In this post, I will try to explain the difference in construction of a structured toe box versus an unstructured toe box accompanied with some pics! The brands included in the following pics are: Meermin, Viberg, Alden, Wolverine, Red Wings, Crockett & Jones, and Common Projects.
Shoes typically fall within one of three categories: an unstructured toe box, a partially structured toe box, and a fully structured toe box. It’s probably best to compare within a brand because of the varying lasts (mold/shape) between different brands.
Structured toe boxes typically have a Celastic material, a plastic fabric that is suitable for toe puff material because it is easily shaped during construction, but inflexible once set. Imagine a ping pong ball that you squeeze, but then returns to its original shape. Other common materials used for toe puffs include leather and canvas. The material is placed between the inner lining and the outside material to help maintain its structure. The fine line between between partially structured and fully structured is the rigidity of the toe box material.
The recent trend towards slimmer fits in denim and boots has been quite prominent in the recent years. I myself prefer unstructured toe boxes because I tend to wear my denim with a slimmer opening. However, all toe boxes will compress over time with wear, and the major difference is just how the boots look from the side initially. In addition, shoes with “captoes” have an additional layer of material which also may minimize the shoe creasing.
With some companies such as Viberg, Dayton, and Truman Boot Company offering different toe types, it’s hard to make a choice. If you have a sedentary job such as working indoors in an office, your boots may keep their structure fine over many many years. However, if you work outdoors in harsher environments, you may want a structured toe or even a steel toe. Unstructured toes tend to appear more casual than structured ones.
Some think that a structured toe leads to a “bulbous, clunky toe”. Red Wings one of the boot companies most notorious for this aesthetic has decided to produce a “Flatbox” model in FW2017 very recently (within the last few months) for the Japanese and Singapore markets.
Some companies even have a relatively a slim structured toebox like the Alden Indy Boot, but regardless, everything will flatten with time. Even my Viberg Natural Chromexcel Service Boots from Mr. Porter with a partially structured toe has flattened out a bit (seen in the first picture).
My advice is that you should buy footwear because you love exactly how they are, not because of what you expect to happen to them in 1, 5, or 10 years. Just wear them; the story is told later on when as the boot ages. I adore the look of all my boots as its part of the process of wearing stuff in!
Here are my shoe sizes including some not pictured that I no longer own. I recommend to measure first using a Brannock Device. The order of shoe sizes listed below is very similar to the order I purchased them in with the oldest starting from the top.
My brannock size is 9.5E
Nike Flyknit Chukka/Racer/Trainer: 10
Red Wing Beckman/Iron Ranger: 9D
Alden 403 Indy Boot (Trubalance Last): 9D
Wolverine 1K Mile Addison Boot: 9D
Common Projects Achilles and Derby Shine: Size 42
Alden x Jcrew Shell Cordovan Captoe Boot (Barrie Last): 9D
Oak Street Bootmakers Trench Boot: 9.5D
Viberg 2030 Last: 9
Viberg 2040 Last: 9
Crockett & Jones Islay (365 Last): 8.5UK
Meermin Hiro Last: 8.5UK