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Hiking boots are the latest fashion craze – here’s why

It’s time to lace up

Friday 01 February 2019 18:23 GMT
Grenson Limited
Grenson Limited

Hiking boots have become one of the most sought-after items in recent months. But their aesthetic is far removed from the peaks of Snowdonia and the rugged coast of Cornwall.

These chunky, heavy duty shoes have been spotted on everyone from Bella Hadid to the Duchess of Cambridge and have stomped their way across countless catwalks, sounding the sartorial klaxon loud and clear: this shoe is no longer a slave to practicality.

They’re popular on social media too, with more than 192,000 posts under #hikingboots on Instagram.

Luxury e-commerce site Net-a-Porter reports that it has seen a surge in demand for the style among its female shoppers as we descend into colder climes, with hiking boots accounting for nearly 20 per cent of shoe sales on the site so far this season.

Popular brands on the site include See by Chloé, Sorel and Moncler – all of which you’d struggle to find in you local outdoor equipment shop.

Net-a-Porter add that while the trend has peaked recently, possibly due to celebrity advocates and frequent runway appearances, heavy duty boots perform consistently well year on year for Net-a-Porter.

Evidently, these are the trendiest boots in “shoe-bizness”.

But how did a humble, fit-for-purpose worker’s shoe make its way out of Kathmandu and into Valentino?

Bella Hadid walking in the Alexander Wang spring/summer 2019 show in New York in June last year 

“This trend for wearing oversized combat boots really started to trickle through in 2014 when the Timberland boot made a big comeback, originally worn in the 90s,” explains celebrity stylist Alex Longmore.

WE11DONE snake-print stretch jersey flared pants: £350, Isabel Marant gold-tone necklace: £140, Gucci flashtrek faux shearling-trimmed leather canvas and suede boot: £875, Ganni light cotton jersey T-shirt: £75

Designers took note, added their own upscale twists (high-top styles at Ganni, logo appliqué at Gucci) and the trend was born, she tells The Independent.

It was only a matter of time before the style trickled down into the high street, with Zara, Urban Outfitters and H&M all selling their own affordable versions of the functional shoe.

“I think it’s a popular look because, above all else, it’s practical,” Longmore adds.

Functional fashion has certainly been on the rise, with “ugly” trainers named one of the biggest fashion trends of 2018.

The shoes are arguably expensive, yes, but they’re incredibly durable and tough, which, Longmore says, is part of their appeal.

“I think the whole climate is changing and the younger generation of fashionistas want to buy longevity rather than fritter on fast fashion. This boot represents just that – it’s versatile, functional and is a timeless accessory, not to mention an excellent accessory for the British weather.”

Accessorize Claudia leopard leather cross body bag: £35, Valentino rockstud-embellished leather hiking boots: £955, H&M fine-knit cashmere jumper: £79.99, Raey bias godet silk-satin midi slip skirt: £225

Hiking boots were, of course, originally designed for outdoor activities, such as, well, hiking and climbing. While it’s highly unlikely that anyone would wear their £900 Gucci boots to climb Kilimanjaro, Dr Harriet Atkinson, senior lecturer in design history at the University of Brighton, explains that modern interpretations of the shoe are still very similar in appearance to those classic, sturdy styles.

“Many draw on the ‘Bergstiefel’ Swiss Army mountaineering boot and forms of leather hiking boots developed in Europe from the 1930s,” she tells The Independent.

Hiking boots are becoming increasingly popular on the street style scene, with this London Fashion Week attendee pairing hers with a vinyl down jacket and green tracksuit bottoms (Rex)

The difference is in the materials, Atkinson explains, with designer boots crafted from fine suedes and calf leather or lined with fleece. They can cost as much as £2,000 and, unlike their more practical counterparts, are unaffordable to most.

“Although they look as if they would set you up to explore mountainous terrain, they are made for life in the city,” she adds.

As for why they’ve become increasingly desirable among the fashion set, Dr Rebecca Arnold, senior lecturer in fashion history at The Courtauld Institute of Art in London, suggests this stems from a wider cultural yearning for authenticity, which these boots perfectly encapsulate given their rustic and athletic roots.

“With a long history of exploring nature that reaches back to the 19th century, wearing hiking boots for everyday wear immediately adds a sense of adventure to an outfit,” she tells The Independent.

Topshop satin cowl-back slip dress: £35, J. Crew Layla cashmere turtleneck sweater: £130, Marie-Hélène de Taillac 22-carat gold, quartz and sapphire earrings: £890, Grenson Nanette boots: £265

It also links to the resurgence of 1990s grunge, she adds, which has been popularised by both designers (see Balenciaga and Off-White) and high street shops (see Urban Outfitters).

In these periods, heavy boots were worn to literally “ground” fashion and Arnold explains that incorporating these shoes into your everyday look can help disrupt an overly groomed aesthetic, which has become less popular in recent years.

One of the most popular brands for contemporary hiking boots is undoubtedly Grenson: the British label that quite literally trades on authenticity by priding itself on its 153-year history.

While the company was originally known for its signature brogues, Tim Little, CEO and creative director at Grenson, explains that he decided to look into hiking boots after a conversation he had in 2015 with Ronnie Fieg, the New York-based streetwear designer behind Kith.

Trademark fringed leather bucket bag: £300, Ganni Sarai high-top suede hiking boots: £370, & Other Stories pendant crystal earrings: £17, Topshop utility denim boiler suit: £59

“He said that he thought the next big thing would be old-school hiking boots, so I went home and created Nanette,” Little tells The Independent of the shoe that sparked a nationwide frenzy after Holly Willoughby wore them during an episode of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.

“I literally searched everywhere for vintage mountain, alpine and hiking boots to see what it was that made them iconic,” he continues, explaining that the shoe’s appeal is all about the eyelets and the lacing.

If recent catwalks and street-style snaps are anything to go by, it’s clear that the hiking boot trend is not dying out anytime soon.

In other words, if you haven’t already, it’s time to lace up. Otherwise, it might be time to take a hike.

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