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The History of the Engineer Boot

Collectively our favourite style of boot here at the store, we thought we'd look more into the history of this classic style.

Red Wing 8268 Hawthorne Abilene

Red Wing 2972 Copper Rough & Tough

Photo - @rivet_head

Earlier engineer boots commonly had a taller shaft than on later variations 

First appearing around the turn of the century and originally based on English equestrian style boots, the engineer has been an American icon ever since. Used first as protective footwear for firemen on steam locomotives, the lack of stitching combined with the height and relative ease to pull on and off made it an instant favourite. It is believed albeit unconfirmed that this is where the name "engineer" came from. As these workers looked after the engine room, they colloquially became known as "enginer’s” and then their boots came to be known as engineer boots. Other lines of work soon adopted the style including welders and metal workers because of its practicality. The taller shaft than on conventional work boots gave better protection from hot embers and metal shrapnel.

Photo - Minnesota Historical Society 

Production saw a severe decline during the Second World War as footwear manufacturers concentrated their efforts on lace up combat boots for the armed forces. The immediate post war years saw popularity steadily increase again as pull on engineer boots became popular with returning war veterans in motorcycle clubs. Bikers preferred engineers because the absence of laces meant there was no risk of the boot interfering with the drive belt. The shaft height also meant that the wearer was well protected from the hot exhaust.

Photo - @rivet_head

Late 40’s biker wearing engineers on a Harley Davidson

Up until this point engineer boots were worn as a practical boot for work or occasional recreational wear. In the 1950s this all changed as they became popular among youth and rebel culture. Around the same period as denim jeans became an anti establishment staple, so too did the engineer. There are accounts of more conservative schools and colleges across the US that prohibited the students from wearing denim and certain footwear like engineers and ex-military boots.

Photo - @rivet_head

50’s students all in engineer boots and denim

Photo - @rivet_head

Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953)

The popularity further grew due to Hollywood actors donning engineers in film. Marlon Brando popularised the original outlaw look with his Durable One Star jacket and engineers in The Wild One (1953). Then James Dean adopted a more casual look as a troubled high school student in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).

Photo - GQ

James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Engineers came in various shaped and sizes with differing leathers and sole construction. However the style that resonates most with wearers today is that of medium height (9-11 inches) with a stacked and fluted or woodsman heel as this is seen as the most "traditional style".

A pair of 11” 1950s Red Wing Engineer Boots as featured in the Red Wing Bible

Early catalogue image of Red Wing’s selection of pull on engineer boots

Red Wings first engineer boots started to become available in catalogues towards the end of the 1930s and were actually sold as pull on logger boots as an alternative to the lace up counterparts. Throughout the years we offered many different versions, including steel safety toe versions, flat toe's and also offering our iconic Traction Tread outsole on engineer boots as early as the 1950s.

Red Wing 2268 Black Chrome

The most popular styles soon became obvious. The steel and constructed toe variants proved to be big sellers and became more of what Red Wing would focus on in the coming years. The 2268 in Black Chrome is an evolution of those earlier steel toe designs and is available to this day.

Photo - Red Wing Bible

The 2268 in current form was introduced towards the later part of the 1970's and is by far Red Wing’s most popular and most cherished engineer boot. The popularity with its style again grew from a completely practical point of view. Towards the late 80’s and early 90’s Japanese motorcycle enthusiasts would wear the boots to complement their look as many would ride Harley Davidson and Indian Motorcycles. After WW2 Japan was slowly exposed to more and more American culture. Before too long, many became obsessed. After this adoption of Americana,  engineer boots became a great addition to many outfits. Due to this popularity the styles available for Japan became much more varied than those in Europe and the US.

Photo - Red Wing Bible 

A few styles made it to us in the Red Wing Shoe Stores in Europe. Like the 2966 for example. Using the same basic silhouette as the 2268 but without the steel toe to give the boot a “flat-box” design. The 2966 also ustilised our Black Klondike leather which replicates the ageing on certain vintage Red Wing Boots. 

Red Wing 2966 Black Klondike 

Currently the 2268 is the only style we carry in Europe but we are hoping that will change in the not too distant future. If you want to understand why we love engineers so much then feel free to come by and try some for yourself. 

Photo - @rivet_head 


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Size Guide For Men's Footwear Only

Sizing guide and fitting instructions

All sizes on our site are UK sizes


For those of you that are new to the brand, for your consideration, our boots do fit much larger than other brands. More often than not you will drop half to full size in our boots. But, this does all depend on foot shape whether you have a broader or narrower fitting.


If you would like more in-depth information before buying please do contact us at the store and we will do our best to ensure you purchase the correct size for your foot shape.

Please note that Women's footwear we advise you to stay true to size

 020 7287 5007 or email us at info@redwinglondon.com. 

 

UK Men's

UK Women's

USA

Europe

3.5

n/a

4.5

36

4

2.5

5

37

5

3.5

6

38

5.5

4

6.5

 n/a

6

4.5

7

39

6.5

5

7.5

40

7

5.5

8

41

7.5

6

8.5

 n/a

8

6.5

9

42

8.5

7

9.5

 n/a

9

7.5

10

43

9.5

n/a

10.5

44

10

8.5

11

 n/a

10.5

n/a

11.5

45

11

n/a

12

46

11.5

n/a

12.5

47

12

n/a

13

48