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Men’s Fall ’19 Boots to Offer Fashion and Functionality

When it comes to boots, guys are looking for styles that “look great in the city and perform well on the trail,” said Kort Sonnentag, senior account manager for Danner at FN Platform last week. The Oregon-based company is just one brand working to uphold its rugged reputation while appealing to a broader audience.

In short, male consumers want “more value built into the products they buy,” Sonnentag said. Even boots designed for hiking can be polished enough to wear “to the office and on the weekend,” he added. This is a shift for Danner, which has historically touted practical elements like Vibram outsoles and waterproof Gore-Tex uppers.

Crossover styles, which blend outdoor performance elements with trendy details, have become a must-have for men’s boot brands.

“It’s about versatility,” said Mike Griffiths, VP of sales at Johnston & Murphy. “The reason guys are buying more of these styles is because you can wear them in more than one instance—dressed up and dressed down.”

The most prominent stylistic development across brands is the hiker sneaker. It blends the athletic midsole and streamlined look of an active shoe with features like water-resistant leathers, treaded outsoles and waxed laces.

“You get the hiker DNA,” said John Angle, regional sales manager for Merrell. “But when you look at the subtlety of the outdoor elements, you can tell it’s more of a casual shoe.”

Classic high-ankle styles like the Chelsea boot and mock-toe lace-up have also been subtly tweaked to offer more than just a “look.” Johnston & Murphy’s XC4 collection offers performance components like fully-waterproofed leathers, rubberized stacked heels and triple-density EVA outsoles. While the shoes have an office-ready look, they’re built to perform, Griffiths said.

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Brands with a heritage in hiking and those with pure lifestyle roots are all innovating on weatherproofing.

“It’s about staying warm and looking sharp,” said Luke Jay, senior sales executive for Sperry. Known primarily for its preppy boat shoes, the brand is gunning to compete with outdoor brands this fall. The collection will feature a few fully-gusseted boots and lace-up sneakers, some built with a proprietary outsole blend of rubber and ceramic chunks for added grip.

Sperry’s update to the classic chukka is “rugged enough to be worn anywhere,” said Jay, characterizing the style as a workwear option for men in colder climes. The brand’s rain-and-snow-proof duck boot has also been updated with 200 grams of Thinsulate lining, he said, for added warmth. Jay sees the brand’s fall collection being a hit with city-dwellers living in colder weather.

Also appealing to the metropolitan set, Ross & Snow’s line of luxury shearling and leather boots “incorporates technical features into fashion footwear,” said Teresa Carvalho, a sales representative. “We’re not a trend brand,” she clarified, adding that the label focuses on updating classic boot silhouettes with luxury materials and weather-proofing. The brand collaborates with Vibram on non-slip outsoles, Carvalho added. Seam-sealing on zippers, buckles and welting give also gives the men’s boot collection true outdoor street cred.

Merrell, a brand with all the functional bells and whistles, faces the opposing challenge. Having spent decades catering to true mountaineers, the brand is now hoping to stake a claim in the urban market. “We’re a true performance brand but our products are very versatile,” said Merrell’s Angle at FN Platform. “A lot of our products are made for the trail” he added, highlighting Vibram outsoles and fully-waterproofed uppers. “But they cross over to the lifestyle side as well.”

One way of promoting that crossover, Angle said, is to bring back vintage styling with an old-school look and feel.

“We’re interested in preserving the heritage of the brand,” he explained. Nowadays, though, Merrell’s heritage all-leather hiker sells mostly to the consumer who likes the way it looks with a pair of dark wash jeans. Material advancements have allowed the brand to craft lightweight updates to styles like the Ontario 85, which, as its name suggests, was born from a brand favorite of the 1980s. With a chunky EVA outsole and bright, primary-colored Cordura textile uppers, the fully-functional hiker has been a hit for guys who appreciate the retro look. “We do know that some customers are nostalgic and want to see the old styles brought back,” Angle offered.

Angle believes finding the balance between form and function will be key for male consumers this fall.

“It’s about living an outdoor life,” he said. “But you can live an outdoor life in the city, too. It’s just about comfort and versatility.”