Over the past few months I’ve been trying out a pair of RM Williams boots, driven by the fact I know so many people who swear by them, and because it’s nice to celebrate a craft company in a different part of the world such as Australia.
I’ve found them (the Comfort Craftsman) just as comfortable as everyone said, and liked the style more than I thought I would. I would never normally wear a square-toed boot, but the shape is very subtle, and actually more elegant than the round-toed options.
The quality of the boot, however, is not really on a par with the other makers we cover. There are plastic heel and toe stiffeners, a fibreglass shank, and the other materials are not the same quality as, for example, Crockett & Jones.
The fact the boots have no seam on the side is part of their lore: it was something the founder introduced to reduce irritation on the foot. But of course, the reason high-end boots have seams is that they’re using smaller skins than RM Williams – it’s much easier not to have seams when you’re working with a yearling animal or older. Plus I’ve never found those seams irritating on my other boots.
Still, I can certainly see the appeal of RM Williams now, and their attitude to repair and care is admirable. They have become more expensive in recent years, but price relative price heavily depends on where you are in the world – a comparative UK or US maker is much more expensive outside those countries.
The boot I tried was the Comfort Craftsman in dark-brown suede. It was a UK size 9, which is pretty much my regular boot size, and an Australian G width, which seemed comparable to the E I normally wear in the UK, though it’s meant to be a little narrower.
Most UK stockists such as Trunk have the G width, though RMW itself also offers a wider, H width. Kudos to RMW for offering two widths in the UK as standard, and a big range of sizes at least in Australia.
I chose dark-brown suede because it’s the material I find the most versatile, but you’ll also notice quality difference less in suede, usually, than in leather. Certainly something like the yearling-leather RMW boot will not take polish or ever look as fine as a Northampton equivalent.
Of course, most people wearing RMW boots do not want to be as dressy as that fine, polished calf, but I’d still prefer the suede or perhaps even pull-up leather to the RMW yearling (below). Northampton shoes have probably spoilt me in that regard.
RM Williams boots are known for their comfort, and particularly the Comfort Craftsman with its padded insole. I can vouch for that, and that they required no breaking in.
It’s not the natural-feeling softness you’d have with a top-end calf leather lining, or the kind of support that would come from a last that gave you really good arch support (like the Alden modified last, on me) given it’s foam padding, but it’s still effective.
With a suede boot it’s these kinds of places where you notice the difference in quality of materials – and that goes for the rubber soles too, which are relatively thick and cumbersome.
I should emphasise again that when I say ‘relative’ I mean relative to the average brands we feature on PS, which are perhaps best typified by Crocketts in the UK and Alden in the US. So if that’s the benchmark, how does RM Williams compare on price?
RMW has certainly got more expensive since it was acquired by LVMH in 2016 (it’s currently owned by the Tattarang investment group). A pair of these boots in the UK will cost you £430, and Crocketts seems like a better buy (all else being equal) at £470 for its Chelsea 8 (below).
But, in Australia the Comfort Craftsman is A$649 (£355) and Crocketts are A$1295 (£710), which definitely pushes things in RM Williams’s favour.
In the end – like those that buy Alden in the UK – price and value aren’t the top priority for UK customers of RM Williams.
They buy for the look, because they like the brand, and because there is no obvious equivalent. The square-toed Craftsman really is surprisingly elegant for a casual boot, while the Gardener looks really nice for a very hard-wearing, round-toed, weather-proof boot.
RM Williams boots also last a long time because they have a good line in repairs. They reheel and resole as a matter of course, and will also replace the lining, tugs and elastic gussets – everything save the upper.
The factory in Adelaide usually does this work, although when I spoke to the team late last year, they were training a group to do resoles and reheels in the UK. The shipping cost to Adelaide and lead time (about three months) was becoming inefficient otherwise.
I really liked my boots, even though I wouldn’t actually wear them – and will find a good home among friends for my pair.
Thing is, for a suede boot I’d always go to a Northampton maker; even for a waxed boot my Govan from Edward Green are much nicer (and much more expensive). I’d wear Alden for a casual style, Viberg for a real workboot, even a roper boot for the style. RM Williams just doesn’t fill a gap I have in terms of style and value.
However, I’m glad I’ve tried the Craftsman for a good while, and understand the appeal.
I’ve got inside the head of the friend who wears a Gardener every day with wide-legged chinos, and the other who wears his Craftsman with his skinny jeans every single day to work. I shall try and convince my brother (who lives in Australia) that he should get a pair, because they will be good value and perfectly suit his lifestyle.
I’d recommend them to many people – just not myself.
Clothes shown: PS Reversible Suede jacket, Real McCoy’s sweatshirt, Rubato jeans, PS watch cap