Chukka boot

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Clarks Desert boots

Chukka boots, desert boots or turf boots are ankle-length boots with two or three pairs of eyelets for lacing.[1]They are usually made from calfskin or suede,[1] although they have also been made from more exotic materials such as crocodile.[2] They were popular in the late 1940s and 1950s as casual wear.[3][4] The name chukka comes from the game of polo, where a "chukka" is a period of play.[3] A form of chukka boots worn by British forces in the Western Desert Campaign of World War II are desert boots.[3][5] Desert boots have a crepe rubber sole.[4]

The Desert Boot was designed by Nathan Clark (great-grandson of James Clark - one of the two founders of C&J Clark Ltd.). Officially launched in 1950 by Clarks the Desert Boot is a very distinctive chukka with only two sets of eyelets, crepe sole and usually made out of calf suede leather traditionally supplied by Charles F Stead & Co tannery in Leeds..

Nathan Clark was an officer in the Royal Army Service Corps posted to Burma in 1941 with orders to help establish a supply route from Rangoon to the Chinese forces at Chongqing whilst also launching a series of offensives throughout South East Asia. Before leaving home his brother Bancroft had given him the mission to gather any information on footwear that might be of use to the company whilst he was travelling the world. The Desert Boot was the result of this mission.

His discovery of the Desert Boot was made either at Staff College in 1944 or on leave in Kashmir where three divisions of the old Eighth Army (transferred to the Far East from North Africa) were wearing ankle high suede boots manufactured in the bazaars of Cairo. Nathan sent sketches and rough patterns back to Somerset, but no trials were made until after he returned to Street and cut the patterns himself.

The Desert Boot was cut on the men’s Guernsey Sandal last and sampled in a neutral beige-grey 2mm chrome bend split suede. The company’s Stock Committee reacted badly to the sample and dismissed the idea as it ‘would never sell’. It was only in his capacity as Overseas Development Manager that Nathan had any success with the shoe after introducing it to Oskar Schoefler (Fashion Editor, Esquire) at the Chicago Shoe Fair in 1949. He gave them substantial editorial credits with colour photographs in Esquire in early 1950. Bronson Davies subsequently saw these articles and applied to represent the company in selling them across the USA, long before they were available in the UK. The Desert Boot was initially sold in Britain through shops in Regent Street, featuring a Union Jack sewn into the label, targeted at tourists. Lance Clark is widely credited with popularising them in Europe during the 1960s.

The Desert Boot have been manufactured at Shepton Mallet, small scale production having initially occurred at Street. During the course of time, Whitecross factory in Weston-Super-Mare was subcontracted to relieve Shepton factory of the manufacture of the Desert Boot, before the Bushacre factory at Locking Road, Weston-Super-Mare was constructed in 1958. The Desert Boot was manufactured there until closure of the factory in 2001. As for the rest of the Clarks range, the Desert Boots are now produced in the Far East under careful supervision to assure the quality, look and feel are absolutely consistent with the original vision of Nathan Clark at a democratic price in line with the Quaker values of the family.

The year was 1941, and the soldier, well he wasn't just any infantryman, he was Nathan Clark, and he'd been sent to war with two missions. First and foremost to protect his country, and, secondly, to discover some new shoe designs for his family's company. As a member of the Eighth Army, Clark had been deployed to Burma, and it was here that he noticed that the officers in his formation were wearing these strange, sand colored chukkas during their downtime. Clark investigated the shoes and learned that they had originally been commissioned to Cairo cobblers by South African soldiers whose old-military issue boots had failed them out on the desert terrain. They wanted something that was both lightweight and grippy which led to creation of a boot with a suede upper on a crepe sole.

—Jake Gallagher, GQ Magazine, August 15, 2012[6]


  1. ^ a b Durkin Matthes, Betsy (2006). Dressing the Man You Love. Peter's Pride Publishing. p. 259. ISBN 0-9773878-3-6. 
  2. ^ "Charity, and Crocodile Chukka Boots". New York Times. November 30, 1988. .
  3. ^ a b c Woolnough, Richard (2008-01-01). The A to Z Book of Menswear. Bermuda: Bespoke Solutions. p. 72. ISBN 1-897403-25-9. 
  4. ^ a b Miles, Shirley (1989). American Costume, 1915-1970: A Source Book for the Stage Costumer. Indiana University Press. p. 186. ISBN 0-253-20543-3. 
  5. ^ Johnston, Mark (2007). The Australian Army in World War II. Osprey Publishing. p. 54. ISBN 1-84603-123-0. 
  6. ^ Gallagher, Jake (August 15, 2012). "Dropping Knowledge: The Desert Boot". GQ Magazine.