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Clarks Originals Desert Boots History

Clarks Desert Boots

Clarks knew they were onto a classic almost as soon as they began mass producing desert boots in the late 1940s. The simplicity of their style combined with their functionality makes them ideal for the modern man. The style took a convoluted, circuitous route from the deserts of Cairo to the jungles of Burma and finally to the sleepy Somerset village of Street - this is the story of how it happened.

World War II had a habit of making shoe choices look quite foolish very quickly. The constant upheaval of troops and armies’ “one style fits all” policy on boots forced units to frequently seek alternative arrangements. One such case was South African troops placed in Egypt. Tasked with arduous treks over shifting sand dunes, it quickly became clear that their standard issue heavy, deep-lugged boots weren’t exactly the ideal choice.

Afforded some R & R in Cairo, the troops visited a bazaar, where they commissioned some replacements for their remaining time in the desert. The boots needed to be relatively tough, provide a solid platform on which to walk, and most important, be lightweight. The result was a design that featured an inexpensive crepe sole, smoothed and without lugs to improve traction on the sand and a suede upper that offered protection while being lighter than traditional leather army boots.

Rapidly, the boots’ benefits became common knowledge among Allied troops, including the British. As the boot’s first generation of wearers gradually dispersed to other theatres of the war, so did word of the style. In Burma, one infantryman by the name of Nathan Clark - great grandson of James Clark, founder of the famous shoe company - spotted them being worn by soldiers while relaxing. Impressed, Clark took the design home and four years after the war ended, they were showcased by Clarks at the Chicago Shoe Fair.

The shoes were an instant hit, thanks to their smart-casual appeal capturing the imagination of a generation beginning to see the benefits of relaxed footwear but perhaps not quite ready to commit to abandoning formal attire. The shoe’s price was also a revelation. The rough suede and the thin crepe sole kept production costs low, resulting in thousands of working class converts.

The ‘50s saw the boots become solid favourites of various subcultures, beat poets and mods in particular. By an act of divine providence, these two youth cultures have gone on to be held in extremely high sartorial esteem for decades, further bolstering their cross-generational appeal.

Nowadays, desert boots remain an extremely popular choice for both men and women across a huge range of ages. Times may have changed and styles may have shifted, but the desert boot remains perfectly equidistant between casual and formal, making it an integral part of any wardrobe.

You can browse our range of Clarks Originals desert boots here.

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