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The Desert boot: A complete guide

The Desert boot: A complete guide

An icon of generations, the desert boot has become a staple of men's wardrobes across the globe. It's story to reach it's current iconic status, however, takes us back to one of the most pivotal moments in modern history. Far from the trendy streets of London, Desert Boots surprisingly made their start in Egypt’s dusty Cairo.

Stationed in Burma in 1941, British Army Officer Nathan Clark (also great-grandson of Clarks founder James Clark) took to the crepe-soled suede ankle boots worn by South African veterans. Commissioned from shoemakers in the Khan el-Khalili souk in Cairo, Nathan learnt that the light suede upper served as a robust, light and breathable material for the hot climate, while the crepe soul was both shock absorbent and water repellent, but also had great grip in the challenging terrain. Drawing up prototypes on the back of old newspaper clippings, Clark sent the first designs back to his offices in Somerset.

As it happened, it wasn’t until six years after those original sketches that Desert Boots first hit their stride. At the 1947 Chicago shoe fair, the simple silhouette (just four eyelets, a crepe sole and no fuss) debuted to a passionate American audience who immediately took to the minimalistic design. Revered for their simple design, inherent ‘Britishness’ and their affordable price tag, the boots went on sale a year later to wide commendation. 

Soon Desert Boots were imported into Western Europe where they quickly became the go-to shoe and by the 1950s they’d made it back to the British market. However, still at the height of the Chelsea Boots popularity, Desert Boots didn’t really receive mainstream recognition for another decade or so – rather they stuck to the fringes, worn by the likes of Steve McQueen, Bob Dylan and Dr. Who. In the 60’s the Mod movement took on the Desert Boot as a kind of uniform and for a long time the two were inextricably associated.


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Navigating the world of Desert Boots

In sharing the history of the Desert Boot, it would be a blatant omission to ignore the Chukka and their close relationship. Traditionally the Chukka has two to three eyelets (as opposed to the Desert Boots’ four), originally worn by off-duty soldiers in India and later by British polo player’s waiting in-between games. Arguably, the Desert Boot is in fact a subset of the Chukka and while Desert Boots are predominantly crafted from suede, the best Chukkas can be found with suede and calfskin uppers. Chukkas are also not restricted by the crepe rubber sole of the traditional Desert Boot, rather you’ll find their soles in various leather and rubber incarnations.

We love that the best Desert Boots for men transcend age and formality, that they’re the kind of simple silhouette that offers scope for everyone’s personal style. Other styles of boots offer different advantages. Traditionally available in warm autumnal tones such as burgundy, navy and turmeric, you’ll also find them in the original sand suede, black and grey; ultimately covering much of the colour spectrum.

Subsequently, Desert Boots and the best Chukkas are very simple to style. Pair a neutral toned boot like the one we offer online with deep wash denim jeans and a simple tee for a casual ensemble (ideal for a casual weekend). A dressier boot will look great with a dark chino and textured shirt. Our most popular Desert Boot  is beautifully balanced with a pair of striking corduroy trousers and Marino jumper for the winter months.


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How to care for your Desert Boots

Suede is a beautiful material, soft to handle, durable in strength and perfectly malleable as an upper. Suede is also a lot more robust than its delicate reputation may have you believe. This comes down to the quality of the leather. Cheaper, poorer quality suede’s will mark and discolour easily yet investing in a superior leather will leave you with a pair of relatively low maintenance, enduring Desert Boots. However, as with all leathers and textiles, suede does require some care.

To start, give your shoes a day or two’s rest after continuous wear. Given the chance to dry out (getting rid of any moisture), you’ll extend the life of the leather. Make sure that you’re not drying your boots by a heater or fireplace (room temperature is best) as this can lead the suede to dry out, crack and cause damage to the adhesives. We also recommend storing your Desert Boots (or any leather shoe) in a wardrobe or shoe rack out of direct sunlight; leaving them in shoeboxes for too long can deteriorate or even rot the materials – especially for those living in damp or humid environments.

Cleaning suede is quite simple. Taking a suede eraser, simple rub over any marks to remove dirt or blemishes. For any grime that may have accumulated over time, try a suede shampoo which you can work into the leather with a brush or cloth for a deep clean. Then, using a soft brush (designed for suede or nubuck products) gently brush over the shoe ensuring each stroke follows the same direction. Take care not to use a wire brush or any type of polish on your suede products, as this will cause severe damage. Finally, weatherproof your boots with a silicone spray - we recommend doing this every one to two months for optimum care.


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Where to find Desert Boots online

Buying desert boots online can be a daunting task; can you trust in the quality of the make? Will the shoe last? Feel comfortable? (If it doesn't another great style to look at is the humble and comfortable loafer) Will they support your step? These are all questions you should be asking; especially for a boot you hope to wear daily. Surprisingly, some of the best Desert Boots for men are found here in Australia, designed by Australian shoemakers like Sydney’s Andrew McDonald. With this in mind, purchasing boots online doesn’t have to be so intimidating. A McDonald Shoemakers are simply a phone call (or email) away, equipped with all the answers and expert recommendations for your circumstance. And if you’re not sure whether they’re selling the pair you’re after, the A McDonald studio can create a custom boot to your unique specifications. There is nothing like a pair of shoes made just for you.

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