Tried & Tested: Boots made for working: Workwear is back in style, but can work boots be practical and comfortable? our panellists decide

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The Independent Culture
It's one of fashion's ironies that, just as unskilled manual workers appear to be a species heading for extinction, styles based on tradional working men's wear have become more and more desirable. This year, fashion pundits tell us, workwear is one of the main style themes. So what better to wear with your dungarees than a pair of stout work boots? Dr Marten's have long held a position of supremacy among work boots, now rivalled in the fashion stakes by Caterpillar. But there's a lot of choice available that you may be less likely to see on every street corner. We've selected six unisex brands of work boots. To put the boots to a really tough test, we asked members of the Islington Self-Build Housing Association, who are build-

ing their own homes, to try them out. They wore the boots as they shovelled

sand, climbed scaffolding and laid concrete blocks, in some of the coldest and

wettest weather this winter. We also asked two design enthusiasts for their verdicts.

THE PANEL

Rossi Stohr, self-employed carpenter and self-builder; Peter Kerner, landscape gardener and self-builder; Tom Hannam, designer and art director of TV commercials and films; Katherine French, art school student.

THE TEST

The panel gave the boots marks out of ten for style, comfort and value for money. The panellists working on a building site also gave them marks for toughness. The marks were converted into a best buy rating.

**ELLESSE NORTON

pounds 59.99, sizes 3-5, 5 1/2 , 6-12,

in black or brown leather,

green or black suede

The main feature our testers noticed about these boots was their comfort and warmth - they have a special lining to keep the feet warm in winter and cool in summer. One panellist, Peter Kerner, complained, though, that 'the insulation made my feet sweat'. Tom Hannam and Katherine French were enthusiastic: 'Best of the bunch. A very good price for a warm comfortable boot, tested in deep snow in North Wales,' said Tom Hannam. But Rossi Stohr did not find them robust enough. 'They would fall apart in about a month on the building site. The edge at the top of the lace-up is already coming apart,' she said.

**** CATERPILLAR .TX.- NEVADA

pounds 80, sizes 3-11, in black or tan

Most testers rated the Caterpillar boots highly for their style and comfort. 'Very comfortable, very stylish. My feet felt very safe in them and yet they were not too heavy,' said Peter Kerner. For Tom Hannam, however, they are just too fashionable: 'Buy them if you want to look like every other trendster on the block, but personally I wouldn't want what every other under-40-year-old is wearing,' he said. Katherine French complained: 'My feet got so hot they began to throb and swell ' - although she liked the style so much she'd still buy them. The builders thought they were stout but too expensive for a work boot.

***DR MARTEN'S 1460

from pounds 39, sizes 4-13, available

in a range of colours

Despite the DM's legendary status as a style classic, the panel didn't vote them their fashion favourite - this accolade going instead to Caterpillar. Nor did they find the DMs the most comfortable, complaining that they take a long time to wear in. But where the DMs did score very highly was for value for money. Rossi Stohr thought they were a good work boot: 'I would wear this model, with the addition of steel toe caps,' she said. 'They are tough and not over-designed, which I liked. The only drawback is they are very hard to wear in - blisters for the first week]'

*KICKERS EXCEL

pounds 65 approx, Continental sizes

36-45, black, beige, chocolate

These boots failed to rouse much enthusiasm from our panel. Their design wasn't to everybody's taste. Peter Kerner liked it but stern critic Tom Hannam condemned 'the styling, from the white stitching through to the huge metal tag' as 'crap'. Panellists didn't rate them highly on comfort, value for money or toughness either.

*SAM WALKER CHUKKA

pounds 65 (sizes 3-8), pounds 75 (sizes 9-12), in black or mahogany

The panel thought the boots, which the manufacturers say are produced using traditional methods, were smart, stylish and well-constructed. But the builders, despite liking them for fashion or leisure wear, didn't think the style was at all suitable for work. This meant the boots did not score as highly as they might have done. Panellists also noted that the soles and uppers were inflexible - 'hard on the feet,' said Katherine French - although she thought that once worn in, they'd probably be comfortable. Katherine French was the only tester who didn't like the 'period' style: 'A bit on the horsey side. My mum would like them.'

**NORTHERN EXTREMES

BLIZZARD

pounds 55, sizes 3-11, black, chocolate, burgundy leather, honey suede

Comfort was the selling point of these boots. The panel gave them only fair ratings for style and value for money. 'A bit like an updated, refined DM which ends up being rather dull and soft,' said Tom Hannam. Testers also thought they might wear out quickly, particularly if used for rough work.

STOCKISTS

Northern Extremes and Caterpillar: 071-722 2132; Ellesse and Kickers: 081-346 2600; Sam Walker boots available from shop at 41 Neal Street, London WC2, or for a mail order catalogue ring 071-240 7800. Dr Marten's boots are widely available.

NEXT WEEK: BABY MONITORS

(Photograph omitted)

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