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The Story Behind – Desert Boots

Written by: Robert Charlton | January 13, 2015.

The Desert boot was once recognized as one of the ‘Fifty Shoes That Changed The World’ by the Design Museum and its ever present nature in fashion means that it is still a menswear favourite more than 60 years after it was first designed.

suede chukkas

Here you’ll discover more about its origins and see the best modern interpretations of a stylish shoe which can be worn all year round.  

desert boot historyMany designer brands make this style of shoe these days but it is widely accepted that the original desert boot was created by Clarks Originals in 1949. Nathan Clark was the great-grandson to one of the founders of the company and in 1941 he left his duty of running the company with his brother to protect his country during the war. He set off on his military expedition in Burma and hoped to simultaneously discover some enterprising new footwear designs. It wasn’t long before he found inspiration from the sandy coloured boots his peers were wearing during their downtime and by 1949 he had designed his own boot with the same simple appearance and extreme comfort as those he had discovered. He first unveiled the shoe at the Chicago Shoe Fair the next year and the rest, as they say, is history- it is now one of their most iconic shoes.

Origins

Desert Boot- The term originates from the aforementioned soldiers who would wear them for action in desert terrain. Their footwear would fail them and so they wanted something which had a good level of grip and was light enough not to fatigue them too much. Before Nathan Clark’s creation the South African army are said to have commissioned Egyptian cobblers to make a variation of it. 

Chukka Boot– a chukka is a period of play in the game of polo and it became a popular shoe for those involved in it. The British Armed Forces referred to their footwear for the World War II desert campaign as a chukka boot.

The desert boot has been made using a variety of methods, materials and styles since those early days and although traditionally and most commonly it will be made from suede, it isn’t unusual to find them made in plastic blends, polished leather and even snake or crocodile skins. It originally features a crepe rubber sole for comfort and grip but you might find others have been adapted these days for the winter by using heavier alternatives. One final distinctive feature you can expect to find is the inclusion of just four eyelets for lacing, contributing to the minimalistic appearance of the shoe.

chukka boot being made

Did you know? 

The crepe sole has remained an essential feature not only because it looks and feels good; but also due to the fact it is shock absorbent, water-repellent and also- crucial in the modern day- it is sustainable and natural.

History in fashion

Steve-McQueen-Desert-Boots1It is estimated that more than ten million of pairs of Clarks’ desert boots alone have sold since their inception and it is a shoe which has become associated with many different eras and youth subcultures in fashion. In the 60s they were a mod favourite and in the 70s they were popular with rockers. Many famous faces wore them and back in the day the likes of Steve McQueen and The Beatles helped give the boot a relaxed, fashionable image. By the 90s, Liam Gallagher wore them so religiously that he collaborated to release a pair of his own with Clarks, before eventually releasing his own through his Pretty Green label.

Tips:

These days you can get away with wearing the desert boots with whatever you like, be it jeans, a suit or chinos- smart or casual- they are easy-going and forever stylish. As a rule of thumb it is best to wear the desert boot with a contrasting colour and whilst  they are perfect for nights out and everyday wear too you will need to take some simple steps to stop them from getting ruined by rain, spills and other classic mishaps. Simply apply some suede protector- available at any good shoe store and you won’t have to worry about any of these unfortunate circumstances ruining yours. Plus, it’s a good idea not to store these in direct sunlight as the colour will fade.

desert boot

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