One of the most popular writings on this site is a longer read about Mackintosh raincoats in SBR and rubber, where I explore not only the history of the Mackintosh raincoat and how it fits into fashion, I also dive deeper into the fetish aspect of these rainwear items which was actually quite interesting to research. In this writing I will try to do a similar thing, but now with rubber boots being the subject. Besides exploring the history of rubber boots and how they fit into historical and current day fashion, I will do a sidestep into the alternative scenes where rubber boots are often an integral part of. Picture below by Latexjess (Twitter / Instagram) shows a pair of regular Hunter rainboots combined with a latex outfit and a gasmask, turning the boots from regular rainwear to fetish wear.
The following writing is divided into separate chapters so if you are less interested in certain parts you can skip those. Although I would recommend reading it all and going through my previous writing about Mackintosh raincoats in SBR and rubber to get a complete view.
Please note that rubber boots are known under different names across the world, from Wellington boots, or Wellies for short, to gumboots, rainboots, galoshes, and muckboots.
The history of rubber boots actually started before rubber was used as a material for footwear. The first Wellington boots were made of leather and were produced in the early 19th century. War hero and aristocrat Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, who successfully battled Napoleon at Waterloo, requested a modernized version of the Hessian boots from one of his shoemakers; Hoby of St. James’s street in London. The Hessian boots were the most popular boots in that time for the upper class; leather horse riding boots reaching to below the knee and decorated with ornamental tassels at the top of the shaft as shown in the picture below. But with troops stationed in hot climates fashion trends for breeches (riding pants) started changing and recently popular tighter breeches did not go well with the tassels on the Hessian boots. Hence the need for a new design of boots to battle this serious issue.
The new boot created by Hoby of St. James’s Street was made of soft calfskin leather, had the tassels removed, and was cut to more closely fit the leg matching the new style of tighter riding breeches. With one inch high heels and reaching to below the knee the boots were suitable for horseback riding while comfortable enough to be worn as informal evening wear. The boots quickly became popular and were dubbed “Wellington boots”, named after the man who commissioned them. Below a pair of original leather Wellington boots and a portrait of the First Duke of Wellington.
Not long after, around 1839, both American Charles Goodyear and Englishman Thomas Hancock independently developed the vulcanization process for rubber. This process, where crude rubber was mixed with sulphur and heated, resulted in a product that was very durable, stable in both warm and cold weather, relatively cheap to produce, and completely waterproof. The possibilities for vulcanized rubber were quickly spotted by some: the popular Wellington boots could be produced in rubber at low cost bringing it to the masses in need for waterproof footwear.
Hiram Hutchinson met with Charles Goodyear in 1852 and bought the patent for vulcanization to manufacture footwear. He figured demand would be highest in France, with its high numbers of workers in the agricultural sector and muddy land, moved there, and set up his company producing rubber boots under the brand “A l’Aigle” (which translates as “to the Eagle” – to honour his home country of America – notice the logo being an eagle). He manufactured the first Wellington rubber boots in great numbers for French farmers who would normally use wooden clogs to work on the field. His rubber boots became instantly popular as the benefits of waterproof rubber boots were evident compared to relatively costly and uncomfortable wooden shoes. Below a close-up of the current Aigle logo, photo by picmic51 on flickr.
Henry Lee Norris had the same approach as Hiram Hutchinson, but instead of moving to France and target farmers as customers he set up a factory in Britain and marketed his rubber boots to the better-off like aristocratic gentlemen and officers. His company, the North British Rubber Company, later changed hands and name and ended up as the now famous Hunter company. Below a picture of the production process at the North British Rubber Company during wartime, picture credit to Edinburghprintmakers.
Sales of rubber Wellington boots only really took off with the outbreak of the Great War, a conflict that quickly turned into a stalemate where both sides dug trenches and fought a horrible war over long periods of time. During rain the trenches quickly became muddy and soldiers stationed there would develop trench foot: a condition caused by long immersion in cold water or mud resulting in blackening and death of surface tissue. The solution was simple: give the troops rubber boots to keep their feet dry and battle ready. The picture below shows how trench warfare could easily become very muddy, photo from the Imperial War Museum.
The North British Rubber Company was commissioned to produce the footwear for the British troops and by keeping their factory running day and night they were able to produce a total of 1,185,036 pairs of boots for use in the trenches. Below a picture of a war horse carrying a load of rubber trench boots for use by the British troops.
Demand peaked again for rubber boots with the outbreak of the Second World War. With rubber boots having proven their worth in the Great War the War Office once more ordered large numbers of rubber boots for the troops to be used in battle. With the availability of rubber diminishing during the war, mostly because of the Japanese invasion of many rubber producing countries in the Far East and German submarines targeting cargo ships going to Britain, rubber was given priority for war production and used for car tires, protective gear like dive suits and gasmasks, and rubber boots. Below a group of female dispatch riders wearing raingear including wellington rubber boots, photo credit Imperial War Museum.
After WW2 the Wellington rubber boots were well-established in British society, partly because of soldiers taking their war boots home and partly because of renewed supplies of rubber meant practical rubber boots could be produced for cheap helping a war-torn country with waterproof and reliable footwear. The Wellington rainboots quickly became the boots for the masses.
The original creation of the Wellington boot was inspired by fashion: the previously popular Hessian boots worn by military men and aristocrats became problematic footwear when the fashion style of breeches changed over time. British troops stationed in warm climates began to wear lightweight linen trousers as regular military gear, instead of their normal woolen breeches which were unsuitable for a hot climate. Historical fashion icon Beau Brummell (1778-1840) started sporting the tighter style of breeches in Britain and people followed his example as he was seen as the arbiter of men’s fashion in that time. A different style of breeches required a different style of boots to match and the Duke of Wellington commissioned a new boot which would become known as the “Wellington boot”. The new model of boot was closely associated with the Duke of Wellington, who was a war hero and overall well-respected, which made it an instant hit in the upper circles in Britain. Below a caricature of the Duke of Wellington as a wellington boot, dated 1827.
Once the Wellington boot was produced in rubber the fashion significance of these boots quickly disappeared. The boots produced in France under the “A l’Aigle” brand were marketed as workwear for farmers on the field, not a sector that normally dictates fashion. In Britain it was Henry Lee Norris who produced the Wellington boots in rubber and while he aimed at selling to the rich, the popularity was limited and the rubber versions of the Wellington boots never really took off.
During war time the rubber boots gained huge popularity for their waterproof features and for being practical, but they were far from fashion. It is interesting to compare this to the popularity of trench coats during and after the Great War, as described in my previous writing about Mackintosh raincoats in SBR and rubber. As trench coats were strongly associated with patriotism and officers brought their trench coat back with them after the war, they became hugely popular all around Britain. This did not happen with the Wellington boots: they were neither strongly associated with supporting your country in the war efforts nor did gentlemen wear them as fashion items on return from the front. My guess is that the main difference is that trench coats were only for military officers who got them custom made at tailor shops, giving these coats an aura of respectability and quality, while Wellington boots were standardized mass produced boots handed to the regular troops. Wearing a trench coat after the war gave respect, wearing Wellington boots indicated you were previously a simple regular soldier. Below high ranking military staff, some wearing a trench coat, with a government official wearing a trench coat inspired coat. Photo credit warhistoryonline. While several men wear boots, none wear rubber boots.
After the Second World War the Wellington rubber boot became much more commonplace in Britain, with it gaining popularity in the working and hunting communities. Especially the preference for rubber boots for hunting was important, as this sport is strongly associated with the upper class and therefore gives the potential to become a fashion item with the general public. It was in 1980 that this link was capitalized upon, when Lady Diana Spencer was pictured wearing a pair of green Hunter Wellington boots while courting Prince Charles, as shown below. The steady demand for rubber boots suddenly skyrocketed after everyone tried to emulate her casual yet smart style. A pair of green rubber boots became the overall fashion item for the country life, slowly turning them into a piece of iconic British footwear.
It took till 2005 before the next big break for Wellington boots came: in that year Kate Moss was photographed at the Glastonbury music festival sporting a pair of black Hunter rubber boots. Almost overnight the rubber Wellington boot went from just fashionable for country life to overall fashionable.
The Hunter company quickly jumped on the opportunity, increased commercial budgets and started opening flagship stores, and the practical rubber boots became a fashion icon that would transcend country life and rainy days. People would buy rubber boots in bright colors, wear them in an urban setting, and even wore them mid-summer without a cloud on the sky. Other brands of boot producers quickly followed and updated their range of boots with bright colors, different models, and party editions. Women would combine rubber boots with short skirts, summer dresses, and even wear them in wedding pictures.
As one could expect the rubber boot fashion kept searching for new items and styles to add to their range to keep attracting new customers and boost sales, and one of these more “extreme” versions of rubber boot fashion were the thigh-high waders reaching well over the knee almost up to the crotch area. Hunter sold their “Hunter Osten” waders in a range of colors, from black to bright colors like yellow and shiny green, as fashion items: a black pair combined with a yellow Ocean raincoat can be seen below.
Even a brand like Prada has done a throw at popularizing waders, or at least introducing them in the fashion scene, without much success. Below a catwalk picture of the Prada autumn collection of 2009, showing a pair of Prada waders
Boots have been an integral part of the fetish community for a long time. It is mostly the women wearing high-heeled boots to become more sexually attractive for their counterparts with an added advantage of giving the wearer a feeling of power and dominance. In 1915 Hermine Hug-Hellmuth already described boot fetishism in her psychoanalytical works and over time high-heeled boots have become easily associated with a dominatrix wearing a leather outfit and having total control over her submissive followers. The boots best associated with this are tight fitting, black leather boots with a high heel and pointy toes giving the wearer extra length, making them more sexually desirable, and adding to the natural sway of the hips while walking. This does not match the general look of Wellington rubber boots, creating the expectation that rubber boots would be a uncommon sight in the fetish communities: nothing would be further from the truth nowadays. But it must be noted that rubber Wellington boots did not gain much traction in the the fetish subcultures of the past. Below the cover of “Bizarre” magazine as published in January 1946 depicting a pair of tight fitting high leather boots worn by a dominant looking lady in corset: this is how boots were mostly shown and idealised.
Bizarre magazine was published by John Willie (which was a pseudonym used by John Alexander Scott Coutts) from 1945 onwards and marketed as a regular girly magazine focusing on women’s (extreme) fashion to avoid censorship laws, but for those who were in the know it provided an outlet for the fetish subculture and with hindsight it is a historical document showing the prevalence of certain fetishes in those days. Wellington boots are barely mentioned or shown in these publications, hinting to the limited appeal they had in the fetish communities at that time. This is similar to John Sutcliffe’s “Atomage” magazine first published in the seventies which shows tons of pictures of leather and rubber outfits, high-heeled boots, and rubberized raincoats, but is missing depictions of rubber Wellington boots.
As mentioned previously in my writing about the Mackintosh raincoat in SBR and rubber: while it is unclear where a fetish comes from, the common denominator with many fetishists is that they have pleasant experiences with a certain material or garment at a younger age giving them a feeling of security, pleasure, or strength. There I made the case that the widespread use of rubber protective gear, like gasmasks and gloves, during war time could lead to an increased popularity of rubber fetish items after the war. In case of rubber boots this link seems much less distinct, simply because the use of rubber boots during wartime would give the wearer a much smaller sense of security compared to a rubber gasmask, and the overall penetration of rubber boots was already decent before wartime compared to a gasmasks which would be a novelty outside of armed conflict. Below a squad of ARP gas decontamination members wearing protective clothing and wellington rubber boots, source ww2civildefence.
With rubber boots being widely used in certain professions and easily available in general, it seems more logical to link the discovery of a fetish involving Wellington boots is in one way or the other related to pleasant childhood experiences. Most children associate rubber boots with outdoor play and the ability to run through puddles without getting wet, dirty, or cold, which is extremely enjoyable for most kids. At a later age these pleasant childhood experiences could carry over where you can feel the same levels of being protected and invincible by wearing rubber boots.
During the 60’s and 70’s, with a sexual revolution sweeping through the country, the rubber Wellington boot played a relatively small role in the fetish communities. Rubber boots were at best used as an item to finish off an outfit, it either being an outfit consisting of rainwear or an outfit giving even more protection against for example hazardous materials like a decontamination suit. Below the cover of the Atomage International Magazine, published in 1981, showing a model wearing a long SBR raincoat, leather gloves, and rubber gasmask. But instead of finishing this mostly rubber orientated outfit with rubber Wellington boots, she is wearing boots with a heel. Similarly the magazine cover below that, Atomage Magazine No.15 from 1977, showing a lady in long raincoat, with matching rain hat, combined with high-heeled leather boots with laces.
Neither cover shows rubber Wellington rainboots, although they would certainly not be out of place in the scene. A further look into magazine covers of these and similar publications showed that rubber boots were often skipped at the expense of heeled boots, or when there were boots with a lower heel chosen, the choice was often a pair of leather horse riding boots as shown below on the cover of Atomage Rubberist Magazine #5. While riding boots can have an additional association with domination, the number of perfect opportunities for rubber rainboots are there but often not fulfilled indicating limited popularity of this specific type of footwear.
It wasn’t till the eighties that rubber boots got a more distinct place in the fetish scene, mostly by the increasing popularity of the rubber fetish scene and the gay scene. Unlike women who look for boots that support their feminine looks, men were looking for footwear that was closely associated with manly professions, had a rugged look, and an industrial feel. Besides riding boots, motorcycle boots, and military boots, it was the rubber protective boots that took over the scene with the firefighter’s “Black Diamond” rubber boots being most notable. These rubber boots did not just have the close association with firefighters; the shiny black rubber combined with yellow accents also made it a perfect combination for a rubber outfit requiring a pair of comfortable boots under it.
Another range of rubber boots that have become increasingly popular in the fetish scene are waders. Thigh-high waders are regularly used for shallow water fishing, but made out of shiny rubber they are also a favorite type of fetish footwear giving a manly look while simultaneously attracting attention to the top of the boots which is around the crotch area.
Not many women have a great love of thigh-high waders, with most pictures available of women wearing them relating to a functional need to wear them or a monetary incentive to have pictures taken with them. The main reason for this would be that women have so many high boots to choose from that waders are often not at the top of the list.
That is not to say that a preference for this footwear with women is not genuine by default, it just seems less popular than with the male population. Main exception could be found in the heavy-rubber scene where the restrictive feel of heavy-duty rubber waders is of added value. Below a picture of hiromi_othani, showing a pair of Japanese chest waders, from the brand Shibata, as part of her heavy-rubber outfit at a rubber oriented party in Japan.
While regular rubber boots were mostly popular with males in the rubber fetish and gay fetish scenes, the popularity for women wearing Wellington boots has been increasing slowly over time. With Hunter boots becoming more popular since 2005 the rubber Wellington boots has become more commonplace in the wardrobe of women and many brands have been producing relatively expensive fashion rain boots which are mostly aimed at women. The general lack of a feminine shape of the rubber boots is less of an issue now and wearing them is much more accepted for women in the fetish scene. Still, it helped tremendously that certain brands have produced ranges of rainboots with more feminine shapes like a tighter cut, for example the Hunter Refined boots, or with a heel, as shown below in a picture from Twitter where a range of heeled rubber boots are shown next to gasmasks and other fetish gear. This picture comes from the Japanese Latexcatsuit account on Twitter.
And below a picture from baramiru on twitter showing Tokyo based rubber store “L-Base” (which you can follow on twitter) with on the top shelf right in the picture two pair of rainboots for sale, indicating how commonplace the rubber wellington boots has become in the fetish scene, at least in Japan.
Besides rubber boots being part of a larger fetish outfit, there are also occasions where the wellington boots are the center of attention. They are no longer that little item used to complement a latex outfit, they become the focus with activities like boot worshipping. With the accessibility of the internet it is not hard to find profiles and websites where rubber boots are the centre of attention with pictures showing the boots in all their glory, either perfectly polished or covered in dirt. The Hunter brand is often featured predominantly in these pictures as they are available in a wide range of color and models, and are quite commonplace in regular life. One of these sites focussing on rubber boots specifically was 123rubberboots. This website is now defunct but below is one of their pictures showing the general gist of the attention they gave to rubber boots with the model wearing iconic Nokian rainboots.
With the popularity of Hunter boots followed by the general popularity of wellies in the past years, it is easy to confuse people having a fetish for rubber boots with people who just love wearing them. The majority of pictures on social media focusing on rubber boots are just that: pictures of people who love the look of their boots and wear them when the weather requires them to. They are fashionable footwear items and in most cases there are no fetishes involved. For people involved in fetish communities it might be tempting to think everyone has similar feelings, but I would say it is still rather uncommon in general so please refrain from making quick assumptions based on a few pictures someone has posted on social media.
Having a pair of rainboots has become very common in the past decade, and rainboots are available in all sizes, colors and with prices ranging from absurdly expensive to almost too cheap to believe they will last a good downpour. When it starts raining and puddles form in the streets it is normal to see a decent percentage of people switching their footwear to rainboots, something that was rather uncommon in urban settings over a decade ago. For men the easiest choice of rainboots is basic models in dark colors, although in my experience men are a bit hesitant to wear rubber boots, possibly because of an unconscious link it has with the gay and fetish community, or just because men tend to dress more conservative and rubber boots are a step too far. For women rubber boots are a must-have, and often they start with a relatively neutral boot only to add brighter colored ones to match a certain raincoat or outfit. Rainboots are often seen as “cute” and going by the number of pictures of vanilla social media profiles, as in unrelated to a certain fetish, that feature pictures of rainboots they often play an important role in a woman’s outfit on a rainy day.
Unlike some years ago the practical features of rubber boots are starting to play a bigger role again: as soon as the rain falls and fields turn into muddy puddles the rainboots will come out, while in the past it was fashionable to wear a pair of rubber rainboots under a summer dress or skirt. In my view this is a positive development, the waterproofness of rainboots is great in wet weather but on a summer day it will quickly result in uncomfortably warm feet with the accompanying negative side-effects. Rainboots are meant for hiking, muddy trails, and rainy days, not for sunny days or daily wear indoors.
Different brands of rubber boots are popular in different countries, with the French brands Aigle and Le Chemeau doing well in France, the Finnish brand Nokian doing well in the Scandinavian countries, and the British Hunter brand doing well globally including in the USA and Asia. Every brand has slightly different designs and colors available, and with many shops selling worldwide you are not limited to local brands anymore. Several brands have been discussed on this site individually already, so shop around online before deciding which rainboots you would like to own. And as a general advice I would recommend people to start with a neutral boots in a neutral color which makes them a much more versatile addition to your wardrobe. After that you can always pick up a second pair in a more outspoken color or model that is the perfect complement to a certain outfit but would do less with other pieces of your wardrobe.
Just add at least one pair of rainboots to your wardrobe, no matter your gender, you can thank me later on a rainy day when you experience that fashion and functionality can go hand in hand. And who knows, maybe you will find yourself in a rubber suit with a gasmask on soon after your first experiences with rubber boots (joking of course). As always, feel free to share the link to this writing, comment, or send me a message if you disagree with certain things I wrote as I am happy to make adjustments in case I misrepresented something. Also, if you have pictures you would like to share or have featured here, let me know and maybe I can add them to the writing.
- History of the North British Rubber Company (now Hunter)
- Wikipedia on the Wellington boot
- A brief history of rubber boots
- History of the Wellington boot
- The origin of rubber boots
- The history of the wellington boot
- The invention of the wellington boot
- Great Brotosh icons: the wellington boot
- Wikipedia on boot fetishism
- Latexwiki on wellington boots
- Public Privates – Feminist Geographies of Mediated Spaces by Marcia England – 2018
- Fetish: Fashion, Sex & Power by Valerie Steele
- Atomage website