote bag, and out comes the winter footwear.

  • Love your photo background painting.

  • Courtney

    I love my Frye Harness boots! The only thing I have found with them is you can’t wear them for extended periods of time out in the cold because your feet will get freezing! Since there is no insulation, the leather is like an ice box. I wore them for a cold football game once, and man, my feet were so cold. The distressing is great though, I am not a very careful person so if they get scratched up a bit, no worries!

  • I haven’t gotten into distressed boots. I have one pair that’s irregular and I like it, but I find myself a little uneasy with the thought of uneven patterns or scratches and marks in something that looks messy. I tend to like how they look on other people, but when I try them on myself I get all self-consious and worried about it.

    For the past working years of my life, I have only worn winter appropriate shoes to work if there’s snow on the ground. This year I’m going to try the whole changing at work thing. I’m kind of excited in a childish way about it!

  • I looove the harness boots in the picture, and I love distressed anything really — boots included.

    I also totally agree with you on distressed jeans and cutoff shorts. I mean, really! You want me to pay more than $5 for something I can get at a thrift store? No way!

  • Anne

    I would just love to get myself a pair of Frye harness boots. I might have to set aside my sweater addiction so I can save up for a pair. While I have never bought a pair of pre-distressed boots, I do have two pair that are in a pleasant state of “Arrested decay.” One pair is a very inexpensive pair of Nine West boots. I noticed that it took about five years of beating them up, now I get compliments on them all the time.

    I can definitely sing the praises of distressed leather handbags. I am not a status bag girl at all. I am also a bit of a klutz with my handbags. They are constantly being thrown in the car, in the corner, and with three boys, (including husband) in all manner of sports, it’s nice to be able to plunk a previously beat up bag on the ground and not worry about it. Last spring I bought a handbag made of old French mailbags; it is hands down my favorite.

    While I don’t buy distressed jeans, I’ve been known to run a little sandpaper over a freshly hemmed pair.

  • Sue

    Speaking of distressed denim. Do you know how it’s done? Apparently some companies use a process called sandblasting to “destroy” the fabric creating the distressed look. The workers who do it usually inhale all this stuff and end up with Silicosis a serious and potentially fatal lung disease.

    I doubt they do that for leather though.Sincerely hope not. Good post as always!

    Check out the BBC article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15017790

  • I love the look of distressed leather, so, yeah, of course I like this! (much more than distressed denim, because I can often find “distressed” leather that has just been dyed unevenly – it’s not actually so damaged as “distressed” fabrics – and I’m with you, why shell out $200 for something that is going to literally fall apart? crazy!)

    btw, regarding waterproofing treatments, do you use sno-seal? Much better than a spray-on treatment (and I used it to give a waxed finish to some suede shoes), and all you need is a little pot of the stuff (which costs about $6), some old rags to apply it, and a hairdryer to warm up the shoes’ leather and open the pores of the hide to suck in the sno-seal. When I was still figure skating, it was common practice to apply four coats of sno seal to the boots of a new pair of skates (including/especially the soles) before wearing. YOu would never need to waterproof again. One coat is just fine for regular shoes – my toes are going to be nice and dry this winter (plus, my poor fryes, which got water damaged last year, have never looked so good!).

  • Overall, distressed boots are a “no” for me. Sleek and shiny leather wins my heart! I subscribe to the Clinton Kelly philosophy of shoes: “The shoes set the tone for the outfit.” Sloppy-looking shoes make for a sloppy-looking outfit.

    I do have two pairs of distressed boots, but I did not buy them that way. I have a pair of Uggs that I ended up having to tromp through snow in too many times, so they got gnarly looking and became my commuting boots. They keep my feet toasty while waiting for the bus! I definitely prefer to change into my work shoes once I get to the office, because having to plan footwear around snow conditions is no fun!

    I also have my classic black Doc Martens that I got 15 years ago and wore pretty much constantly all throughout high school and college. I’ve had them tucked away for years, but now that I see them coming back into style, I plan to unearth them! I’ll like them much better once I get all the mud off, but I think the natural wrinkling of the leather doesn’t look half bad.

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