Defining a desert boot is easy: it’s an ankle-height lace-up boot, most commonly with a beige or khaki-colored suede upper and a crepe sole. In other words, it’s a two-eyelet chukka boot made out of suede and crepe.
While the suede / crepe combination is the original version, nowadays there are countless versions in a multitude of colors. Many brands make their own versions, though Clarks is the original.
History Of The Desert Boot
An iconic menswear style, the desert boot was first designed by Nathan Clark and became a pioneer of the men’s “dress casual” shoe category. While stationed in Burma with the British Army, he noticed many off-duty officers wearing suede ankle boots with crepe soles.
They came from a bazaar in Cairo (hence the term “desert” boot), and apparently the officers had these specially made as they were lightweight and offered good traction on sand. He was inspired to create a pattern for them.
Despite the board of his shoemaking family’s claim that it would never sell, he showcased the desert boot at the Chicago Shoe Fair in 1949. It got rave reviews and has been in production ever since.
Clarks isn’t the only company that makes desert boots, but they were the first to do so.
What Exactly Is A Crepe Sole?
Crepe is a type of rubber. Technically, it’s a coagulated latex.
We didn’t pay attention in science class, so we don’t actually know what that last sentence means.
It’s rubber that’s sometimes a bit sticky and has the appearance of stucco. Here’s a picture:
What Do You Wear With Desert Boots?
As we said above, desert boots helped start the “dress casual” men’s footwear category. With all the dress casual options at our fingertips nowadays, it’s impossible to justify wearing this boot with tailored clothing in a non-ironic way. They are decidedly on the casual end of that spectrum, smarter than a sneaker but not formal enough to be worn with dress clothing, or even in most offices with a business casual dress code. They look best with:
Throw these on for a casual lunch or if you’re headed to a local bar. In this context, they do a fantastic job of telling the world that you’re not the kind of guy who thinks that Nikes are appropriate outside of the gym.
Picking a season for desert boots is trickier than you might think. They’re boots, so you’d think that they’d be best in autumn and winter. On the other hand, they’re a light-colored suede, so maybe they’re better in the spring. Can you wear them in the summer too?
I mean, they’re originally from Egypt, where it’s pretty much summer all the time. They literally come from the desert, so you should be able to wear them when it’s hot outside, right?
Sometimes it’s easier to treat these things on a case-by-case basis. That’s what we’ll do here.
- Spring: Stick to your classic construction but have some fun with the colors. The suede upper is offered in plenty of different colors on Clarks’ website alone, so you can have some fun here.
- Summer: If you’re so
crazyinclined as to wear a boot in the summer, keep it simple. Beige suede upper, beige crepe outsole.
- Autumn: Try darker shades of suede, like tobacco, navy blue, and chocolate. You can even go off the beaten path and try a leather upper here.
- Winter: We wouldn’t opt for a crepe sole boot in wintertime, but if the weather is decent, try black or brown distressed leather.
Desert Boots Versus Chukka Boots
As you shop, you’ll notice that there’s a striking similarity between desert boots and chukka boots.
This is because desert boots are a style of chukka boot, which is any lace-up ankle boot.
We bring this up because there are plenty of chukka boots out there masquerading as desert boots. While this isn’t necessarily a huge deal, it’s important to know what you’re buying, so here’s the quickest guide to the difference between desert boots and chukka boots available on the Internet:
- Chukka Boot: Any lace-up ankle boot, often with two eyelets.
- Desert Boot: A chukka boot with a suede upper and a crepe sole.
Every desert boot is a chukka boot, but not every chukka boot is a desert boot. Don’t be fooled.
Who Makes The Best Desert Boots?
As we said above, there are plenty of chukka boots out there masquerading as desert boots. A simple Google search without some deep snooping could end up with you buying something that isn’t what you actually want.
Below are the top three makers we found who make a quality product that is, in fact, a true desert boot:
- Clarks: $130-$240. They are the original maker and have the widest color selection by a long shot. You can’t go wrong with a pair of these.
- Rancourt & Co: $345. If you’re looking for an American-made desert boot, look no further. These are made in Maine, and they offer a version with a Horween Chromexcel leather upper as well.
- Sanders & Sanders: $310. A British shoemaker that’s been around since the late 19th century, they offer their own version of the desert boot with a contrast color pull tab in the back.
Many other shoemakers will offer a desert boot for a particular season. Let us know in the comments if you see one you like!
Parting Thought On Desert Boots
Any man would be well-served by having a desert boot in his wardrobe. For those men who dress more in suits than anything else, owning one pair will suffice as you’ll likely only bust them out for 3-5 months out of the year.
For men who tend to dress more casually, it’s a good idea to get a couple of pairs. Comfortable as they are, the crepe soles get very dirty very quickly, and though you can care for suede yourself or take it to a cobbler, it too gets beaten up easily. Get yourself a few different pairs in various colors so you maximize versatility.