The whole ‘shoe taxonomy’ thing isn’t super important. At the end of the day, you should wear what you like, and what makes you feel comfortable. There’s no obligation to go out and learn about welts and vamps and uppers etc. Chukkas, Desert boots, Derbys, Chelseas – let’s call the whole thing off. But on the other hand, it can be helpful to learn the difference between different kinds of shoes. Knowing the history of certain styles, you get a feel for how to wear them. What looks good with what. How dressy or casual each shoe can be. It helps you build a well-rounded collection.
Which brings us to the ol’ Chukka boots versus Desert boots debate. Are they the same thing? What makes a Chukka different from a Desert boot? And how do you style them? Let’s settle this once and for all.
What are Chukka Boots?
‘Chukka boots’ is the name given to a certain family of men’s boot. They’re usually ankle height leather boots with two or three eyelets and thin laces. The upper is constructed from two parts, each cut from a single piece of leather, and the quarters are sewn on top of the vamp. You can get leather Chukkas, suede Chukkas, nubuck Chukkas, and everything in between. The name ‘Chukka’ is thought to come from polo (it means a period of play), which makes sense, since it was the British who introduced the Chukka style, way back in the Western Desert campaign of World War II.
What are Desert boots?
Desert boots look a lot like Chukkas, but there are a few key differences. The first is the classic crepe rubber sole, which is sort of the hallmark of the Desert boot (Chukkas, by comparison, tend to have leather soles). This feature goes back to the original Clarks Desert Boot, which was based on British military design. Soldiers in North Africa needed something strong, lightweight and sand-friendly. Crepe rubber soles fit the bill. Desert boots are technically a type of Chukka boot, which means that all Desert boots are Chukkas, but not all Chukkas are Desert boots. Make sense?
Which is more formal?
Traditionally, Chukka boots are slightly dressier, while Desert boots are more casual. That’s why you usually see Desert boots in suede and nubuck, while Chukkas tend to be full-grain leather. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, though. You can have dressier Desert boots and more casual Chukkas, and over the years the two styles have become a little fuzzy. For example, not everything called a ‘Desert boot’ has a crepe rubber sole anymore – our DECLAN suede brown Desert boots fit this category. Generally, Chukka boots can be worn with suits, while Desert boots are best with jeans, chinos and the occasional pint.
Both Chukkas and Desert boots feature the same two-part upper and 2-3 eyelet lacing system, but Chukkas tend to be sturdier, often featuring Goodyear welt construction and full leather lining. Traditional desert boots are made of suede, and come unlined. This makes them lighter than Chukkas. Of course, these days, many manufacturers are ignoring these rules in favour of comfort and durability. Our BRODY desert boots (above), for example, have full leather uppers, Thunit soles and pig leather lining.
Styling Chukka boots
The reason Chukka boots have remained popular for 70-odd years is versatility. It’s actually really hard to look bad in Chukkas. They go with everything. Still, there’s some subtle variation, depending on the boot you choose. A pair of black ADAMS Chukkas, for example, have a dressier finish. You can wear them under a navy two-piece suit. Something like the CORTES or DECLAN, on the other hand, with its round toe and dusty suede upper, is made for slim-fit jeans and a crew-neck tee. The trick with all Chukka styling is getting the pants right: you want a slim leg, rather than skinny or boot cut, and the hem should just rest on the boots’ upper. If the fabric is bunching or flapping loose, you need to cuff or hem your pants. Check out our full Chukka boots style guide for more information.
Styling desert boots
Desert boots, being your more casual boot, work best with jeans and chinos. You can even wear Desert boots with shorts – it’s a bold look, but try some khaki suede Desert boots with invisible socks, khaki shorts and a loose white tee. The natural texture of suede really brings this outfit together. For your average weekend outfit, just match Selvedge denim with brown suede HOPPER ankle boots and a linen shirt, or try tan chinos with BRODY Desert boots and a crew knit. Either way, remember to cuff. Desert boots look best with a sharp double cuff. When it comes to socks, stick with low-rise or invisible socks. This won’t be a problem most of the time – your pants will usually cover your ankle – but it’s a good rule of thumb to remember. The look you want to avoid is big, fluffy socks sticking out the top of your Desert boots.