R.M. Williams Craftsman: A Yankee Perspective
The R.M. Williams Craftsman offers an absolute classic design, with sneaker-like comfort (at least in Comfort form).
LVMH-inspired price structure means they don’t come cheap, and sizing can be difficult and expensive to nail down.
|Size||11 G (U.S. 12 D equivalent)|
|Weight||702 g / 1 lb 8.7 oz|
|Materials||Yearling Leather / Rubber Outsole|
|Country of Origin||Australia|
The R.M. Williams Craftsman is one of those boots that has taken on a life beyond simply being something stylish to cover your foot. Take it from the footwear-reviewing-community’s resident Australian, Nick from Stridewise, who describes it as a “true blue icon of Australiana.” It’s seen as the shoe that rough and tumble Australian men wear, or men in suits who want to pretend they are. Talking to some Aussies, they wax lyrical about them the same way Texans talk about cowboy boots.
That isn’t all there is to R.M Williams. Despite the image they may want to portray, these boots are clearly designed as luxury items. In fact, maybe the most famous luxury brand company in the world – LVMH – owned them up until very recently (ownership they shared with Hugh Jackman). LVMH is a brand known for soft leathers and high prices, not rugged items at affordable prices. R.M. Williams has since been sold to an Australian investment firm, though no changes to the boot or it’s price have been made yet.
So, which is it? Are these the Australian everyman’s icon, a working class hero that transcends social class? Or will they shed their origin, and become a high-end luxury good designed to display status over quality?
Let’s dig a bit deeper and find out.
When it comes to the upper, there really isn’t much to it. The entire upper of the R.M. Williams Craftsman made up of a single piece of leather – Chestnut Brown in this case. This is a lot more impressive than it sounds.
Getting a single piece of leather to conform to the last is nearly impossible. Leather can only stretch so far without extreme care. Even extremely well-respected brands – such as Carmina, John Lobb, and Edward Green – build the uppers out of multiple pieces of leather, typically sewn under the gusset. It also means R.M. Williams needs to find a piece of leather with no blemishes large enough to make the shoe.
Of course, the leather does need to meet somewhere, and at the back of the shoe is a line of stitching done in a lighter shade of brown. Some decorative stitches run alongside. The only other style design on the upper is the brown elastic gussets along the ankle. R.M. Williams does a good job getting them to match as much as possible on the Chestnut, though on other colors you can find some contrast if that is more your style.
Inside, a black rubber heel pad is glued onto a red padded insole. The boot is lined both front and rear, with the back being covered in the same leather as the upper, and a tan deerskin liner up front.
The only “accessory” (if you can call them that) are two pull taps at the top of the boot. One labeled “R.M. Williams” and “Made in Australia.” The other lists their address – 5 Percy St, Prospect Australia.
It’s also worth noting that the upper of the R.M. Williams Comfort Craftsman is actually slightly taller throughout compared to the Classic Craftsman to accommodate the padded insole. Not by much, but you can tell the difference.
If the upper on the R.M. Williams Craftsman is slightly different with the Comfort version, the outsole is where it really changes. The Comfort uses a rubber outsole, connected to a leather welt and heel block. The outsole it self is pretty thin as far as boots go, but that is part of the style.
The entire midsole and outsole are all stained to match the upper on this model. It is also cut fairly close for a goodyear welt – a classic Chelsea design.
Fit & Comfort:
First thing’s first: the R.M. Williams Craftsman uses Australian sizing. The number size is similar to U.K. sizing – or 1 full size off from American sizing – and the widths start with “G” as a normal width and go up and down from there. That means this 11 G pair can be thought of as a 12 D in American shoe sizing.
If you’re buying from an American stockist, be sure to check which system they use. Some convert to the American sizing on their website and some don’t.
As for the sizing once converted, these boots are definitely on the narrow side. This narrowness is further accentuated by the chiseled toe of the Craftsman. I actually tried a number a sizes and wasn’t able to get any of them to fit – 11 G was too tight in the toes, 11.5 G was too long, and the 11 H was too loose in the heel. This is definitely a pair of shoes you want to try on before you lock in your purchase.
If there is one saving grace, the leather is incredibly soft and pliant on these. If you are slightly too small, they will provide some give and stretch within reason. Just be careful of toe overhang.
Thankfully for me, I also tried a pair of the Turnouts and they fit perfectly in an 11 G. I’ll be keeping that pair. For reference, I take a size 12 in most stitched footwear. Click here for a list of sizing in all the shoes reviewed on the site.
The R.M. Williams Craftsman in classic form is notoriously uncomfortable, but the Comfort version changes all of that. The soft foam insole and soft rubber outsole combine together to give you a lot of padding underfoot. When combined with the incredibly soft and stretchy upper, it feels like no other boot I’ve worn.
Honestly, while it isn’t completely the same, I’d say it might be closer to a sneaker with a knit upper and foam outsole. Think Adidas’ Ultraboost with a bit less padding, instead of Alden Indy with more. This also means it’s less supportive and stable than you might be used to if you own boots from other brands.
It’s an odd experience. As someone who also keeps sneakers in their rotation, I don’t mind it at all – in fact I welcome having an option that gives a plush ride when I can’t wear sneakers – but you might not like it.
I also wonder about the durability of the padded insole. It is glued down, so replacing it will not be easy. I’ll be sure to update when these hit 100 wears, but if you own a pair leave a comment below on how the insole padding has held up.
Materials & Construction:
The upper of this pair of R.M. Williams Craftsman is made from their “yearling leather.” This leather comes from a cow that is older than what is used to make calf leather, but younger than cows used to make cowhide leather. In general, about one year old.
The idea is that is splits the difference between the softness and tight creasing of calf, and the durability of cowhide. This leather does tend to hold up very well, and as mentioned elsewhere it is incredibly soft, but I do find that the creasing might get the bad parts of both. There are big creases and lots of them, even after just trying them on.
The interior leather is the same yearling in the back, with what feels like deer hide up front. The gussets are made from rubber and polyester – which is typical on this sort of thing.
The insole of the shoe is an open celled foam, similar to Ortholite, but a bit thicker than what you might see in something like a Stan Smith. The foam itself is topped with a very thin layer of leather, and a rubber heel pad.
The outsole is made of rubber, with leatherboard heel stacks. In between the insole and outsole, a thin layer of cork will help the shoe shape to your foot, and a fiberglass shank will provide support. As someone who regularly needs to go through metal detectors, this is a huge benefit – something I wish other companies would consider offering as an option.
The R.M. Williams Craftsman line is made with 270-degree goodyear welt construction. We go more into what that means here, but in short, a strip of leather (known as a welt) is sewn to the upper. That same piece of leather is sewn to the outsole. This style of construction allows for easy resoles, and for many is considered the best type of construction.
Ease of Care:
The care regimen for the R.M. Williams Craftsman is going to be the same as most other high-end shoes and boots. You’ll want to be sure to condition the leather every 4 to 6 months depending on wear. I always suggest Bick 4, I found that it does as good a job as any and is generally more affordable than the other brands, but you can also use Venetian Shoe Cream, or R.M. William’s own product.
After you condition, you can apply some polish to these boots. This type of leather will take the polish, though the deep creasing might not look the best with it. For me, I’d avoid it unless you’re using a black pair at an important meeting. And only do that if you’re Australian.
When it comes time to replace the sole, thanks to their goodyear welt construction you can do that just about anywhere. Your local cobbler should be able to get a new sole on there for anywhere from $75 to $125, though if you want, R.M. Williams will do it for $165.
The other thing to be aware of is the elastic gussets can stretch out, harming the fit and looking pretty bad. Replacing these is part of typical maintenance on a Chelsea boot. R.M. Williams will do this too – for $140 more during the resole (!) – but your local cobbler can do it as well for a lot, lot less. Figure on around $50 to $80.
Pricing & Value:
Speaking of price, this is probably the most LVHM part about the R.M. Williams Craftsman. A little over a decade ago, these boots retailed for around $275 Australian, or around $225 USD. Accounting for inflation, that gives a price of around $310 dollars. According to old threads on styleform, finding them for $175 ($240 inflation adjusted) was not unheard of.
Once LVHM took over, they raised the price of the boots by $100 or $50 every other year, and they now cost $495 at MSRP. To be fair, that is in line with most of their competitors. Oak Street Bootmaker’s version comes in at $486, and the Carmina version is $525. There are some value options, including Grant Stone’s Chelsea for $292, and Taylor Stitch’s Ranch Boot for $348.
It is still fairly easy to find them on sale. Believe it or not, the best place is often Amazon. When I purchased these, Amazon (through their subsidiary Shopbop) had the Craftsmen on sale (Comfort and Classic) for $395, and the Turnout in Comfort for $349. At time of writing, they have gone back to MSRP, but price tracking shows that they drop fairly regularly.
[UPDATE Jan. 2022: R.M. Williams seems to have ended their contracts with all the independent Australian-based retailers, focusing entirely on a direct to consumer model. The U.S. retailers (Bloomingdales, Shopbop, etc.) appear to still be able to sell.]
Another option is to check the Australian website Boots Online. They have some great prices at all times – $330 USD for the Comfort Craftsman – but charge $50 in shipping to North America so they are slightly more than Amazon on sale. Also, with the sizing on these, I strongly suggest only buying from here if you already know your size or you’re also going to be on the hook sending them back down under.
That level of price increase is a tough pill to swallow. Especially when most people say the quality has gone down over that same timeframe – even if only slightly.
Then again, when you take a step back, the pricing – at least when on sale – isn’t all that unreasonable. Some of it is in the special touches you get – like that one piece upper – which are hard to find anywhere. Some is in the novelty of getting an Australian-made shoe. And, some of it is getting the classic: if you want the gunboat, you get an Alden 975. If you want the Service Boot, you get a Viberg Service Boot. And if you want the Chelsea, you get the R.M. Williams Craftsman.
Or maybe the Turnout.
At the beginning we asked: is the R.M. Williams Craftsman a shoe for the working man anymore? Or has the company become another toy for the wealthy to play with?
For the most part, the product lives up to the hype. There are a number of features hard to find elsewhere – the single piece upper, yearling leather, etc. – and the design is tried and true. Taking price out of the equation, the boot is everything the marketing has led you to believe it is.
Really, the only thing that would cause me to hesitate to recommend this to anyone (at least anyone who fits into the boot) is the overall pricing. While it isn’t out of step with its competitors, at MSRP it’s hard to say it provides stellar value. Thankfully, with options on Amazon
or from Australia, there are ways to mitigate this and get you into a pair at a much more reasonable level.