There was a time when combat boots — adopted by punk and grunge subcultures — were reserved for those who wanted to signal a certain rebellious streak. Now, though, the shoes are pretty much a men’s staple, made by everyone from Forever 21 to Balenciaga. To find the versions most worth buying, we talked to seven people who work in fashion — editors, shop owners, stylists — to identify the most stylish combat boots. And since taste is so subjective, we also made a few suggestions of our own to round out the best of the best.
Dr. Martens are the classics, thanks to the British footwear brand’s legit beginnings during World War II and enduring connection to British skinheads in the 1960s. Esquire style director Matthew Marden recommends the 1460 in the black smooth leather because they’re “affordable, durable, and get better with age and wear.” They’re the ones he wore to endure winter when he was in college in Maine.
For something a bit more punk that runs higher on the ankle, J. Errico, fashion director of Marie Claire and a self-described “combat-boot purist,” suggests the ten-eyed (meaning it has ten pairs of lace eyes) steel-toe 1490 Docs that he’s worn since elementary school.
Though the contrast yellow stitching is a Doc trademark, sometimes you want a bit more refinement and versatility. Cut senior market editor Diana Tsui likes the brand’s all-black boots. “The black-on-black version forever. They match any outfit you’re wearing and won’t call attention to themselves. I own them myself.” Strategist deputy editor Jason Chen agrees: “I’ve had them for nearly a decade and they’re still my favorite.”
This similar all-black pair has the profile of a sneaker, thanks to the smooth flatness of the rubber sole.
The nicest part about these elegant black leather combat boots is that there’s a zipper down the back for easy entry and removal.
If you prefer to ratchet down the toughness, you can find high-lacing, strong-soled leather options that read more formal than foxhole. Stylist Brian Coats swears by the “elegant hybrid” Algy Peaky boot in black pebble grain from U.K.-based O’Keeffe. “Having grown up in a small town in North Carolina working at my family’s army surplus store, I’m well-versed in military boots,” he said. “These are made to perfection, come in a beautiful box with all the trimmings, and will last several lifetimes.”
The upper on these shoes almost remind us of hiking boots, while the sole has an elegant, derbylike profile. Roll your pants down over them and they’re almost dress shoes.
Editor’s Note: These boots, exclusive to Mr. Porter, are now sold out. Barney’s however, carries two different pairs of Common Projects boots that have similar hiking boot-like uppers. (They’re also available in brown.)
The rubber lug soles and cap toe on these boots make them a bit of a hybrid: a little dressy, a little outdoorsy. They’re a bit casual to wear to a formal dinner party, so save them for low-key occasions.
Wolverine’s boots are named 1000 Mile because that’s how long you can walk in these well-constructed shoes before they start to come apart. We dig the waxed laces, Vibram sole, and especially the toe-panel detail on these boots.
Although we typically think of them that way, combat boots don’t have to be black. Stylist and brand consultant Rachael Wang likes the 1460 Crazy Horse style in Aztec. “It’s a great brown option that’s rugged and not too classic,” she said. “Just make sure to weatherproof them before the rainy season.”
Something of a cross between a sneaker and a true combat boot (they have the word duty in the name), these ultralight shoes from the heritage brand Danner come recommended by Poglia founder Max Poglia: “A durable boot with a tasteful design is a rare find.”
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