Wellington Boot Definition - Definitions for the Clothing & Footwear Industry

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The Wellington boot, also known as a welly, a wellie, or a gumboot, is a type of boot based upon Hessian boots worn and popularised by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington and fashionable among the British aristocracy in the early 19th century.

The first Duke of Wellington, instructed his shoemaker, Hoby of St. James Street, London, to modify the 18th century Hessian boot. The resulting new boot designed in soft calfskin leather had the trim removed and was cut closer around the leg. It was hard wearing for battle yet comfortable for the evening. The Iron Duke didn't know what he'd started the boot was dubbed the Wellington and the name has stuck ever since.

These boots quickly caught on with patriotic British gentlemen eager to emulate their war hero. Considered fashionable and foppish in the best circles, they remained the main fashion for men through the 1840s. In the 1950s they were more commonly made in the calf high version and in the 1960s they were both superseded by the ankle boot, except for riding.

All these boots were made of leather, however in America, where there was more experimentation in shoemaking, producers were beginning to manufacture with rubber. One such entrepreneur, Mr. Henry Lee Norris, moved to Scotland in search of a suitable site to produce rubber footwear. Having acquired a block of buildings in Edinburgh, known as the Castle Silk Mills, the North British Rubber Company (much, much later to become the Hunter Rubber Company makers of Hunter Rubber Wellington Boots) was registered as a limited liability company in September 1856.

Wellington boots are waterproof and are most often made from rubber or a synthetic equivalent though in their origins they were made of leather. They are usually worn when walking on very wet or muddy ground, or to protect the wearer from industrial chemicals. They are generally about knee-height.

In Britain, there is a light-hearted sport, known as wellie wanging, which involves the throwing of Wellington boots as far as possible. The boots, especially Black Rubber, are also popular fetish items among many people.

The boot has also given its name to the welly boot dance, said to have been performed by miners in Africa to keep their spirits up whilst working. In the 1970s, Scottish comedian Billy Connolly adopted a comical ode to the boot called "The Welly Boot Song" as his theme tune and it became one of his best-known songs.

Wellington boots, though invented in Britain, are very popular in Canada, particularly in springtime, when melting snows leave wet and muddy ground for a couple of months. Children can be seen wearing them to school and taking them to summer camps.

Green Wellingtons are most popular in Britain, while black Wellingtons, particularly with red or green soles, remain the favourite of Canadians. Yellow-soled black Wellingtons are often seen in the US, in addition to Canadian styles. Wellingtons specifically made for cold weather, lined with warm insulating material, are especially popular during Canadian winters.

In New Zealand, where they are called gumboots, they are considered essential foot wear for farmers. Gumboots are often referred to in Kiwi popular culture such as Footrot Flats. In the late 1970s, John Clarke's alter ego Fred Dagg had a hit song with "If it weren't for your Gumboots", a thin reworking of Billy Connolly's original. The farming town of Taihape in New Zealand's North Island proclaims itself "Gumboot capital of the World" and has annual competitions such as Gumboot throwing. Most gumboots are black, but those used in hospitals by operating theatre staff and surgeons are white, and children's sizes come in multiple colors. In some parts of Ireland one can hear older people refer to their Wellington boots as "me topboots", usually black in color, as this was a popular name for Wellingtons in the 1960s.

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