Wearing kilties can be a nod to tradition and practicality, or it can simply be a style choice.
A kiltie adds a little extra protection, and also a little extra style, offering you peace of mind for those tougher jobs, as well as the added benefit of looking good while you’re working.
Whether you’re strolling through urban streets or exploring the great outdoors, kilties serve as a versatile accessory, offering a unique blend of style and utility. Let’s take a look at why people wear them and where you can buy a quality pair.
What Is a Boot Kiltie?
In its most basic form, a kiltie is a strip of leather covering the tongue of your boot to add an extra layer of protection. If you think of a kiltie as a false tongue (another name for them), you can get a mental picture of how they work.
Kilties are classically seen on logger boots because, if you’re out in the woods chopping trees, it’s completely possible for a sharp branch or root to impale the front of your boot—its weakest point.
I’ve never heard of the sole of a boot being punctured by a branch or root, though it’s not impossible. But the tongue of your boot can’t be stiff and solid like a soul, as it has to be accessible in order to get your boots on.
To reduce the chance of injury and also to just generally protect the softer gusset part of a boot, a shaped piece of leather (the kiltie) is tied over the tongue of the boot using your bootlace. It’s a simple yet elegant solution to a problem, and you also get the added benefit of being able to swap out the kiltie if you’re working in an environment that doesn’t need them.
Why Do People Wear Kilties?
1. Enhanced Protection
The primary benefit of a kiltie is what it was originally designed for: protection.
Your boots may be rugged, hard-working, and as tough as old boots, if you’ll excuse the pun, but they have a weak spot.
The tongue at the front is the vulnerable point, so a kiltie adds protection where it’s needed, without impacting flexibility.
The tongue is the vulnerable point at the front of the boot, so a kiltie adds protection where it’s needed, without limiting flexibility.
Anything from debris, muck, mud, and razor-sharp shards of wood can penetrate the front of your boot through this soft spot. But the gusset has to be soft enough to be pliable and thin enough to be comfortable while on your foot.
A kiltie maintains all of these characteristics, with the added benefit of even more protective covering. Usually made with thick, full-grain leather, a kiltie can and will take a beating.
2. Reduce Wear And Tear On Boots
Anything that increases the lifespan of your boots is a good thing, right?
Since the tongue of your boot is usually the softest area, it can become frayed, the leather can begin to wear, and the tongue can look tatty over time.
A kiltie can prevent damage to your boots and thus increase their lifespan. Whether by design or by chance, a kiltie keeps out a lot of the daily grime a work boot encounters, water, mud, and anything else you come into contact with.
Brushing and regular maintenance are critical to a boot’s longevity, but the tongue area is notoriously tricky to keep completely clean. I’ve found that adding a kiltie is one of the best ways to combat this.
The thick leather is excellent at keeping out grime and adds an extra layer to the tongue, which can really slow down the wear and tear.
Given that you might wear your boots often, especially if you work in them, they can take serious abuse over time. A kiltie will take the brunt of that abuse, and you can simply remove it to clean and condition it, hassle-free.
3. Kilties Are Simple to Attach and Replace
If you can tie a shoelace, you can attach a kiltie. The less effort they take to use and switch over, the better.
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While that may not sound important, in practice, it can become quite significant. If it’s easy to take on and off, you’re more likely to switch things up and get greater variety and functionality from your footwear.
For example, you may prefer to wear a kiltie while working, but leave them off for more casual wearing. You’ve now got the potential to have the same pair of boots with double the functionality.
You can switch things up easily with a new pair of kilties if you want to keep your boot style looking fresh. It only takes as long as removing your laces and re-lacing them once your kiltie is in place, and away you go.
Here’s a useful guide to lacing up a boot with a kiltie to make sure it stays in place and you get maximum comfort and stability when wearing your fully accessorized boots.
You’ll find that the better you lace up your boots, the less your feet will ache. Once you’ve found the method that suits the shape of your feet, you shouldn’t even notice your boots are tied.
4. Laces Feel More Comfortable
If you find the bridge of your foot sometimes aches after wearing your boots for long periods, it could be the laces are too tight or not quite in the proper position. Poorly tied boots can cause pain, but it’s often the last area you’ll check to see if a boot feels uncomfortable, so you may not even realize the cause.
A kiltie between the tongue of your boot and your laces acts as a perfect barrier and will distribute the pull of the laces over itself rather than your foot. If you often feel aching in the top of your feet, this could be a game changer.
A simple add-on like a kiltie could potentially save you some major discomfort, particularly if you’re prone to tying your boots up really tight. The extra padding works wonders.
5. They Actually Look Quite Smart
If you’ve never seen a kiltie on a boot, you’ll be surprised at how noticeably smarter the boot looks. A functional add-on needn’t be ugly.
What’s wrong with being functional and looking good at the same time?
A kiltie won’t detract from your boots’ regular look, and for a minimal cost could smarten your old boots up. There are several kiltie styles to choose from, and regardless of what type of boot you wear, you can really add a fresh new look to your footwear.
6. Can Be Easily Modified at Home
If you find your boot kiltie is a bit frayed or it’s simply beginning to show its age, it doesn’t mean you have to throw it away. You can easily modify kilties at home to extend their lifespan.
Simply trim a little off the bottom of the kiltie to give it a nice clean line to it, and it can give your boot a whole new lease on life.
3 Types of Boot Kilties
There are three main types of boot kilties, though all do precisely the same job, and the design differences are purely aesthetic. Strangely, considering there’s only so much cutting and design work you can do to a kiltie, the designs are noticeably different.
Your choice of kiltie will usually come down to personal preference, depending on the look you’re after:
- Logger kilties: The most common of the three types of kiltie, with a jagged cut to it very similar to a saw blade. A classic look that’s been around for almost as long as the kiltie itself
- Packer Kilties: Very similar to the logger, except it has incisions further into the leather. The jagged edge is still noticeable, but the style looks a bit more dressy than functional.
- Casual/heritage Kilties: Has a rounded edge and blends in almost seamlessly with your boot, truly like a ‘false tongue.’ It’s the most subtle style of the three kiltie shapes.
Where to Buy a Replacement Boot Kiltie
My go-to for boot kilties is Dale’s Leatherworks. They have tons of different leather and style options available, so this is really the best place to get the perfect match (or a cool contrast) for your boots.
Dale's Leatherworks carries the best selection of premium kilties I've ever seen. They offer a range of Horween, C.F. Stead, Badalassi Carlo, Maryam, and Shinki leathers for their kilties, which no one else is doing. Plus, you can choose between standard, jagged, or a blind kiltie.
Nicks Handmade Boots also offers some reasonably priced kilties, and the selection available is solid. As well as various styles and colors available, Nicks offers two sizes of kiltie, the standard 7” kiltie and the longer 11” logger boot kiltie.
Nicks kilties are the go-to for all makes of boots you have. They have a unique shape and provide an extra cushion to keep the tongue protected from laces and elements.
How do you install a kiltie?
You can lay the kiltie in position onto the vamp of your boot and then lace up your boot over it, or you can use the holes in the kiltie to thread your laces through to hold the kiltie in place once you’ve re-laced your boots.
What is a false tongue?
A false tongue is another term for a kiltie, and both terms are interchangeable. The tongue on your boots is overlaid with the false tongue in order to protect your foot from being injured at the weakest point of your boot, or to enhance the style and aesthetic.
Where do kilties originate?
The kiltie is hundreds of years old, first developed in Scotland, potentially as long ago as 1457. Since shoes were worn both indoors and outdoors at the time, kilties were designed to try and protect the shoes of the gentry from the elements when walking outside. Due to their Scottish beginnings, the term kiltie seems to most likely be in reference to their use alongside a kilt.