One thing I’ve been doing since I started working from home is slowly compiling the pieces I need to finish off my Victorian costumes for reenactment, since that’s something I’d like to get back to once we can go places again. The first item on my list is one I’ve been lusting after for years, but couldn’t afford until we moved to Washington: Victorian button boots.
I bought a pair of leather reproduction boots from American Duchess. If you’re not familiar, AD is THE name in the reenactment and historical costuming community for spot-on reproduction shoes. I’ve been wanting a pair from them for years, but only took the plunge a few months ago.
I bought the Renoir boots, which are a tall ankle boot. I was concerned at first that they wouldn’t fit, because I have larger than average calves. I started out with my usual size 8.5, since everything on the website said they were true to size.
Unfortunately, these first boots were too small–by a lot. The foot portion fit snuggly with the thinnest socks I could find, and it was my intention to wear these with hand knits. I could only button them about 2/3 of the way. The top buttons were about 1-1.5″ from closing.
I spoke to a very helpful customer service rep over email, who gave some advice on sizing. According to the paperwork that comes with the shoes, the buttons can be moved if they need to be let out (or taken in), and instructions are included. However, moving the button would mean cutting off the elastic that is built into the shoe to fix the buttons in place. This would leave an ugly cut edge behind that would be visible, and I really wanted to avoid that.
I exchanged the shoes for a larger size, and also ordered their leather stretch. I was skeptical at first, considering just how much I needed the shaft of the boot the stretch, even after sizing up to a 9.
I followed the directions, and remarkably on the second attempt I was able to button the boots all the way up! It was incredible! The leather stretch didn’t leave any residue or watermarks on the boots; they look like they came out of the box that way.
The fit on these boots is incredible, and they are honestly one of the most comfortable pairs of shoes I have ever owned. I was afraid I would need an insole, but they are very supportive and comfortable, even with my somewhat fallen arches.
Because these shoes are leather, they do need to be properly broken in. The first couple of days I just wore them around the house, mostly sitting at the computer for work. I wore them out for a couple of short walks (just around the complex a couple of times), and they were comfortable both uphill and down. I can now wear them for an entire day of running errands with absolutely no issues.
I will say that there is a learning curve for these boots. Because they are historically accurate, they have leather soles instead of rubber. This means they can be quite slick on wet surfaces; I recommend wearing them out and about on concrete or asphalt to roughen the soles a bit before attempted to wear them to an event that’s largely in grass/mud. I also don’t recommend them for snowy or icy surfaces. I have worn them in our Washington rain, and they are waterproof. If you wearing them in pouring rain, however, or decide to chance winter conditions, AD also sells waterproofing sprays and conditioners, which I would recommend using before trying to do so.
The hardest part to manage has been the buttons. A child of the 80s/90s, I didn’t grow up with button boots. All of my boots until recently had zippers. Learning to use a button hook has been a challenge! It requires more dexterity than I thought. I have learned that it’s best to hook around the elastic/button shank, rather than through the button shank; I have popped off many a button by doing so. Each pair of boots comes with about 4 spare buttons for just such an occasion. The shanks, if they open too far, can be repositioned with jewelry/needle nosed pliers, which I’ve had to do a few times.
The button hook does not come with the boots, sadly. It must be ordered separately, for about $15, but they are common enough on Etsy and at antique markets if you are looking for something cheaper. On days when I wear these boots out, I usually carry the button hook with me, just in case. The hook is also great when the buttons fall off–slip the hook through the elastic loop to open it, and it’s much easier to slide the button shank back into place.
If you’re running late, grab a pair of ballet flats or lace up boots instead, but otherwise, I can’t recommend these highly enough for their quality and comfort.
Like what you see? Check out In Character: Dressing for Living History (Intro)