Recently, I exchanged email with someone who read boot reviews on my website. He rides a motorcycle and also works in an office like I do, so when he chooses boots to wear while commuting with his motorcycle, he wants the boots to have a good-looking appearance — suitable for office wear. Note, I refrain from saying “business wear,” because I am not talking about a business suit — more like “business casual” wear which is customary nowadays in most U.S. offices. (Thankfully… though I have been a leader in that “trend” long before it became the norm here in the U.S. LOL.)
The guy who wrote to me sent me some comments and a review that he posted about Frye Sutton boots, shown here. In his email…
Stumbled upon your site while researching engineer boots. Bought a pair of Chippewas based on your recommendation, but ended up going with a pair of Frye Suttons instead.
I was intrigued to read the review that he wrote to learn why.
I did a lot of research before buying these boots. First I bought a pair of Harley Ranger boots, and they were junk. They were advertised as riding boots, but when I got them, the tag said they were for “after riding”. In other words, “just for show”. I read a lot of good things about Chippewas, so I also bought a pair of their Street Warrior Engineer boots.
The Chippewas have an 11″ shaft, very basic buckles, and unfinished rough interiors. The leather is soft and has a dull finish, and the shafts flop over when you’re not wearing them. They have very hard soles, which I imagine would make them a bit uncomfortable for walking around in for any length of time. They are also a bit difficult to get on and off due to the rough leather interior which sticks to your socks. When you pull them off, the sock has a tendency to come off with it. The Chippewas are made in America, and are a very good quality boot.
The Fryes have a 9″ shaft, fancy buckles, and a smooth interior. The leather is smooth and shiny like a dress shoe, and the shaft stands upright on its own like a cowboy boot. The soles look to be just as durable as the ones on the Chippewas, but they are significantly more spongy, and are very comfortable right out of the box. The smooth interiors make them easy to slip on and off.
I sent the Chippewas back and kept the Fryes. They are nice enough to wear with a suit, but burly enough to wear riding. I’m knocking a star off for a few reasons: first, they are pretty spendy. Even with the 20% off sale, they were still $250, which is a lot for a product made in Mexico. Secondly, the sizing is off [they run large], and they only offer one width.
I thought this was a fair evaluation and opinion of short Chippewa engineer boots compared with fashion-oriented Frye-brand engineer-style boots.
Yes, short Chippewa engineer boots (model 27863) have the problems identified with an unlined and narrow shaft which makes them hard to pull on and take off. The finish of the boots is oil-tanned, dull black. These bad boys are rugged and not really made for office wear without serious re-treatment of the leather to shine it up. However, they are made in the U.S., and the retail price at US$230 is 2/3 of the retail price of the Fryes (US$348), which are made in Mexico.
However, the biggest failure of the Frye Sutton engineer-style boot (besides in my opinion, being too short to provide adequate ankle protection) is the sole. The Frye’s sole, shown here, is made of composite materials — not hard-core vulcanized rubber which you will find in a Vibram sole used on Chippewa engineer boots.
Unfortunately, I know from personal experience, composite soles are not oil-resistant. Those soles decompose rather quickly upon exposure to regular road hazards — oil, water, salts, mud, and such.
Li & Fung, the Chinese company that owns the Frye brand name, takes short-cuts in specifications for manufacture and uses cheap materials such as composite soles. Then they have the nerve to list the retail price of these boots at $348? Really? For boots made in Mexico using cheap labor and materials? Boots made in Mexico aren’t bad, but they cost less to produce, and therefore should have a significantly lower cost than U.S.-made Chippewas.
That’s why I can’t recommend Frye boots. Cheap materials, short-cuts in manufacture, and pricing based on the value of a well-regarded name that once had meaning when the John A. Frye Shoe Company actually made boots in Massachusetts before selling out. (Read the history of Frye Boots here). Now a Chinese company is laughing all the way to the bank and buyers continue to be duped.
But back to the author’s review — he has a point that dull oil-tanned unlined engineer boots are not that suitable for office wear. So what about 17″ Chippewa “hi-shine” engineer boots (Model 71418)? These boots are classic in appearance. They are tall enough to provide good protection to the ankles and legs, and also have a built-in shine that many motorcycle cops wear. The boots are also lined, so they are easy to pull on and take off.
Also, the standard sole of any Chippewa engineer boot (short or tall) — shown here — is rugged, vulcanized Vibram yellow-plug. The best in the business. While I personally prefer a lug sole, the standard sole of a Chippewa engineer boot is very good as it is.
I know this guy was looking for shorter engineer boots, and he found what to him meets his style requirements. But the Frye boot does not meet the quality production standards that it should, and also enrichens a Chinese company that takes advantage of unenlightened buyers. Caveat emptor still applies.
Life is short: do more research — and don’t buy current/new Frye boots. They aren’t worth the price.