What happened to internet’s love for chunky shoes? It seems like it was only five years ago when people couldn’t get enough of Aldens, and now everything is about sleek, city designs from Europe. Granted, I like a tight-waisted, shapely shoe as much as the next person, but there’s something appealing about an unapologetic chunky design.
The best chunky shoes come out of Central and Eastern Europe. In the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, shoemakers along the banks of the Danube in Budapest and Vienna used to make footwear for country gentlemen and Army officers. For hard wear in tough conditions, they made shoes that could take a hit from a round-nosed bullet – and perhaps looked like one too.
That kind of shape doesn’t photograph as well as the kind of tight-waisted, sleek shoes that come out of Italy and Japan, but they look tremendous with the right clothes. Think: cavalry twills with ribbed corduroys, or warm flannels with heavy tweeds. These are basically country shoes you can wear with country clothes (or in more modern terms, the kind of stuff you want to wear in the fall).
The region’s most iconic design is known as the Budapester. Although it most often comes as a wingtip, the Budapester is really more of a shape than a style. Built with high side walls, a slightly upturned toe, and a heavy appearance, it’s about as chunky of a silhouette as you can imagine. You can get them today from makers such as Materna, Ludwig Reiter, Massschuhe Stefan, Heinrich Dinkelacker, and Buday. The last has the advantage of being easily purchasable in the US through Panta.
My favorites are from Vass, a small Hungarian shop that produces custom-made, handwelted footwear. Pictured above is a pair of cigar shell cordovan boots I had made on the company’s New Peter last, which is a slightly more modern take on the traditional Budapester. It has the same wide, rounded shape, but not the upturned toe. The triple-stitched Goyser welt not only makes these a more weather resistant, but also adds to the casualness of the style.
You can get Vass in the US through No Man Walks Alone (they take custom orders and offer ready-to-wear). Included in the ready-made stock are the Budapest wingtip and Alt Wien (meaning “Old Vienna”) semi-brogue – both a tribute to Vass’ Austro-Hungarian heritage. The hefty designs are a perfect complement to tweed, flannel, and even denim. Put these on when you need some real sh*tkickers.