Harrington jackets. Shawl collar cardigans. Great sunglasses. When we think about Steve McQueen’s style, so many iconic pieces immediately come to mind. And when it comes to the King of Cool’s footwear, there’s only one pair of boots that can make the list: his suede Hutton chukkas.
There’s been many a debate over the maker of McQueen’s chukkas (more on that below). But today, most people recognize Hutton of Northampton as the brand he wore in real life and in many of his films. The great news is Hutton has recently reopened its doors and is now offering a new version of one of its most famous boot models: The Playtime!
I had the opportunity to try out the new Playtime in Snuff Suede with the Dark Brown Welt. Has Hutton succeeded in delivering a boot worthy of its heritage? Does this latest version of the Playtime accurately capture the McQueen style we want? Read on to find out!
The Story of McQueen’s Chukkas
To say the history of the iconic Hutton boot design is a complicated would be an understatement. There are plenty of makers out there claiming they have the “Original”. And, not surprisingly, confusion abounds as to who’s right. So here’s what we know is established fact:
- Phillip Hutton opened the Hutton Shoe Company Ltd. in 1933 in Northampton. In 1936, he patented one of his key boot designs, focusing especially on its unique construction with the crepe sole and leather trim or “piping” around the welt. Over the next few decades, Hutton enjoyed great international success with it’s design (then called The Play-boy).
- Of course, Steve McQueen’s love of the boots didn’t hurt the Play-boys popularity. The actor and style icon frequently wore his Huttons in movies and real life, most famously in 1968’s Bullit and The Thomas Crown Affair and the photos of William Claxton. McQueen had a few different styles in his collection (both low top and high top), but seemed to favor a slightly slimmed down version of the Play-boy, which Hutton called the Playtime, with an unlined snuff suede upper and narrower foxing.
- Okay, this is where things get a little messy. Sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s, Hutton rebranded their chukkas as The Original Playboy, most likely in an effort to stave off imitators. But in 1973, facing increasing financial pressure defending its patent, Hutton sold the brand name, lasts and tooling used to make the Playboy to a Swedish company. From that point, manufacturing bounced around from Ireland to Spain and then back to the UK.
- Hutton, no longer making its most famous boot model, finally shut down its operations in Northampton in 1990. As for the Original Playboy chukka, the Swedish firm that bought the rights to that particular design in 1973 went on to sell them to a Danish shoe company in 2005. To the best of my knowledge, that Danish company still owns the Original Playboy name and manufactures their version in Portugal, but doesn’t sell the boots outside Europe.
- Now we jump forward in time to just a few years ago. A gentleman named David Corben, who once worked on the Hutton production line in the 1960s, had held on to the rights to the Hutton Shoe Company name after its factory closed in 1990. Around 2015, David’s son Gary decided to start a shoe company to make the ultimate desert boot. A bit of research by Gary revealed that his father actually owned the Hutton name. Gary immediately seized the opportunity to revive the once great heritage brand. And so, after 25 years, Hutton was back in business and producing it’s first new footwear: the Type 01 Desert Boot.
- A couple of years later, David Corben’s grandson, Thomas Xavier, joined the Hutton team with the specific goal of recreating the iconic Playtime chukka. The team of Gary and Thomas devoted all their efforts to ensure their new iteration of the boot would meet the standards established by the original. In 2021, all the hard work finally paid off and they launched the new Playtime chukka.
Which brings us to today’s review and the all important question: has Hutton succeeded in recreating a classic? Read on to find out!
What I’m loving about the Hutton Playtime Chukkas
It’s what McQueen wore (kind of)
We might as well admit it. If you’re a fan of the King of Cool’s style, there’s a certain geeky pleasure in owning boots from the actual brand he wore. It’s the same sort of satisfaction that comes from owning a Baracuta G9 jacket or Persol PO 714 sunglasses. But there’s one caveat.
There’s no getting around the fact that Hutton has made some changes to the original design. So today’s Playtime is not exactly the same boot that McQueen wore. I’ll get into more detail about whether those changes are good or bad a little later in this review. For now, I just want to highlight a few key differences that really stand out.
About that sole color …
First, the elephant in the room: the color of the sole and foxing. It’s pretty clear that McQueen’s most recognizable Huttons had a black sole and foxing (as can be seen in the famous photo of him from Bullitt with his feet up on the desk). The new Playtime has a natural “blonde” sole and foxing. Now these will certainly darken significantly with age and wear. But it’s highly unlikely they’ll ever turn black.
But there’s also a great deal of uncertainity about how the soles of McQueen’s Bullitt chukkas actually became black. The main issue is that Hutton never made its boots with a black sole. From the 1930s to the early 1970s, they were always blonde crepe. So if McQueen was wearing Huttons in Bullitt (and he almost definitely was), then we have to consider two theories to explain the color change. Either the soles had darkened naturally from McQueen wearing them so much. Or the Bullitt costume department darkened them so the lighter natural color didn’t stand out in the film. Personally, I think the second theory sounds more plausible.
Some other changes
On to the second difference: Hutton now makes the Playtime in Italy rather than in the UK. Personally, I don’t have any issues with this. But it’s a change that might bother some purists.
You won’t notice the third difference just by looking at the boots. But it’s an important one. Hutton has recreated their original Playtime model, not the Play-boy. How do the two models differ? The Playtime has a slightly lower profile over the vamp and the foxing is a little shorter. So it looks a touch sleeker. The Playtime is also unlined. However, the Playtime still has many of the key features we want: the leather beading around the welt, the sweeping stitching around the heel cup and, of course, that great crepe sole and foxing. And yes: McQueen wore both models.
So is the new Playtime a perfect match for McQueen’s chukkas? Not totally. But they do carry the legacy of the Hutton name and they’ve nailed almost all of the important details. As for the natural colored crepe sole, I’m honestly looking forward to seeing how it darkens with wear.
Now that we’ve gone into detail about McQueen’s boots from yesteryear, let’s focus on evaluating Hutton’s current Playtime model. And when it comes to the leather they’ve used, I can keep this simple: it’s amazing!
The suede is thick but supple and has a beautifully rich nape that really makes the Snuff color pop. I mentioned above that Hutton has left the chukka unlined. This needs some clarification. Normally when we think of an unlined suede boot, we imagine a rougher interior with a texture similar to the outer face of the leather (like we see in something like Clark’s desert boots). This is most commonly known as split suede. And it’s not what Hutton uses.
Instead, they’ve gone with a higher quality reverse calf suede that keeps the top grain (the smooth part) of the original leather, but uses that side for the interior of the chukka. It basically looks like a lined boot. However, reverse calf suede is lighter and more flexible while being more durable since we have one thick piece of leather rather than two thinner pieces that have been bonded together. Hutton finishes the Playtime’s interior with another suede patch around the heel cup to help with slippage.
Hutton’s suede really is a thing of beauty and makes the Playtime look and feel like true luxury footwear.
When Phillip Hutton patented his chukka design back in 1936, it was really the unique features of the sole that he wanted to protect. And there’s no denying that it’s the chunky block of planation crepe and wide foxing that gives the boot its distinctive look and character.
Hutton has stayed true to its heritage and continues to use real plantation crepe on the Playtime. And it really doesn’t feel like any other rubber I’ve handled. I have no idea how a material manages to feel stiff and squishy at the same time. But Hutton’s crepe pulls it off. Obviously there’s the question of durability, which I can’t answer until I’ve put some miles on these boots. However, the photos on Hutton’s Instagram account showing various Playtimes after months of wear lead me to believe the soles won’t wear out anytime soon.
What I’m liking about the Hutton Playtime Chukkas
The build of the Playtimes is good. But I’ve have a few small doubts.
We’ll start with what I like. The boots feel absolutely solid in hand and on my feet. Not heavy. Just substantial. And the double row stitching around the heel and where the quarters attach to the vamp is straight, tight and even. So out of the box, the Playtime definitely gives the impression that they’ll stand up to a lot of wear.
It’s the way Hutton attaches the sole that’s causing me a bit of uncertainty. They’ve used a sort of stitch-down construction, sewing the uppers to a bonded fiber mid-sole. The plantation crepe outsole is then cemented to that mid-sole and the foxing is wrapped around the outside and cemented into place. The leather piping that runs around the top of the foxing is stitched in separately.
To be fair, Hutton has some very good reasons for using this construction method. Their experience with the older Playtime models from the 1960s had shown that the use of a stiffer mid-sole and stitching directly into the sole made the chukka very rigid. So the foxing had a tendency to separate at the boot’s flex point. The current construction method dramatically minimizes that issue by making the Playtime more flexible. It also makes the boot lighter, which can be a plus for footwear you plan to wear all day. Lastly, contrary to popular belief, cemented construction can be very durable when it’s done right using high quality adhesives.
It’s also important to note that when it comes to a particular shoe or boot’s durability, only wear over time will really tell the whole story. Considering that the Playtime has been such a passion project for Hutton, I’m certain they did their homework and seriously doubt they would have cut any corners in the manufacturing. And since this is a casual city boot, sacrificing a slightly more rugged, workboot type of construction for the sake of comfort and weight savings was probably the right move.
Let’s get the nuts and bolts out of the way. I’m a pretty standard foot shape, a size 10.5 in most U.S. makes (Allen Edmonds, Alden, Sperry) and typically a 43 in European footwear. I do have a slightly wider foot, D verging on a E and a higher arch.
Hutton uses European sizes for its footwear and recommends going up one size for the Playtimes. So I followed that advice and ordered the 44 (which Hutton converts to a U.S. 10.25 on its size chart). The length is nearly spot-on and the width is great. But the fit is still a touch snug in the forefoot, owing no doubt to the boot’s lower profile across the vamp and my slightly higher volume foot. I imagine the leather will stretch with some wear providing the hair more space I’d like. At the back, my heel feels locked down and secure, with almost no lift. So overall, a very comfortable fit out the box.
However, there is one component of the boot that impacts fit which left me a little less than impressed. Which brings me to …
What I didn’t like about the Hutton Playtime Chukkas
Looking at the Playtime, with its amazing suede up top and unique plantation crepe sole, I have to ask: why did Hutton decide to go with such an anemic footbed? It’s just a flat piece of thin foam covered with leather. There’s no arch support and the bare minimum amount of cushioning. Maybe I was spoiled by the amazing footbed in the Helm Hollis boot. But this one just feels low cost and, well, wrong when the rest of the Playtime is obviously of such high quality.
Is this a make-or-break issue with the chukkas? For me, absolutely not. The footbed is easy to remove so replacing it with a better one requires no effort. I usually have to do that with most of my shoes and boots anyway due to my higher arch. I just wish that the same care and attention to detail Hutton invested in the rest of the Playtime extended to something as simple as the footbed.
At £295.00 (approximately $345.00 U.S. plus shipping), the Playtime is a relatively expensive pair of boots. And so we have to ask: are they worth the investment?
If you’re a fan of the King of Cool’s style, then this is a no-brainer. The Playtime comes incredibly close to what McQueen wore AND it’s made by the brand he preferred. They’re about as authentic as it gets.
But what about if we ignore the McQueen connection and judge the Playtime purely as footwear? When it comes to the reverse calf suede and plantation crepe rubber, Hutton has used the best of the best. The Playtime looks and feels like a luxury boot. I have a few doubts about the construction. But they’re not serious doubts. I understand this is a casual boot that’s built for city use. And I’m 99% sure they’ll be able to handle lots of wear in those conditions. Plus, that cushy sole (combined with a proper footbed) is going to provide plenty of all day comfort.
I think part of the answer will come down whether or not you like this style of chukka. That “bumper” foxing gives them a very unique, chunky look that may not be for everyone. Personally, I love it. Yes, it’s different. But looking back at the photos of McQueen wearing his Huttons with a variety of fits, we can also see that it’s a very versatile design. From a Bullitt inspired sport coat and grey trousers business casual look to a cardigan and chinos weekend style, the Playtimes can do it all. For me, the combination of excellent materials, comfort, versatility and that elusive “cool” factor makes them worth the money.
You can purchase the Playtime Chukkas directly from Hutton for £295.00 (approximately $345.00 U.S. plus shipping). And if you sign up for their VIP program, you’ll receive 10% off your purchase. Just note that Hutton is starting to run low on sizes and it can take some time before they restock.
Some of the information used in this review was sourced from Gozovation, Shoegazing, Spiff Magazine, The Weejun, and the Badger & Blade and Styleforum forums. Hutton provided the author with a pair of Playtimes at no charge for the purposes of this review.