2024-03-01
Home Essentials From the Battlefields to the Runway: The Iconic Story of Desert Boots
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From the Battlefields to the Runway: The Iconic Story of Desert Boots

The extraordinary evolution of desert boots, from military needs to a symbol of 'smart casual' style that defies time and fast fashion.

From the Battlefields to the Runway: The Iconic Story of Desert Boots
Photo credit: Clarks instagram

Desert boots have a fascinating history that unfolds through the rugged countryside of Egypt during World War II. What started as a military necessity turned into a style icon over the years. The real architect of this transformation was Nathan Clark, who introduced the world to the legendary Desert Boot, inspired by the boots worn by his fellow warmen in Burma.

Since then, this shoe has become a timeless element of fashion. Its history is rooted in military functionality, but it has conquered the fashion world with its unique and versatile design.

The Military Origins of Desert Boots

The origin of desert boots dates back to the campaigns in Egypt of British soldiers during World War II. Due to the arid and hot conditions of North Africa, the soldiers could not use a more traditional military boot, but had to adapt to the difficult terrain.

Many officers of the Eighth Army, visiting the bazaars of Cairo, decided to buy locally produced rough suede boots, which were equipped with a peculiar sole: flat and with many grooves. It is precisely thanks to this sole that it has helped soldiers to cope with fights on sandy terrain.

Chukka Boots and Desert Boots

The DNA of desert boots lies in the humble Chukka Boot. It is thought to have Indian origin, among the units of the British Army who played polo and wore this footwear during downtime after matches. In fact, the name alludes to the 7 1/2-minute period of play, called ‘Chukker’ or ‘Chukka’. The boot features a lace-up design, a leather upper, and is ankle-high.

What set the two boots apart was the campaigns in the Western Desert of World War II. The Desert Boot became the footwear of choice for the “desert rats”, i.e. the personnel of the Seventh Armed Division who fought in these arid and hot territories. A traditional military boot, in fact, was not suitable for fighting in North Africa and for traveling long distances on foot. What distinguishes the Desert Boot from the Chukka Boot is in fact the crepe rubber sole, which offers greater grip and comfort, and also the lightweight materials that make it softer and more flexible.

Desert boots | shoestechnologies
Desert Boots
Photo credit: Clarks website
Desert boots | shoestechnologies
Chukka Boots
Photo credit: Franco Gentili website

Nathan Clark: The Creator of Desert Boots

But do you know the real creator of the ‘desert shoe’? It’s Nathan Clark. Let’s find out the history of this shoe!

When he introduced the Desert Boot to the world in 1949, Clark wasn’t trying to create a legend or start a revolution: he had simply designed a comfortable boot based on those his colleagues in the Army wore in Burma. Since then, 12 million pairs have been chosen by customers of all ages.

Since then it’s been history: desert shoes became simply ‘the Clarks‘, worn by trend-setting outsiders such as Bob Dylan and Steve McQueen, Liam Gallagher of Oasis. In 2009 they even made it into the Design Museum’s “fifty shoes that changed the world”.

The Smart Casual Look

Casual occasions and desert boots go hand in hand. The Desert Boots are in fact the emblem of the ‘smart casual’ style. Smart refers to a formal and sophisticated look, while casual refers to the classic t-shirt and jeans combo. Putting the two styles together gives you the smart casual look. It is a style that is considerably more relaxed than the typical formal wear, which results in a contemporary result that is quite free from the rules of dress.

Rather than getting carried away by the passing trends and fads of the year, it’s worth investing in a healthy dose of history and revisiting the classics. Especially in this age of mass production, fast fashion, and throwaway culture. The Desert Boots is in fact an undisputed classic. It is still as relevant today as it was on the battlefields of North Africa. He is a true British icon recognized all over the world.

Desert Boots are easy to put on, easy to style, and incredibly comfortable as casual everyday shoes. A big advantage is that they are cheap and easy to resole, thanks to the simple frame and the low price of the soles.

Past, Present and Future of Style

In an era dominated by mass production and the frenzy of fast fashion, the Desert Boots represent a return to the roots, a celebration of history and resistance to passing fashions.

These boots are not only a style icon, but still testify to their practicality and comfort, having become a fundamental element of the ‘smart casual’ style.

Their evolution from the sand of the battlefields to the floor of the catwalks demonstrates their eternal relevance. Investing in a pair of Desert Boots is not only a style statement, but also an act of appreciation for a classic that continues to defy time and define style with a touch of casual elegance.

So, if you’re looking for a balance between comfort and style, the Desert Boots are the perfect choice for getting you through the day, with a touch of authentic British class!

Desert boots | shoestechnologies
CLARKS X ZARA
Photo credit: Clarks instagram

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