I think the theme of 2022 is “Ethan Finally Gets the Things He’s Always Wanted”. And I’ve always wanted Paraboots!
Introduction & Context
The cool thing about blogging continually for seven years (and podcasting for almost four) is that I can trace my menswear journey quite well. And what I’ve noticed is that my taste, in broad strokes, has been relatively unchanged. I’ve always liked the ideas of the Esquire Man, I’ve always appreciated contemporary tailors, and I’ve always like facets of ivy, workwear/milsurp, and yuppie style. What has changed can be explained two fold.
Firstly, I’ve gained confidence to see myself in those characters, to know that I can wear what I like and still remain myself. Over the years, I’ve learned that while my taste and expression has honed in execution, I really do just like a lot of things. Fashion doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive, so the big part in that confidence is being able to slide between doing things straightforward and mixing-and-matching as I see fit. Everything is inspiring in one way or another and can be applied to my style. This goes for style aesthetics and specific peices.
The second is just having money to exercise those interests. I got into menswear when I didn’t even have a college degree or a real job. This forced me to be really specific and intentional with my clothing, while still operating under the serendipity of vintage picking and whatever happens to be on eBay when you’re online. There were plenty of things that I liked but had to postpone copping because other things took precedent. But as I got older and I started to work more, I began to have the freedom to buy what I liked. The intentionality was complete— I could own what I wanted without having to wait for serendipity. I could finally exercise the breadth of my menswear interests.
Now despite my self-appointed ubiquity of being a loafer guy, I’ve always had an appreciation for lace-ups. Sneakers are obviously their own thing, but leather lace-up shoes just bring something new to the table. It’s hard to put it into words; they just provide something that a loafer can’t. The shape helps, but there is something specific about how lace-ups simply provide a “normal” charm, that contrasts against the sleek, dainty vibes that I prefer in a loafer. The ones I’ve gotten have always had a bit of “quirky” character: chukkas, longwings, wallabees, split toes, and single monks (technically a slip on lol). In short, they weren’t going to be a dressy oxford.
And to bring the intro to the present, my new found agency (in confidence and finances) allowed me to be a bit indulgent in the lace-up component of my wardrobe. It’s not that I’m tired of my loafers but now that I’ve gotten my current dream ones (Alden 563), I want to expand a bit. It’s a bit like how after a navy suit, you want a brown one. So that’s why you may have seen a bit more lace-ups than usual. I still wear my longwings and wallabees but I’ve added new ones to my canon, which include the black PTB (a Yuketen smaple), Alden Algonquin V-tips (quite ivy), two one blucher mocs and a rugged sole moc toe derby (both Yuketen samples again). They have all been quite helpful in helping me lean into more a different vibe, one that doesn’t slouchy-but-dainty loafers such as rugged aesthetics like the Euro-hiking look.
Like I said in the beginning, I’ve had an interest for a lot of things in menswear that I just haven’t had to the ability to act on until recently. It wasn’t that I was only a loafer guy, but that at the time, my loafers were my favorite (and best) shoe and therefore I used them across a lot of my fits. With newfound agency, I’m able to expand and learn new things about what I like. Lace-ups are a big part of that and the more I was able to acquire, the more I could refine my taste and finally do the proper looks I’ve always wanted, which if we’re following the Euro-hiking look, leads us to the Paraboot.
There is just something charming about these rugged French made Tyrolean shoes (specifically the Michael model). The round toe is comforting rather than snubby. The rugged sole provides character and utility; clunky in a good way! The two eyelet lacing is delightfully minimal for a shoe that is quite bold. Perhaps more importantly (for my weird menswear logic), Paraboots have that moc-esque toe treatment that seems to be the common detail among almost all my existing shoes: my wallabees, my tassels, my pennys, my blucher mocs, and my indy boots; I find it quite cool and slouchy, sort of an anti plain or captoe. Overall, the Paraboot Michael is a lace-up shoe that is quite different than most #menswear footwear, especially when compared to the shoes in my existing closet.
Perhaps the appeal is one that is similar to how the Barbour in the fact that it is not a field jacket or an overcoat. A Paraboot is its own thing—a design for a design’s sake. If its like anything, it’s almost like a Wallabee, but “harder” and more punk in a way. And unlike the Barbour, my previous shoes were not thinly veiled attempts at finding an alternative; they were their own thing that happened to reflect a bit of evolution to justify my future Paraboots. In short, I liked how Paraboots looked and I knew I could wear it.
Obviously, the Paraboot (and Barbour jacket) were not the only things that I liked for design reasons. My spearpoint collar is quirky enough to not be considered a traditional point collar nor simply be called a “buttonless OCBD”; it is a fun design that I think works despite being an anachronism in a very optimal/STEM/timeless focused menswear world. Likewise, you could consider my preference for high rise, wide legged trousers to be a weird design that is not exactly found in the contemporary inspirations I kept (think The Armoury or even Bryceland’s approach to tailoring, which is considerably slimmer than their military/workwear pieces). The “versatile” excuse never worked on me because I am too concerned with my own taste and the character’s I was dressing like.
I’m not sure at what point I saw them for the first time; perhaps it was worn by some of the Japanese-Americana guys on Tumblr or maybe it was during one of the first WAYWT posts I stumbled into on r/malefashionadvice. It’s funny to think about that in the present, as they are quite ubiquitous on the internet (some redditors are calling them the next Clark’s Desert Boot), but I always recognized them as a niche shoe. I was actually surprised I liked them as they don’t seem as “classic menswear” as some of the other things I was into, like brown checked sack jackets, OCBDs, or even the “weird” stuff like white socks with loafers. A Paraboot wasn’t something that was worn by Jake Grantham, Chad Park, or Ethan Newton. It is in this way that made this different than my experience with the Barbour; I didn’t see it done the way I wanted it to, at least openly. Shocking— I had to rely on myself for this. Kinda. 😉
As you’ll see in my inspiration photos below (I always have inspo), you’ll note that most of the stuff its worn with is casual, whether its the Michael model (again, my favorite) or the Chambord, which is more of a traditional derby. Despite its French heritage, it finds its way to be used with workwear or workwear-adjacent styles. This leads to it being paired with hearty denims, chinos, and corduroy trousers. Non-menswear guys have no issue with it being worn with Vague/Alternative Menswear, but when it’s done by enthusiasts who are more on the classic side, you may see it with an OCBD and variations of chore coats, field jackets, and maybe a casual suit. This is a contrast to the Wallabee, where I’ve actually seen it worn with full tailoring, both in a vintage and contemporary way. In that sense, there seemed to be potential for the Paraboots.
Thankfully there was a bit of reference to be found in old Esquire Man illustrations, as well as in old European menswear advertisements; the history of Paraboot is fascinating to help get into the midset. Overall, chunky soled shoes had their niche moment a few times during the Golden Era, whether they were crepe soled derbies or were actual Tyrolean shoes. It’s nice to know that guys were into the juxtaposition between something “rugged” and the clean lines of tailoring, even if at its root the decision to wear it is that “it’s simply not a traditional lace up or derby” It’s still niche, but I new that my interest in the Paraboot was more than just a fetish for the design— it could actually be worn as a look. As I’ve recognized how “practical” my menswear can be, it’s nice to take steps in a way that makes sense; workshirts and hearty fabrics are one thing, but shoes can certainly help be pointed in that aesthetic.
I guess you could say it’s a bit punk in that regard, whether it’s in the “Forced Versatility” of wearing something incongruous with “business wear” or if its just of what it looks like. I’ve never been a huge fan of Doc Martens or Solovairs (mostly due to their shape), but I like the idea of them as a punk meets workwear staple; it’s cool to see people reference it in their own fits (primarily on Tiktok). Obviously this has some parallels to the rugged sole loafer movement that we see from Blackstock and Weber and F.E Castleberry. My friend Jason was always notable to me in how he wore lug soled Weejuns with his take on Thom Browne-meets-Sexton sensibilities.
To be clear, it’s not that I need to see examples to copy or to justify my purchase (even if it sounds that way). Perhaps there is something deeper here to explore in a future pod-blog (plog?), but I just seem to like collecting photos of what I like!
All of this to say that I knew that I could wear Paraboots, even if I had to make some leaps in menswear logic (which I do often) to make it work. At the very least, I knew it was going to be different, much different than say a trying a beret or a returning to sneaker; it was also going to contrast against the typical Paraboot fit. This was fine, as I had plenty of room to explore on my own. After all, Paraboots (like Barbours) are not found easily here in Los Angeles. I was free to build up inspo until the funds and the opportunity aligned together.
And yes, I’ll admit that Paraboots aren’t exactly a wild purchase in the broad realm of men’s fashion. But compared to a “normal” oxford or even a loafer, they are!
Despite my confidence in the piece, it took me a while to arrive at a point where I could actually add Paraboots to my wardrobe canon. As I said earlier, Paraboots are not an easy purchase. The shoes are mainly sold in France and I’m not even fully aware of accessible US stockists. Most people who have them are either in Europe or they are bought secondhand on Grailed or eBay (sounds similar to my Barbour predicament). And even then, most second hand Paraboots are still quite expensive, with second hand ones being only $100~ or so off the retail price.
To make matters worse, I wasn’t even sure of my size; my Aldens article details the frustration and uncertainty of not being able to try on shoes. My sneakers are a size 8 whereas my Aberdeens are a 7D and my barrie is a 6.5D. Paraboots, at least on their website, are listed in EU, of which I had no real guide on how to translate my existing shoe size to the right one to buy. The only thing I had to go off of was that my Birkenstocks were a size 40, but they never felt “right” to me. I can’t imagine basing a lace up shoe purchase on a pair of sandals! I had also tried on a size 40 in the B&L Sagan when I visited The Armoury last year, though they also didn’t feel right (perhaps all the NYC walking forced my precious LA feet to swell up).
I thought that I’d eventually have to try and buy Paraboots in person some time in the distant future. It would make sense to be able to try on multiple sizes and then simply buy them new, if to avoid the headache of using eBay or Grailed to get a shoe that doesn’t fit and is quite expensive for being second hand.
The success in fit (sorta) finally came when Nick visited LA. To my delight, he had a pair of bison grain Michaels in a size 41. For those of you keeping track, a 41 is close to a size 7.5/8 in US sizes (which is what my sneaker size is). I was able to try them on (right in the middle of the bar) and find out that a 41 was definitely too big. We deduced that a 40 would be right. Probably! I decided to resume my search for Paraboots, this time checking to see if there was anything with worldwide shipping (no proxies) and free returns. A few people recommended Todd Snyder, who at the time of writing was oddly doing sales on Paraboots, none of which were my size. I was later told to check a few UK sites which led me to Farfetch.
Farfetch had the same bison grain Michaels that Nick had for $300 USD, which included returns and a $10 shipping cost. And yes, they had a size 40. I couldn’t lose! The only thing holding me back was the bison grain. I had never owned any footwear with grain; everything was either smooth calfskin/cordovan or suede. Would this work for me, especially on a bold shoe? Wouldn’t I be better off with a plain one (which would then cost me the normal price)? Should I be safe with this?
In the end, I decided to say fuck it. Why not make it bold? I actually preferred the dark brown leather over the typical reddish color, which honestly might have been harder to wear with tailoring (in which I prefer dark shades like color 8). The grain also provided a point of interest; wouldn’t it make sense that a European “casual” shoe would be made with a fun leather? It could be considered tweed for shoes, where as plain/smooth worsteds (like calfskin or shell) are more for business/formal attire. Leaning into it was fun. And better for my wallet!
This final section is quite short because as I’ve kept saying throughout this article, I knew how I’d wear the Paraboots. To be clear, it’s not like I made a list of every combination of garments over the years; I still dress emotionally (more on this in the future). It’s more so that the inspiration and ideas just kept flowing as soon as I held them right in my hands.
You’ll notice that a lot of my fits tend to lean on the Golden Era vintage side, perhaps even more than when I wore my Barbour. This might be because I’ve been continually fascinated with that 30s Euro-Hiking look where chunky/rugged shoes are worn with tailoring. It’s like my attraction to the look has come full circle to allow myself to do it it hollistically. Loafers, wallabees, and even chukka boots didn’t cut it. I needed that chunky French shoe to make it fully work. I am complete!
The look the shoes produce when worn with my fits something completely different than the sleek lines of the traditional Esquire Man and certainly at odds with the Yuppie look that characterizes contemporary menswear. But that’s why I love it— to do the looks I already do, but just with some funky shoes. It’s like getting the ruggedness of a boot in a derby, but without simply having a “normal” derby with a commando sole. It’s a Paraboot!
It’s a subtle twist, but I think it really makes a difference especially when I wear it in my style. You’ll note that most of my inspo has Paraboots worn with slim pants or if they’re wide, a bit cropped; I’ve heard those modes offset the “odd” qualities of the shoe. You guys know that I prefer my trousers full and hemmed to a shivering break and while it may sound like Paraboots don’t work in theory, I think the shoes looked just fine. The blunted toe is fine with my wide leg opening; I think the sloping vamp and thick sole help it from looking too “flat” under my pants. In fact, you might even say that the Paraboots prevent my wide pants from looking too wide (I have small feet).
This is all funny because three years ago, I didn’t think chunky Tyrolean shoes worked with wide legged pants with a shivering break. In my wallabee article, I felt a bit sad that I had to relegate them to my slimmer pants (which I no longer own). I’m not sure if this is due to tastes changing or simply getting more comfortable in what I like and having the confidence to simply pair things together.
The shoes provide visible weight to the foot, creating a very interesting pant-shoe interaction that is quite different than the “light” vibes of my trusty low-vamp loafers. The large grain is also quite interesting to see against twills, flannels, and plain weavesPerhaps Forced Versatility is at play here: I like the shoes and I’m making them work with my existing attire.
For fit, I think they are super comfortable. I think that the 40 is the right size for me, though as someone who hasn’t tried a 39.5EU, I can’t be too sure. From the get go, they fit a bit bigger than I’m used to, being fine with my Uniqlo socks but not the best with my thin OTC dress socks. The rubber sole makes them comfortable to walk in and I don’t mind the extra height I get. I haven’t taken them through rough weather or rugged terrain, but so far they’ve been just fine with my little excursions.
What’s funny is that my journey echoes a bit of Trevor’s, who as I mentioned earlier got the same Paraboots around the same time I did. In an email to me, he recalls how the Michaels also interested him (despite not liking Wallabees), but not enough to draw him away from his beloved trad shoes (and if you follow him on IG, you’ll see he has an enviable collection). At least for a bit. He eventually succumbed to their unique qualities after seeing them across a myriad of outfits in the online menswear space.
Despite Trevor and I being relatively new menswear mutuals, its clear that we see them in a similar way, at least based on his email (that could very well be a blog post): “[Paraboot Michaels] blend the sneaker/hiking boot-like feel with the styling of a derby. But it’s not just any derby, these things are quite distinctive.” His story is full of “Forced Versatility”, as he notes that he likes the shoes and wears them with his regular attire, showing that Paraboots certainly work with pieces that don’t have to be chore coats, sport shirts, and cropped pants. They have a place with more “traditional” wardrobes!
Overall, the whole experience (in conjunction with my Barbour journey) has shown me that I should always trust my gut. While both of these things are classics and perhaps even no-brainers to many menswear enthusiasts, I still didn’t have any hands-on experience with them. However, that didn’t stop me from knowing that I could wear them with aplomb, just like Trevor. If I find an attraction to something there is probably a reason and if I buy it, I know I’ll be able to wear it!
I’m very curious to see what’s next. Maybe this means I’ll get a different type of Paraboot, like the hair-ones or perhaps I’ll “regress” to the plain leather. Or maybe this is the start of a new branch in my journey, where I expand across the expected ivy-trad and vintage 30s style and fold bolder things (relatively speaking) into my canon.
One thing is for sure: they feel like they’ve always been me. But I knew that!
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