Style Defined: The Desert Boot

Desert Boot History and Definition - He Spoke Style

Desert Boot History and Definition - He Spoke Style

Desert Boot History and Definition - He Spoke Style

Desert Boot History and Definition - He Spoke Style

Desert Boot History and Definition - He Spoke Style

Desert Boot History and Definition - He Spoke Style

Desert Boot History and Definition - He Spoke Style

Desert Boot History and Definition - He Spoke Style

A global footwear icon, the desert boot is the quintessential “dress casual” (or “sharp casual“) shoe. Here’s a short historical primer as well as some desert boot style tips.

Desert Boot History and Definition - He Spoke Style

Desert Boot History

The story of the desert boot begins with the story of Nathan Clark. In 1941 while stationed in Burma as a member of the British Army, Clark noticed some of the officers in his outfit wearing some interesting and comfortable-looking ankle boots during off-duty hours.

He discovered that those boots came from Cairo’s Khan elKhalili bazaar and had been commissioned by British Eighth Army officers as a replacement for their issued boots, since they couldn’t hold up to the harsh desert conditions. These boots were based on the South African veldskoen.

The story of the desert boot begins with the story of Nathan Clark

Inspired by the design, Clark created prototypes out of newsprint and sent them back to England, convinced they would augment the offerings of his family’s shoe business.

Upon returning to England, Clark began to experiment with materials for his new boot design. He settled on suede for the upper – most men’s shoes of the day were made of stiff leather – and used crepe rubber for the sole.

Clark unveiled his desert boot at the 1949 Chicago Shoe Fair. The simple silhouette and unusual crepe sole captivated style editors, who wrote rave reviews of the new design. Since then, the Clarks desert boot has gone on to become a true global footwear icon.

Desert Boot History and Definition - He Spoke Style

Desert Boot V. Chukka Boot

What’s the difference between desert boots and chukka boots? Two things. First, a desert boot has a suede upper. And second, a desert boot has a crepe sole. Now, Clarks has a few leather desert boot options, but when you define a category of footwear, you can make the rules.

Desert Boot History and Definition - He Spoke Style

| WEARING | Blazer c/o Reiss, J.Crew sweater and jeans, Michael Andrews Bespoke shirt, Filson briefcase, Oliver Peoples sunglasses, Drakes tie, Watch c/o Uniform Wares, Sand suede desert boots c/o Clarks | PHOTOGRAPHY | by Rob McIver Photo

Desert Boot Style Advice

HSS Style Advice: Aside from being a global icon, the original Clarks desert boot is stylish and extremely affordable. Chose one in a light, neutral suede as I’ve styled here, or a classic brown leather. Either one can be easily dressed up or dressed down.

Desert boots pair effortlessly with denim. It’s almost like they were made for each other. With a well-worn pair of jeans, they’re your casual go-to. And styled with slim dark denim and a blazer, they’re dressed up enough for a casual Friday at the office.

Desert Boot History and Definition - He Spoke Style

For a slightly different look, wear them with a pair of neutral corduroys. For fall, I like dark brown or slate gray. It’s a somewhat dressier take than pairing with denim, but keeps some of that “rugged elegance.” Plus, suede and corduroy – don’t forget that fall texture!

Thanks for reading.

Stylishly Yours,

Brian Sacawa
He Spoke Style

Menswear history buff? Read more of our Style Defined series and explore the Glossary.

In partnership with Clarks. The opinions expressed herein are mine alone and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Clarks.

Recommended

Chime In

  • http://www.getyourbronon.com/ James Brown

    you can’t beat Clarks Desert Boots, this colourway is nice too.

    James | http://www.getyourbronon.com

    • http://hespokestyle.com/ Brian Sacawa

      I really like the sand suede color as well. Thanks for the comment, James.

  • MNuta

    I looked at the second picture for like 10 minutes and it was messing with my head before I realized it was a gif hahaha
    Great article, and desert boots are a great casual shoe option, but even though it looks right, I avoid wearing light suede ones with denim because of dye staining- how do you deal with this?

    • http://hespokestyle.com/ Brian Sacawa

      Haha! Look out for more of these kinds of photos in the future. We’ve been practicing and hope to bring a higher level of animation to a photo or two in certain editorials. We’re planning a series of them in December for an extremely exciting new partnership. Can’t wait to share.

      I’ve had commenters in the past remark about denim bleeding. I honestly have to say that I’ve never had this problem, though I understand that it is a very real one.

      On the one hand, you don’t want to wash your jeans too much, but on the other, if they’re bleeding dye, it can be a royal pain.

      I think what it comes down to is the quality of the denim. What brand are you having issues with, in particular?

      • MNuta

        I wear Levis,various thrifted brands and cheap fast-fashion jeans as I try to not spend too much on casual clothes. I’ve noticed that jeans that are 100% cotton bleed more than those with added lycra/elasthane, but I guess more expensive jeans have a higher chance of being made with more colorfast dyes.
        I just wear light coloured suede shoes with faded/white denim, chinos or linen trousers and keep the indigo jeans for wear with dark leather shoes or boots, but it sucks to not be able to pair certain stuff.
        Thanks for the reply, and keep up the good work!

  • https://www.FrankWilder.com Frank Wilder

    There is no need to become anything in this world. Accept this and you’ll be surprised with who you become – Frank Wilder

  • Jim Voll

    I can usually pair my desert boots with just about anything except shorts. They are super comfortable for that end of week choice. Glad you set me straight on the difference between chukkas and desert boots. I’ve been calling them chukkas.

    • http://hespokestyle.com/ Brian Sacawa

      I think you could get away with either calling them chukkas or desert boots. If you want to get picky, then yes, desert boots have a suede upper and chukkas, leather. Cheers, Jim!

  • https://www.igeeokafor.com Igwedinma Okafor

    I’ve worn desert boots in the past but I have not been the hugest fan of them. You make them look fantastic. The particular selection you’re featuring in this post is visually pleasing. I might just try desert boots again. Thanks, Brian.

    Igee Okafor
    Style Enthusiast/Blogger
    http://www.igeeokafor.com

    • http://hespokestyle.com/ Brian Sacawa

      No problem, Igee. Thanks for the continued support.