Ralph Lauren will always have a special place in my heart. It’s the one company I really admired growing up – more in terms of how it was appropriated by streetwear culture, rather than the preppy Americana crowd it was originally intended for. I also think few companies have been as consistent and as great for so long. There isn’t much from their archive that I don’t think looks good today (just slim up some of the ‘90s stuff, Ralph!).
About ten years ago, the now defunct Japanese menswear magazine Free & Easy published a special issue on Ralph Lauren (I put up a few pages from it here). Most of the clothes featured are long gone, of course. They were made sometime between the 1970s and ‘90s, although styles like them can still be found on Ralph Lauren’s site. For obsessives, vintage pieces come with a bit of provenance, but since some have become collectors’ items, prices can sky rocket into the thousands. Assuming you can even find them in the first place.
The good news is that some things can still be found if you’re able to track down the original makers. One of the photos I really liked in the issue featured a ski-motif sweater paired with some faded, button-fly jeans, a Western tooled belt, and these brown, pebble grained hunting boots. I figured the shoes were made in the USA from the style and stitching, and after some digging around, I narrowed it down to Russell Moccasin – a nearly 100-year old producer in Wisconsin known for their sporting shoes. And over email, the company confirmed for me: they used to produce for Ralph Lauren in the ‘90s. This style is no longer in their catalog, they said, but they could reproduce it since everything is made-to-order.
Russell Moccasin has a somewhat strange way of taking orders. They require you to trace an outline of your feet and take about a dozen measurements (including up to your calves). It’s strange because self-produced tracings and measurements can be so unreliable. Nicholas Templeman, a bespoke shoemaker I’ve worked with, tells me it’s hard to even rely on another lastmaker’s records. Every person has a different way of holding a pencil and dealing with tricky curves. Self tracings are even less reliable since you can’t easily hold the pen steady as you trace around your foot.
I actually had Nicholas do my tracings when he was in San Francisco last year. Despite them being done by a professional shoemaker, the first pair of boots came out a half size too big. Russell is happy to do free remakes, although that still means you have to wait another four to six weeks for your boots to arrive.
When they did, however, I couldn’t be happier. These are the Double Moccasin Bottom Birdshooter boots (style #S8030-27), made to a modified 6″ height (as per the Ralph Lauren design). No pull straps, antique brass eyelets, and treated leather mid-sole. The uppers are made from Russell’s tan WeatherTuff leather; soles are Vibram Air Bob. I had them do the boots in their double-vamp construction, which means two layers of leather make up the bottom. Russell also has a triple-vamp option if you want to get really weather-proof.
Russell’s boots tend to fit big, so even when they’re in the right size, the high side walls means that you often need to put in a padded insole. The company sometimes sells ready-made shoes (likely returns for wrong sizing) on their website and through eBay. If you buy one of those, consider going a half-a-size down.
Up next: the buckle boots you see with the red Ralph Lauren cardigan below, also originally made by Russell. Nice that that you can still get some things from the Ralph Lauren vaults without paying a fortune.
(Pictured above: an old pair of 3sixteen SL-100x jeans, current season Ralph Lauren utility jacket, and MTO Russell Moccasin birdshooter boots. Pictured below: my boots, a page from Free & Easy, some shoes Russell Moccasin has made for various Japanese menswear shops, and their factory).