Make Your Own Rain Boots

March 7, 2013

Make Your Own Rain Boots

With spring showers only a month away, it’s worth thinking about what kind of footwear one might need when the weather gets wet. My rainy day shoes of choice are shell cordovan boots. Shell cordovan, which is a leather taken from a horse’s rump, is so dense that it can effectively perform like rubber. I’ve trudged for miles on wet days without any snow or rain seeping in, and with a quick brushing once I get home, my shell boots look even better than the day they came. The only problem is that shell cordovan boots are quite expensive. Even on sale or on eBay, you’re looking at a neighborhood starting price of $500.

The alternative is to pick up a pair of SWIMS galoshes or LL Bean Boots. The upside to SWIMs is that they can be slipped over your normal dress shoes. The downside is that, frankly, sometimes you don’t want to bother with the hassle. LL Bean Boots are less fussy, but they can’t be worn with dressier garments such as suits and sport coats.

A happy medium is learn how to weatherproof the shoes you already own. For suede shoes, I recommend a waterproofing spray, such as this one from Allen Edmonds. Allen Edmonds’ version doesn’t contain any silicone, which is said by some to potentially damage to shoes. Each canister costs about seven bucks and can weatherproof something like five to seven pairs of shoes. I usually give my suede boots two coats before taking them out into the rain 24 hours later. Just be sure to only use this spray on suede shoes, as you can clog up the pores on calf, which would be bad.

For rugged boots, such as hiking boots or workboots, I recommend Obenauf’s Heavy Duty LP or Montana Pitch Blend. I wrote a post last year about how to apply Obenauf’s, which readers might find useful. This thick, greasy cream both nourishes leather and helps keep moisture out. Don’t use it on anything besides rugged boots though. On a pair of dressy calf or shell cordovan shoes, this stuff can ruin your ability to ever get a proper shine.

For regular calf or shell, Steven Taffel at Leffot recommends Alden’s Leather Defender. It performs better than the minimal protection one might be able to give with a wax polish, and it won’t ruin your ability to give your shoes a proper shine. From a quick perusal of the online forums, some even say that it helps prevent the dreaded spotting shell cordovan can develop once it gets wet. That spotting goes away with a quick brushing, but it admittedly can be a bit of a hassle. I’m thinking of picking up some Leather Defender next month and trying it out on my shell boots. You can purchase it by calling Leffot and having them ship a bottle to you, or by going through J Crew’s online shop.

For $7 to $15, these all seem like great options, especially when compared to spending $500+ for shell boots, or even ~$100 for some SWIMs or LL Beans. Just have realistic expectations. Your shoes will be water resistant, but they won’t be waterproof. You can’t jump in any puddles or anything, but with some good preventive care, you can happily take your regular shoes out into the rain.

* Big thanks to Steven for help with this article. His store Leffot, by the way, is my favorite shoe shop in the US. Everyone ought to check out their store in NYC, if not at least their webshop.