Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Harness Boots Are An American Classic

Not every pair of boots you own are meant to be stylish. Some just need to get the job done. And for anyone who has ridden a motorcycle, it's hard to beat harness boots. They are a no-nonsense, heavyweight leather boot that was modeled after the most common square-toed boots in the 19th century.

The design was smart enough that they weren't modified and modernized until the 1960s, when the leather straps were added. They aren't all that different from engineer boots, except rings replace the buckles. Black is probably the most common, but browns have come into their own.

An American classic by The Frye Company.

There is one simple reason that harness boots made by Frye have an edge. The classic design is deeply rooted in history, much like the company. The very first Frye shop was opened on Elm Street in Marlboro, Massachusetts, in 1863.

Three generations later, John A. Frye's grandson and namesake met with a U.S. Navy admiral during a trip to Washington D.C. The admiral said he was having a hard time finding the Wellington styles he liked so much. (Wellington boots, named after the Duke of Wellington who commissioned them, were a modified version of 18th-century Hessian boots.)

Frye agreed to make a pair, which was again modified to a style more closely associated with today's harness boot. It didn't take long for Frye to receive more requests, orders he would fill throughout World War II. In fact, according to The Frye Company, these boots traveled on the feet of servicemen from Normandy to Okinawa. They were even considered a favorite by General George S. Patton.

The harness boot for men as it looks today. The best boot for bikes.

Since then, there have been some variations to the style and cut of this classic boot. For example, while motorcycle boots typically run from 10 to 18 inches, The Frye Company makes an 8R Work Boot.

Depending on the color, the leather may vary. The classic black features the Old Town leather that looks better as it ages. The brown and rugged brown are slightly different. Any time Frye works toward a vintage look, they bake wax into the leather. As the wax hardens and cracks, an alcohol rub brings out the colors and creates a distressed look.

Another small but notable change is that the hardware, like the rings and bolts, are typically matched to the leather. The black is paired with nickel. The browns are matched with brass. Black is considered classic, but the browns lend a more rustic and less urban look.

What doesn't change is the attention to detail. While Frye employs some machine work, it's surprising how much of the work is done by hand. Each pair of boots undergoes 190 steps before they are ready for sale. Each one of those steps is inspected during different phases of manufacturing. All have Goodyear welt construction.

Frye also makes an R12 if you want them to rest higher up on the leg. Although colors might vary depending on stock, the 12-inch shaft also comes in a lighter distressed tan. As for the length, it depends on what you want. A lower shaft makes the boots more versatile, but less protective.

Harness boots aren't just for men. They make a great boot for women too. 

Much like the men's harness boot, except sized differently, almost all of the features are the same. The Frye 8R Mid-Calf Boot for women has the same leather lining with 2-inch heels and an 8-inch or 12-inch shaft. The soles are neoprene oil resistant and the insoles are cushioned.

The look is largely the same, making a great masculine boot a tough-as-nails boot for women. Sometimes those are harder to find as manufacturers and retailers change out their inventory. The Frye boot, being a classic, is less likely to disappear. Given the quality construction, it is also less likely to be replaced.

The Harness Boot By Frye Wears 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

It's difficult to mess with near perfection. Frye harness boots were my choice when I owned a Fat Boy Softail and I've never worn a pair of boots that fit better or were worn as well. Even revisiting them gives me an itch to ride again (even if you don't need a bike to own a pair).

You can find the Frye harness boots for men or women at Infinity Shoes. Another boot that caught my eye beyond those from Frye were the Pakros line, listed for clearance. The modern Tuscany take on the classic motorcycle boot is tempting, even if there seems to be more style than substance.
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