R.M. Williams Gardener Chelsea Boots – $495
Editor’s Note: Don’t worry. Dappered isn’t going to make a habit out of reviewing $500 boots. But Adam is a personal proponent of the buy less buy better movement (much respect), and he wanted to make the case for arguably the current standard bearer of the Chelsea boot style. For those on a budget, know that he’s got a few reviews of cheaper shoes and boots in the works.
About the Author: Adam Terry is a thirtysomething salesman in the HVAC and hydronics industry. He enjoys bourbon, boots, sneakers, raw denim, and working on his
dad bod father figure.
Reginald Murray Williams could have easily been the source for Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World. It seems that he led a fantastical life, living as a bushman and swagman (a “hobo” to us) before working through the Great Depression to start and grow his company into something profitable and sustainable. Today, R.M. Williams is best known for their well-made Chelsea boots that are crafted in Australia. As with everything, inflation and economics have caused prices to spike over the last few years, moving from ~$300 to almost $500. Are they still worth it at this much higher price tier? Are these worth saving your hard earned bread for? Maybe!
The Adam Review Scale of Excellence (A.R.S.E.)
- 5 – Excellent! No issues and highly recommended.
- 4 – Good. Above average, but not perfect.
- 3 – Average. Minor issues, might be good at the right price.
- 2 – Fair. Below average due to defects, flaws, or imperfections.
- 1 – Poor. Significant issues, not worth purchasing at any price.
- Brand: R.M. Williams
- Style: Chelsea Boot
- Size: 9.5G AUS (10.5 E US)
- Last: Unk.
- Construction: Goodyear Welted, eh?
- Upper: Full-grain oiled “Greasy Kip” (cow)
- Sole: Treaded Rubber Sole
- Details: Round Toe, Flat Heel, Unlined Upper, Braided Tugs
- Extras: N/A
- Country of Origin: Australia, mate!
- Price: $495 USD
The boots (you beauty!) with their brown box.
I purchased this particular pair of Gardener boots from Harrison Limited. They’re a quaint little menswear outpost in the upscale Mountain Brook suburb of Birmingham, AL. I stumbled across their store while on a recent business trip and really fell in love with the store’s old world charm and their fantastic customer service. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend them.
Note: I’ve purchased other pairs of R.M. Williams online through retailers like Nordstrom, J.Crew, and even Mr. Porter. Most of the boots are the same stock, although some are custom make-ups for that particular retailer. As always, keep an eye out for a good discount.
FYI: Harrison Limited has a great 30-day exchange or return policy. As usual, all items must be in like new, resalable condition and in original packaging. Return shipping costs are on you. If you buy direct through R.M. Williams, you’ll get free shipping and free returns and a 30-day window.
Score: 5/5 Stars – Fantastic customer service and a simple return policy. Great!
Wholecut “Greasy Kip” uppers stitched together at the back.
This pair arrived in the standard RMW box that unhinges from the side like some kind of origami. Inside, the boots were loosely wrapped in pumpkin spice orange wrapping paper. That’s about it. Given their price point, I really do ask for a bit more, especially when you consider what other brands like Alden, Grant Stone, and Thursday Boots are doing for the unboxing experience. Shoe trees would be nice, but flannel shoe bags should be required. Throw in a trial sized sample of their house-brand leather conditioner, too, for good measure.
Score: 3/5 Stars – Average unboxing experience. Needs more gravitas for the price.
Fresh out of the box, I really enjoy the overall look and feel of the Gardener boots. They feel solid; you can tell that they’re built well, but they don’t feel like you’re wearing steel toe safety boots or something from the PNW bootmakers. Admittedly, these are my fourth pair of R.M. Williams boots, but my first pair of Gardeners. The major difference being that the Gardeners are a more relaxed, workwear focused style whereas the Craftsman model is the dressy option.
Style wise, I prefer the Gardener model for everyday “smart casual” wear with button-down sport shirts, flannels, polos, khaki chinos, denim, etc. The simple leather upper, rounded toe, and rubber outsole help to shift the overall look towards the casual end of the spectrum. If you plan on pairing your Chelsea boots with a more upscale “business casual” look with spread collar dress shirts, wool dress pants, dress chinos, etc., then I’d opt for the classier Craftsman model with it’s chiseled square toe, low profile leather sole, and finer quality calfskin upper. For what it’s worth, these are by far the most versatile boots in my collection. You really could wear them with just about everything, given the right environment, context, and color aesthetic.
Versatile boots for indoors and out.
The upper on this pair of Gardeners uses a neat shade of brown oiled kip leather. For those of us on the other side of the equator, that’s full-grain cowhide that has been heavily chrome tanned and oiled to be flexible, durable, and water-resistant. The most interesting note about these boots is that RMW uses a wholecut upper, which is very rare for most bootmakers. This single piece of leather is die cut and stitched together at the back of the boot. The single rear seam helps ensure less chance of upper stitching failure and helps keep water out. This “brown” leather leans more towards milk chocolate to my eyes, but I think that’s a good thing. My pair has a minor issue at the toe of the left boot. It looks like the leather puckered during the lasting process. It doesn’t really bother me, as I can’t see it when I’m wearing the boots.
The tonal elastic gores are a welcome addition over contrasting ones that tend to peek out from your pant cuffs. The woven, branded pull-on tugs are stitched into the boots between the front and rear heel lining and not simply tacked onto the back like some brands tend to do. Some people like to cut off the woven tugs on their pairs, but personally I find them handy. The ankle/foot opening is fairly tight. I tend to put my foot into the boots sideways, like a pop-tart sliding into the toaster, and then rotate my foot into the boot as I pull on the woven tugs.
One piece, molded Goodyear welted rubber outsole.
The interior of the boot is half-lined from the ankle backwards, which is kind of odd, but makes sense when you think about your heel slipping down into the boot. The front half of the boot is unlined, save for a piece of heat molded thermoplastic-type fabric at the toe to help maintain its shape over time. At the rear, there’s a molded leatherboard heel stiffener inserted behind the heel cup lining layer. This stiffener also helps protect the heel cup shape, but it’s notably softer and more pliable than a hard plastic heel stiffener. This means the heel cup will break in and mold to your feet instead of remaining hard and uncomfortable. The leather heel pad is nicely branded, but there’s no foam or other manmade squish layer underneath it to be seen (or felt). Your foot sits directly on the thick leather non-removable insole and this little bit of heel leather. Over time, this layer will certainly break in and allow for a more customized fit. Underneath the insole is a fiberglass shank and a layer of granulated cork filler that fills the midsole cavity.
Minor issue at the toe of the left boot.
The rubber outsole is a bespoke treaded “Longhorn” unit that’s both oil and slip resistant. It’s a one-piece molded unit that’s Goodyear welt stitched to the upper assembly with no noticeable midsole to speak of. RMW says there’s a rubber tuck, or thin layer there, but I can’t see that. The heel block is a similar molded unit that looks to be glued in place and nailed in from above. The overall color of the outsole and edge finishing is the same shade of chocolate brown and matches the overall aesthetic of the boot very well. Unlike contrasting soles or welts, these won’t stand out or cause any undue attention with most “smart casual” styles.
Score: 5/5 Stars – Great materials, solid construction, and only one minor complaint.
Comfort, Fit, and Sizing
RMW boots are made to Australian sizing standards, so you’ll need to plan accordingly. They also offer four different width fittings: F (narrow), G (regular), H (wide), and X (extra-wide). For those of you that typically take a standard US “D” fitting, take one full size down from your US Brannock measurement if the sizes are listed in Australian. For example, I normally get fitted to a 10.5 D in US Brannock measurements and take a 9.5 G in Australian fittings. Note that most websites list the AUS sizes, not US sizing, but it may be worth a quick email to confirm.
Behold! The smart-casual Gardener chelsea.
I find the RMW last fitting to be very forgiving, even with my taller than average instep/arches. The Aussie artisans have blocked, or shaped, the upper to have just the right amount of give so that it hugs your foot at the ankle, at the heel, and along the top of the foot. I have no noticeable pressure or pain points to speak of. I can definitely see these being even more comfortable over the next few weeks as I wear them around and everything starts to break in and settle. With my favorite medium weight socks, these feel just about perfect for me.
For size reference, I am a 10.5 D/E on a Brannock device and usually take a 10 D in most roomy dress shoes, including Alden’s Barrie last and Grant Stone’s Leo last. I take a 10.5 E in Allen Edmonds 65 last, as that last runs too narrow for me. I also take a 10.5 in Converse/Vans and an 11 in most Adidas/Nike/Jordan/Yeezy sneakers. Have a size question? Email us!
Score: 5/5 Stars – Generous but comfortable fit. AUS -> US sizing, size down one full size.
I know what you’re probably thinking, “Dang, those look nice but they are really expensive. Are they worth that kind of coin?” For me, yes they are. I find them to be well fitting, comfortable to walk in, and among the most versatile boots in my closet. For me, I think they’re worth the investment and I plan on getting a lot of usage out of them over the next dozen years or so.
Could they be worth it for you? Maybe! If not, that’s OK, too. Perhaps you’re not sold on the value of R.M. Williams or perhaps you’re working with a smaller budget. If that’s the case, here’s an overflowing handful of options that are mostly similar, less expensive, and available to purchase on the internet… should you want to jump feet first into the Chelsea boot market:
- RM Williams via BootsOnline – Gardener Boots, $384. Same boots, shipped from AUS!
- Grant Stone – Chocolate Calf Chelsea Boots, $312
- J.Crew – Kenton Chelsea Boots in Horween CXL, $298
- Tecovas – The Chance Chelsea Boots, $225
- Thursday Boot Co. – Duke Chelsea Boots, $199
- Huckberry – Rhodes Cooper Chelsea Boots, $109 (Sale)
- New Republic – Ventura Leather Chelsea Boots, $83 (Sale)
At the end of the day, I do think R.M. Williams are well made and worth the investment. If you get a chance, check them out for yourself and see what you think. Let us know! Cheers.
Avg. Score: 4.5/5 – Yes, highly recommended. Comfortable, versatile, and worth it.