Hands up, who’s tried rough-out shoes before? Or even come across them? I hope, given you’re reading this, that you’ll have at least some appreciation for them – and particularly Crockett & Jones’s models. But, for those who might not be familiar with the term, ‘rough-out’ is an unusual suede with a dense, waxed surface that lends itself to robust winter boots.
An early adopter of the stuff, Crockett & Jones makes two models in rough-out. The first is the iconic Coniston derby boot in dark brown, with it’s classic round last (the 325), storm-welt and Dainite soles. Then, there’s the Chelsea 5 – a timeless Chelsea boot on the well-balanced 335 last, which comes in dark green and navy rough-out, as well as dark brown and black.
You’ll notice that they look distinctly rugged, thanks to their waxy surface and thick soles. But, looks can be deceptive. Rough-out was used originally for utilitarian work boots, but today, it’s the perfect material for contemporary ankle boots: relaxed, soft and resilient.
Let’s think about the Coniston for a moment. In dark brown rough-out, it looks honest and solid, and I guarantee it’ll slot smoothly into your wardrobe as a winter go-to. After all, in today’s world of ever-more relaxed menswear, they’re the ideal boot to wear when you want to feel cool and casual. They sit comfortably beneath dark denim jeans with flannel shirts and chunky knitwear, but they’ll also complement a hefty winter coat in tweed and navy cords. You could even wear them with a charcoal flannel trouser and suede bomber combination. They’re slightly slicker than full-grain leather, more practical than untreated suede and more interesting than smooth calf. In short, they’re a great seasonal all-rounder.
It looks honest and solid, and I guarantee it’ll slot smoothly into your wardrobe as a winter go-to.
The joy of the Chelsea 5 is that it offers a different take on a classic. We all love a Chelsea boot, and yes, in chestnut or polished black calf they’ll go anywhere and do anything, but in rough-out (particularly in the forest green or navy), they’re a real talking-point.
The forest green pair channel a timeless autumnal colour that looks sharp against browns or greys. Try yours with clean-cut grey flannels or dark brown chinos, a classic merino rollneck and throw a navy or olive green cotton overshirt over the top. For something equally sharp, the navy pair are a fun choice that work with everything from chunky rolled-up jeans to mid-grey suiting dressed down with a chambray shirt and knitted tie. The black and brown are similarly versatile and work well with tailoring too, if you’d like to give a suit a relaxed edge.
That’s how they look, but the other joy of Rough-Out is the way it ages. Of course, any of these will begin life as a seriously firm pair of boots, but you’ll find that they’ll soften considerably with wear, without losing their integrity. The waxed surface of the suede – in combination with their Dainite soles – will ensure they stand up to the elements healthily too. And, as always in fine shoemaking, there’s some top-geek-level science to get your head around that explains this.
The waxed surface of the suede – in combination with their Dainite soles – will ensure they stand up to the elements healthily too.
Essentially, getting rough-out suede right is tricky. To make it, Crockett & Jones’s chosen tannery has to source skins that are older than usual. Normally, for shoes lasted in calf, Crockett will use skins that are between 3-6 months old, but rough-out hides need to be thicker and firmer, so the animals used are between 18 months to two years old.
Now, this is where it gets interesting. Because of its weathered appearance, inferior quality rough-out suede is easily disguised, but Crockett is obsessive about the quality of skins it uses. In fact, it only selects skins of an appropriate age that have a particularly tight fibre-structure, which ensures that the leather remains smooth, supple and yet firm for longer. You’ll find that C&J’s rough-out boots won’t give or split once they’re exposed to the elements – like some others might.
So, it turns out that rough-out suede boots are far from rough. Rather, in the right shoemaking hands, they’re soft, characterful and sturdy. In fact, in Crockett & Jones’s chosen autumnal colours, they’re the perfect footwear for today.
Illustrations by Jonny Leigh