In the past five years wellies have made the transition from utility item to desirable fashion accessory.
Gone are the days when the boots were only used for herding animals on a mucky farm. They are now part of many city slickers’ wardrobes, and come in colours and styles that match their owners’ handbags.
Hunter, the old-school boot maker and choice of the country set, now makes boots in pink, purple, turquoise and gold, and has teamed up with designer Jimmy Choo to create wellies worthy of celebrities and fashionista’s up and down the land.
Retailers say that Britain’s festival culture is behind the rise in popularity of gumboots. Hannah Irons, Website Administrator at Wellieboots.com, believes Glastonbury 2005 was a turning point.
She told WNOL: “People saw pictures of Kate Moss looking glamorous in a pair of wellies and hotpants and decided that they could be cool.”
Only for women
However, if British women were inspired by Kate Moss, it seems that men have been influenced by her then-boyfriend Pete Doherty –who was pictured with Moss at the festival wading through muck in his loafers.
Sales of the new generation of trendy wellies have taken off with one sex only. A spokesperson for Funky Wellington Boots said that ninety percent of their customers are female and some companies, such as WedgeWelly, only make boots for women.
Neil Bawdon, Managing Director of boot retailer Jileon, says that most of the new designs are too loud, colourful and feminine to be worn by men.
And Hannah Irons believes that the failure to interest men in buying gumboots is a result of the fashion industry, “which is always geared more towards women than men”.
Certainly, many men still need convincing that boots can be worn in the city.
At High Street Kensington Tube Station, I ask a smartly dressed commuter whether he would ever consider exchanging his pointy leather shoes for a pair of wellington boots.
He immediately dismissed the idea, and said: “Rubber boots are for the country. They make me think of planting potatoes.”
Trying out a new trend
Personally, I rarely see the point in wellies when you can always dry your shoes on the heater once you get home.
But on the off chance that I might be converted and become the pioneer of a new trend in men’s footwear, I decide to see what Harrods has to offer men who do are about the well-being of their feet.
Sure enough, the once-staid outdoor clothing department has been rejuvenated.
Red, pink, purple and turquoise boots now glisten on the shelves. When I ask about the most popular designs for men, however, I am presented with a pair of the plain black boots of old.
Not having worn wellies since I was child, it is quite a novelty to bounce around on flexible rubber soles. When I turn to the mirror, however, I look as though I am either on my way to milk the cows or clean up a hazardous chemical accident.
What is more, when I try to tuck my jeans into the boots, they won’t fit and half the length of my trousers bunches up at the top of the boots. When I let them hang down, all that is left of the boots is the shapeless bubble that contains my toes.
If they ever want to make boots fashionable for men, I decide that manufacturers at least need to make pairs that are compatible with men’s clothing, and not just girl’s skinny jeans and skirts.
But maybe I am wrong.
On my way home, I see a young couple –she in wellies, he in trainers- and believe that I have found the right people to explain why boots are popular with one sex only. But when I ask, the boy explains that the only reason he is not wearing boots too is because he has not got around to buying a pair yet.
And according to the sales assistant at Harrods, the department store has recently received a delivery of boots including some coloured ones in larger sizes, suggesting that the buyers believe they will be popular with male customers.
Who knows? Maybe by this summer Pete Doherty will be seen squelching through the fields at Glastonbury in a pair of pink and purple patterned wellies.
By Nicholas Hamilton