In this guide we discuss all about Clarks desert boot, the history, the style or construction, different materials, and whether it’s worth your money or not.
The History of Clarks Desert Boots
In 1941, Nathan Clark, who was the great-grandson of the founder James Clark, was deployed to Burma in Myanmar which is north of Thailand. Before he left, his family requested to keep an eye out for new shoe models or anything that might be advantageous for their company.
While abroad, Nathan noticed very simplistic chukka boots with a crepe sole that were worn by officers. When he inquired, he figured out that most of those came from a bazaar in Cairo, Egypt. He was immediately fascinated by that simplistic boot, with that innovative new sole that wasn’t really around in traditional menswear and he was convinced that would be a great idea for the company.
He sent sketches back home in the hopes that the company would pick up production. The desert boot was somewhat revolutionary in the sense that suede uppers and crepe soles were something associated with lower classes, not elegant gentlemen. Even though Nathan was really enthusiastic, the company board thought it will never sell.
Determined and convinced of his idea, Nathan crossed a pond to exhibit his shoe in 1949 at the Chicago shoe show. There he was able to show to influential editors and people, in general, liked it. It was a more casual boot alternative that had been unseen at this point in time. With all that positive feedback and encouragement, he went back to England and produced the first range of desert boots which were sold exclusively in the US.
In 1950, the original boot looked pretty similar to the photo above. It was a sand colored suede which he got from Charles F Stead which is an English tannery specializing in suede leathers that still exists today. He chose the color sand because it closely resembled the sand in Egypt and so the name desert boot really made sense, at the same time, the boot referenced its desert origins.
In the US, it was a successful boot and because of that, it eventually sold in the UK as well. It became popular in the pop cultures in the 60s and 70s and it was worn by famous movie stars such as Steve McQueen or others like Bob Dylan, even the Beatles wore them. While the original desert boot was made in England, made of English leather, it is now mostly made in Asia with a few exceptions of making it in Italy.
That being said, desert boot is still by far the most iconic and best-selling shoe in the whole Clarks lineup.
Are Clarks Desert Boots Worth It?
So first of all, there are three versions on the market today. Ironically, all of them are called original.
First, you have the original in a suede leather with a crepe sole that costs $130, it’s made in Vietnam just like the other original suede boots that use a waxed leather on top. It has a nice pull-up effect but it’s not quite the original.
In my opinion, for $190, you get an original Clarks desert boot that is made in Italy with a crepe sole and English suede leather from Charles F Stead, the same tannery that created the original boot.
$190 Clarks Desert Boot vs $130 Version
Supposedly, the expensive version is more hard-wearing and luxurious. I have to say the leather is quite nice, it’s a soft supple suede leather and on the inside, you can find a scotch grain like texture. It simply means the suede is reversed which is very typical of a leather that you see from stead.
On the other hand, the less expensive version has a suede-like texture on both sides which means the smoother outside was sanded down and overall, $190 boot has definitely a more superior leather.
I’ve had other shoes with leather from Charles F Stead and it’s very durable, very nice leather. I think on the Clarks boots, they did a good job of not making it too soft.
I have a pair of boots with stead leather from Allen Edmonds which is quite soft and comfortable to wear but at the same time, it doesn’t keep its shape. Now, of course, the country of manufacturing is different. Vietnam likes the heritage tradition of England and Italy, at the same time, the labor costs are much lower which are passed on to you as a consumer.
Made in Vietnam vs Made in Italy
At the end of the day, they have skilled laborers in Vietnam who are eager to learn new skills and if taught correctly, they can turn out a very consistent product that’s very similar to what you’d find from England or Italy, at least, when we talk about a factory made shoe setting.
Construction – Very Similar
In terms of construction, the expensive and inexpensive boot is the same. Both have some kind of stitching, both have a crepe sole even though it’s different; the Italian made one has a more textured crepe sole which is typically what you find in crepe sole shoes, the less expensive $130 version has smoother crepe soles and it’s definitely a different crepe.
Personally, I prefer the $190 dollar. If you look at the last, it seems identical to me and there’s really no difference between a made in Italy and a made in Vietnam version. As I mentioned, the leather is quite a bit different.
The Stead leather is definitely the best and thus also on a more expensive shoe.
The waxed leather on the Clarks desert boot is quite a bit harder than the suede ones and because the original was a suede, I would personally always prefer to have a suede desert boot and skip the waxed leather one. That being said, the waxed leather develops a nice patina, it has a pull-up effect, and you’ll see any kind of scratch you create on it. So if that’s something you will like, it’s definitely worth looking into.
When it comes to the welt, you see a higher stitch density on the Italian version than on the less expensive version. Normally, on a Goodyear welted shoe, a higher stitch density indicates a higher quality but in this case, the shoes are not Goodyear welted and I don’t think it matters in everyday life. Both versions have two rows of eyelets.
The less expensive version has metal rivets, the Italian version doesn’t have any rivets. The shoelaces on the Italian version are better, the waxed cotton on the other ones, they’re just regular cotton or a polycotton so you can tell there are slight differences. The original desert boot from Nathan Clark had orange contrast stitching on the boot which made it different.
None of the boots that I have here actually have that stitching which again, makes me wonder why they call it the original. Clearly, they must only refer to the style of the last. Inside of the shoe, you don’t find any lining as discussed before and there’s an insole that is slightly padded in the back. Interestingly, the made in Italy is highlighted versus the made in Vietnam is not.
Fit, Walkability, & Comfort
I find it to be all very similar. Not much difference, overall.
I think the Clarks run true-to-size if at all, a little smaller. I got a US 11 or a UK 10, sometimes I wear UK 10 and a half so keep that in mind, otherwise, I think they have a very average fit. They’re a little wider in the heel but I have very slim heels. If you usually wear Goodyear welted dress shoes, the Clarks will feel a lot softer. If you are used to trainers, you might think you have to break them in. It’s all upon perspective!
The Final Verdict
I think the $190 version definitely wins on the quality front; it has nicer leather, nicer stitching, nicer details, better shoelaces, and definitely a better leather. In terms of value, I think the made in Vietnam version wins simply because these slight differences are not worth the $60 difference which is almost 50% based on a lower 130 dollar price point.
Are Clarks Desert Boots Worth It In General?
I would say yes, they are worth it if your wardrobe, in general, leans towards the casual end because the crepe sole of these boots are only suited for casual outings. They’re also not a winter boot or suited for colder weather at all. Because there’s no lining and just a single layer of leather, your feet would freeze very quickly.
I think Clarks desert boots are worth it if you appreciate the understated simplistic look of them and if you wear a lot of denim jeans, maybe chinos, they’re definitely not suited to your wardrobe if you wear suits, maybe dress pants, or other kinds of slacks, because they simply clash in terms of formality.
So if you plan to wear it frequently, I think they’re worth $130, if you want to splurge on $190 version you definitely don’t make a mistake but if you’re tight on money, you’re just fine going with $130 version.
What Color & Style Combination Should You Go For?
Well, the original one is a sand colored suede boot with a crepe sole and I think if you’re interested in authenticity, that’s the version I would buy. Of course, that light tone of leather also stains more easily, shows dirt and signs of wear very quickly, so if you prefer, you can go with darker suedes or if you’re not a fan of suede, you can also go with other colors. Overall, personally, I’d stick in the brown range. If you want to be a little more flamboyant, you can go with blue or other bolder colors but at the end of the day, that limits you considerably in terms of flexibility and variety in your wardrobe because you can only wear it with very specific pants and outfits.
I think Clarks desert boots are not worth it overall if you like to dress up because in that case, I suggest you go with a leather sole it creates a nicer sound and it’s simply more elegant. Personally, I’m also not a big fan of the Clarks desert boot last, it’s very round boring and a bit clunky in my opinion. I prefer longer lasts maybe with a slight chisel.
So for myself, I don’t think a Clarks desert boot is worth the investment simply because I have other chukka boots that I like more. If I didn’t have a chukka boot at all, I would probably go for the $190 versions that are made in Italy simply because I appreciate the better leather.