Chukka Boots Guide

The Chukka Boots Guide

Continuing our coverage of boots, we take up another very popular style called the Chukka boot. Previously we covered Jodhpur and Chelsea boots, and while the two were similar in some respects they were also distinctively different. The Chukka boots also share a few similarities with them.  In this case, the name ‘ Chukka’ itself is derived from the game of Polo and thus linking them, however superficially, to the Jodhpur boot which was designed specifically for Polo. Upon closer examination, the connections between the two become more perceptible.

Suede chukka boots

Suede chukka boots

How the Chukka Boots Got Their Name

The name ‘Chukka’ is said to be derived from the seven and a half minute Polo playing period called a Chukker or Chukka. The term is itself derived from the Hindi word ‘chukkar’ meaning ‘circle’ or ‘turn’. Because there are different variations of uppers, it is unclear what exactly the original version looked like and how it got its name. One school of thought argues that Chukka boots got their name due to the resemblance to boots worn by Polo players, i.e. Jodhpur boots. Others believe Chukka boots were actually used to play Polo although there seems to be little evidence to support this theory. Chances are the name was derived from the similarities between the two boots. This is supported by the fact that Chukka boots were sometimes worn by off duty Polo players who would slip into them after a game as they were more comfortable. Another interesting theory is the Indian use of the word ‘chukkar’, which is also used in the context of taking a leisurely stroll or ‘turn’. It therefore could be quite possible that the name was derived from the fact that the Polo players preferred to stroll around in these boots after a game rather than in their Polo boots.  Thus, the Chukka boot could be considered a descendant or relative of the polo boot! Whichever theory you may favor, Chukka boots have certain characteristics of their own.

 

Sanders Chukka Boots with red rubber sole

Sanders Chukka Boots with red rubber sole

Characteristics of the Chukka boot

Because there are so many varieties, it is not entirely clear what is a true Chukka boot and what is not. However, in studying what shoe historian June Swann had to say about the boots and considering old pictures, the following are the characteristics of a Chukka boot:

Buckskin chukka boot

Buckskin chukka boot

  1. Lace up ankle boots. They reach the ankle and no further.
  2. Two or three lacing eyelets; anything else is not a chukka boot
  3. Traditionally made from calfskin suede leather
  4. Rounded toebox.
  5. Two parts each made from a single piece of leather.
  6. The quarters are sewn on top of the vamp.
  7. Open lacing.
  8. Thin soles.
  9. Soles traditionally made of leather (crepe rubber soles were later worn with desert boots)
  10. Traditionally unlined.

History of the Chukka boot

Due to their similarities with the Jodhpur boot, their name and the fact that they were worn by off duty polo players, it is safe to assume that the Chukka boot originated in India among the British army units that played the game and subsequently found its way to the west, much like the Jodhpur boot. The fact that the Chukka boot was first worn in the US in 1924 by the Duke of Windsor, whom had previously visited India, played a little Polo and had acquired a few pairs of Chukka boots only adds credence to the story. Subsequently, the Duke wore them regularly, abetting their rise to become a staple in men’s shoe closets in the West. The British army origins are reinforced by the fact that the British army had as standard issue a type of Chukka boot worn in the desert campaign of World War II. These boots were known as Desert boots and had a crepe rubber sole instead of a leather sole. Whatever the precise nature of their origins the Chukka boots were designed to provide both comfort and a certain amount of style, and it was precisely because of these two qualities that they became extremely popular in the 1940s and 1950s. Chukka boots were considered a comfortable alternative to be worn as both casual and dress boots.

Chukka boot with rubber sole, yellow socks and green trousers

1930s Chukka boot with rubber sole that predated Clarks with yellow socks and green trousers

Desert Boots

In 1941, while deployed to Myanmar, Nathan Clark, the great grandson of James Clark (the creator of the shoe company Clarks), noticed the chukka boot variation with crepe soles and sent sketches back home. Originally, they were commissioned as a lightweight and comfortable boot with rubber soles and sand colored leather to be worn by soldiers in their downtime . At the time, the suede uppers and crepe sole were associated with footwear only lower classes would wear, and so the Clarks Desert boot was not launched until 1950. Sixty three years later, it is probably the most widespread version of the Chukka boot. Priced between $60 – 150 the Clarks Original Desert boot is popular with jeans or chinos. Frankly, I doubt the quality is what it used to be, but at that price you can’t ask for more. Because of its popularity, it comes in all kinds of leather and rubber colors or sometimes even fabric. Personally, I prefer elegant lasts with leather soles because the Clarks Desert boot reminds me too much of college, but if you have a more casual style, it might be the right choice for you.

Nathan Clark with his famous Clarks Desert Boots on the Left

Nathan Clark with his famous Clarks Desert Boots on the Left

Chukka boots today

Chukka boots today have become far more versatile than the originals and have been stylized to suit the times. The differences in the finer style details of the boot today determine whether they are right for business or leisure.

  1. Chukka boots now come in various leathers and fabrics. Synthetic fabrics, canvas, suede or faux leather / faux exotic skins Chukkas are suitable for work and casual occasions. Traditional leather Chukkas in brown suede and leather soles are suitable for casual outfits but personally, I also wear them with all kinds of blue suits.
  2. Soles – the thinner the leather soles, the finer the boots, but overall Chukka boots will never be a go-to business shoe. However, they can be worn with suits on occasion.  The more casual Desert Boots often have thicker soles and rougher stitching, making them only suitable for casual wear.
  3. Colors – although there are many color variations, Chukka boots should be brown. Personally, I prefer dark brown suede over tan, but each to his own. I also choose a lace color that matches the leather. Less formal Chukka boots often come with contrast stitching on the uppers but personally, I prefer it tone in tone so I can wear it more elegantly with a suit.

Style Advice

Chukka boots or Desert Boots are rather popular today and there are many manufacturers of casual chukka boots and also bespoke versions of it. Considering the casual nature of the Chukka boot, I would never combine a crepe sole Chukka boot with dress pants or a suit. At the same time, an elegant Chukka boot can be paired like a suede shoe, and looks great with dress pants and suits. For example, I have an elegant pair of St. Crispin Chukka boots in mid brown suede leather that goes very with almost anything I wear.  The possibilities of incorporating them into one’s wardrobe are endless. Dress Chukka boots with thin leather soles on an elegant last in brown can be paired with a navy or mid grey suits and a range of other colors and patterns. For details, please look at our How to Wear Brown Shoes Guide, which also applies to Chukka boots.

Suede Chukka boots

Suede Chukka boots

Suede Chukka boots with crepe soles should only be worn with denim or chinos. Feel free to experiment with colorful and patterned socks. Alternatively, you can go with different suede colors such as blue or beige – the varieties are endless. Paired with an Oxford shirt and jeans or a polo shirt, they make for a good casual outfit. A pair in brown goes well with autumnal trouser colors such as green, red and duskier yellows – again, experiment at your heart’s content. For an even more casual weekend look, go for Chukka boots in other materials like canvas. One can combine them with a favorite pair of old jeans and T- Shirt or khakis and a sweater. Stick to slim jeans to create a refined silhouette . The Chukka boot is a versatile boot can be worn in a variety of ways; you can use them to add a little variety to your wardrobe.

St. Crispin's Chukka Boots with leather sole & lining

St. Crispin’s Chukka Boots with leather sole & lining

Buying Guide

There are a wide variety of Chukka boots available on the market from an equally wide number of manufacturers. In many cases, boots advertised as Chukka boots do not conform to the classic description of Chukkas, however one can use one’s discretion if you find a pair that may not be true in classic sense but still suits your needs. Below is a concise list of a few reputable manufacturers

Allen Edmonds
ClarksShop Now
ShoepassionShop Now
Gaziano & GirlingShop Now
PediwearShop Now
CarminaShop Now
Crockett & JonesShop Now
LoakeShop Now
J. CrewShop Now
John SpencerShop Now
Red WingShop Now
Tricker'sShop Now
ParabootShop Now
SandersShop Now

This article is a result of the collaboration between Sven Raphael Schneider & Vikram Nanjappa.

13 replies
  1. Nik Ismail almurtadza
    Nik Ismail almurtadza says:

    After seeing and reading the articles on Clark’s dessert boots,I could not forget the 2 pairs of Clark’s dessert boots the I owned in the 60’s till late 70’s.It has served me very well even after a very hard wearing.Now the boots are produced in SEA,and do not want to say of the quality of the product.I still would stick on their UK quality produced.
    I did send an email to the UK store enquiring to order on line,but unfortunately they are at that moment are not doing for overseas(Asia region) on line orders.I’ll try again ,

    Nik

  2. Gia Bibileishvili
    Gia Bibileishvili says:

    I think there should not be matching restrictions such as mentioned in the article, chukka boots with rubber sole might be quite organically paired with dress trousers. Even picture above of chukka advertisement from 1930s supports this fact.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      The illustration shows special tweed trousers, and so two casual items work together. However, I wouldn’t recommend to wear it with worsteds. Of course, you can wear anything today but we want to maintain certain standards that are based on the historic evolution of the pieces.

  3. Joseph sparks
    Joseph sparks says:

    Chukka boots that are meant for riding have leather soles & desert boots have rubber soles(as leather wore out too quickly when walking on sand).

  4. Gareth Day
    Gareth Day says:

    Some years ago I purchased a pair of Clark’s dessert boots. They are much traveled and a little battered but still going strong. They have served me well whether trudging the cities of Europe or the desserts of North Africa – yes, they do actually work in desserts. I have worn them with jeans or chinos and even a light linen suit. Great versatility if you are travelling light. Would highly recommend.
    GD

  5. Ahmed Sajeel
    Ahmed Sajeel says:

    Excellent article as well researched as ever. And immaculate timing as I am about to commission a pair in Sand suede. ‘Chukka’ in fact is a derivative of ‘Chukker’ which is as much Urdu as it is Hindi.

    What are your thoughts on combining sand suede with anything other than magnolia white flannel trousers and Navy blazer.

  6. Gernot_Freiherr_von_Donnerbalken
    Gernot_Freiherr_von_Donnerbalken says:

    At first I’d like to express my thanks to the honorable author for this enriching article.

    Personally, I consider chukka boots a mere bliss. Many a young man changing their sneakers for a pair of casual chukka boots like the desert boot will automatically look a hundred times more elegant an adult without losing any comfort.

    @ Ahmed Sajeel

    The combination you’ve proposed is really a real vision. Unfortunately it is not suitable for the actual climate in Europe.

  7. Christopher Long
    Christopher Long says:

    This is a style I am quite fond of – four pairs at the last count.

    I don’t believe the desert boot was ever standard issue in the British army however – the story I heard was that they were first worn unofficially by officers who had had them made in the Cairo souk. The style caught on.

  8. Richard C Evans
    Richard C Evans says:

    Used to buy Clarks Originals but with the last pair the suede was particularly poor, and with them now being made in Vietnam, I don’t see there’s too much Original about them.

    Far better alternative are Brother Vellies http://brothervellies.com (formerly called Herbert Schier). Arguably these “Velskoens” beat Clarks on originality.

    Suede is excellent quality, from the government cull of the Kudu antelope.

    Bit more expensive, but worth it.

    Only downside, can be a slow slow, just 8 guys in Nambia making them and depending on stock, made to order.

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