Elon Musk is many things to many different people. To his employees, he’s the guy who’s keeping them away from their families and the reason why their bones hurt. To crypto bros, he’s the guy whose tweets can either make or break a digital currency. To the owners of a Tesla, he’s the greatest inventor since whoever invented the last big purchase they made. And to the rest of us, he’s the dude who talks a lot about colonizing Mars while stealing other people’s viral memes.
But who does Elon Musk see when he looks in the mirror? Does he see a space cowboy? A celebrity? A tech tycoon? A father? If his boots are any indication, Musk sees himself first and foremost as an engineer.
What he’s got on his feet here are referred to as engineer boots. They first appeared in the 1930s during the Great Depression. “They’re as Americana as the five-pocket jean,” repro workwear designer John Lofgren told Heddels. Per Lofgren, engineer boots were originally developed for men in the railroad industry (hence their name): “The tall shafts helped protect a fireman’s [the guy who shoveled coal into the engine] legs from rocks of coal, hot embers and the sharp edge of a shovel.”
They’re well known for their ruggedness and simple design. Their most distinctive feature is the buckle around the ankle and the length of the shaft, which can, in some cases, go above the knee. Though the style mostly went away during World War II since manufacturers turned their focus to making boots with laces, they came back in a big way in the 1950s thanks in large part to movie star rebels like Marlon Brando and James Dean.
If you know anything about engineer boots, you probably know that they’re stiff. Some come with a steel toe, but the more fashionable, contemporary iterations have a soft-toe box that can, nonetheless, take months to properly break-in. Couple that with their long shaft and you get not-so-comfortable boots. Which is why actual engineers are unlikely to ever wear them. There are just far more comfortable boots to choose from.
Still, there’s no denying that engineer boots look good. Perhaps more than any other shoe, engineer boots represent the Amekaji-heritage style — traditional, 1950s casual American fashion through the lens of the Japanese. Think loose-fitting, cuffed raw denim, tight-fitting T-shirts and leather biker jackets.
Again, a great look. The problem is, because engineer boots have long been part of a niche market, they’re expensive. Lofgren engineer boots start at a grand. So do those from Japan’s Clinch and L.A.’s Role Club. Red Wing and Chippewa make less expensive versions, but the quality isn’t remotely the same.
Not to mention, finding a way to wear these long-shafted bad boys can be a challenge, too. Musk chooses to couple them with tapered jeans, which isn’t how you want to style them. “You need to wear straight-fitting pants with a leg opening around 8 inches,” writes one member of the Men’s Style Forum. “There’s no way around it if you want a good fit without ruining the silhouette of your pants.”
He’s right. If you look at Musk’s boot-and-jeans combo, you can clearly see that the shaft of his boots is ruining the silhouette of his pants.
But he’s the engineer here, not me. So I’m sure he’ll eventually figure it out.