Wellington boots or simply Wellingtons, or "Wellies," are practical boots that have long been worn in many parts of the world. Most are made from rubber or synthetic materials like polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and have sturdy soles, suitable for walking and working. They are generally a little shorter than knee-length and have the advantage of keeping the feet dry in wet or muddy conditions.
The boots are named for the first Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley. In the early 19th century, Wellesley sought to create a modified Hessian boot. These boots were developed in the 18th century, and had decorative tassels on them, but the duke ordered a pair that was closer fitting and without decoration. The first Wellingtons were also made of leather, though leather Wellington boots today would be considered much less common.
In the mid-19th century, shoemakers began to create the shoes from rubber or latex instead, and Wellington boots became particularly popular in France, when Hiram Hutchinson established the company now known as AIGLE, which still makes many popular styles of Wellingtons today. Though initially the English wore the boots as more of a fashion statement, Hutchinson’s company designed Wellingtons for the average working person, and the boots became popular among the French farming population.
Trench warfare during WWI significantly increased demand for the boots and numerous companies began to manufacture them. They continued to remain necessities for many farmers and people working in wet conditions. James Herriot, the noted writer and Yorkshire veterinarian, discusses them often as essential wear for a country vet. By the end of WWII, the boots were not simply for people working in wet conditions, but were thought greatly useful by many people, and companies created them for the general population.
Over the years Wellington boots changed, and styles with round and roomy toe boxes and relatively thick and somewhat flexible soles were preferred. As popularity of the boots grew they also collected a number of different names. Americans may call Wellingtons rubber boots, and they may also be called rubbers, gumboots, and top boots. The name rubber boots may be a little misleading because Americans also give this name to boots that fit over other shoes. Wellies are generally meant to be worn directly over the foot.
Though initially Wellington boots were made in simple colors like dark green or black, this is now no longer the case. Some boots feature bright colors and patterns, and they can certainly be found for all populations. They may also vary in length. A few are only slightly above the ankle, while others extend to the mid-calf or higher.
Materials used to make the boots today vary. Those who have latex allergies should be wary of purchasing rubber boots made of true rubber. Fortunately there are plenty of boots made in alternative waterproof materials that will keep the feet satisfyingly dry.