Beloved by farmers and festival-goers, Wellington boots —also known as ‘wellies’— are comfortable, waterproof and last forever. The green rubber boots are quintessentially British, typically worn in muddy fields in the countryside. And now, they are becoming a must-have fashion item.
Looking at their history, perhaps this is not so surprising. Wellington boots were designed for fashionable gentlemen in the early 1800s. At the time, British Army officers wore calfskin boots called ‘Hessians’, which had tassels and a small heel. Hessians were popular with the troops because they were hard-wearing for battle and suitable for evening wear. The leather was treated with wax to make them waterproof.
Then, tight-fitting trousers came into vogue and the tassels became a problem. Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington, asked his personal shoemaker, George Hoby of St. James’s Street, London, to make him a boot in the new style. Hoby removed the tassels and cut the boots lower so that they would be more comfortable for riding.
Wellesley was a national hero, who had defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Later he became an important politician, serving twice as Prime Minister. Gentlemen were therefore quick to copy his style, including his boots. Shortly after his death in 1852, the North British Rubber Company started to manufacture rubber or ‘gum boots’ that were renamed ‘Wellingtons’ to capitalise on the duke’s popularity. They were worn by the British Army in the Crimea and in the First World War. In 1916, the company made millions of pairs to prevent soldiers getting ‘trench foot’.
a royal favourite
After the war, the soldiers brought the Wellingtons back home. Ever since then, they have been the favourite footwear in Britain for farms, fields and gardens. The Royal Family loves them, too. Diana wore Hunter Boots. Prince Charles favours Hunter Argyll. Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, wears Le Chameau wellies.
Kate Moss introduced festival-goers to Wellingtons in 2005. More recently, they became popular during the pandemic. With restricted lifestyles, the comfortable boots are a practical choice for any budget. Basic wellies are available from £21.95 at UK retailer Joules. Hunter’s original tall boots cost around £120. There are also models from top fashion houses like Chanel, Prada and Gucci, which cost up to £600!