Like a lot of modern footwear, the humble men’s Chukka boot started in WWII. The name actually comes from polo (each period of play is called a ‘chukker’) and it’s pronounced ‘chuck-ah’, rhymes with f…well, you get the idea.
Where things get confusing is how to style Chukka boots. Are they the same thing as ankle boots or desert boots? Do you go with leather or suede? What colours work best with what outfits? And are Chukkas just another men’s boot that falls somewhere under the giant umbrella of ‘smart casual’? We’ve got the answers to those questions, and a few more, down below. This is our ultimate guide to men’s Chukka boots.
What are Chukka Boots?
Chukka boots were originally known as ‘Clarks Desert Boots’. They were made for British soldiers in North Africa, who found that traditional, high-sided boots weren’t great for trudging through sand. They needed something sturdy, lightweight and cool (the cool bit was probably optional). The style started becoming more popular in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s.
Chukkas are normally made from unlined suede calfskin, although these days embossed leather Chukkas are pretty common too. What really gives men’s Chukka boots away is the shape: look for that classic high ankle and the rounded toe, with two or three eyelets and thin laces. The upper is made from two parts, each cut from a single piece of leather, with quarters sewn on top of the vamp.
Chukkas are flexible in every sense of the word. You can dress them up or down, they work well under jeans or suit pants (more on this below), and you can wear them pretty much anywhere.
Chukka Boots vs Desert Boots
You’ll find that some shoe brands use ‘Chukka boots’ and ‘desert boots’ interchangeably, but that’s not technically correct. Chukkas traditionally have a leather sole, while desert boots are finished in crepe rubber. Desert boots are really a type of Chukka boot, which means all desert boots are Chukkas, but not all Chukkas are desert boots. Make sense? Broadly speaking, desert boots tend to be on the more casual side of the Chukka family. You probably wouldn’t wear them to a job interview, but they’re bang-on for a Sunday pub session.
How do Chukka boots feel?
There’s a reason you see men’s Chukka boots on nearly every ankle. They’re an extremely comfortable shoe. Some of our Chukkas, like the ADAMS, are all made from leather and leather lining. Others, like the DAMIEN, have a suede upper, pig leather lining and a synthetic sole. Whichever way you go, you’ll notice that Chukka boots feel more like a sneaker than a dress shoe, especially after a few wears, when the leather starts to relax. If you’re looking for a comfy work boot for everyday office wear, Chukkas are a great choice.
How to style Chukka Boots
There aren’t too many hard-and-fast rules when it comes to styling Chukka boots. Their versatility is legendary, and it’s a big reason they’ve stayed in vogue since the 1940s. It all depends on whether you want to dress them up or dress them down. A simple tee and dark-wash denim over tobacco DAMIEN chukkas is an easy, pub-friendly look. A knit blazer, some tapered chinos and our UTAH ankle boots would be great for a cocktail party. Or, if you want to pull out all the stops, swap your office brogues for some black ADAMS boots—they’ll work wonders under a sharp charcoal suit.
Formal Chukka boots
Let’s talk Chukka boots and suits. First things first, yes you can legally do this. It won’t be for every office, but suits and Chukka boots can definitely work together. They just need to be the right kind of Chukkas. Something like the ADAMS or BRODY would look great underneath a two-piece black or navy suit. A more upright style, like the UTAH could also work nicely: try it with a brown or grey suit for a slightly more laid-back look. When it comes to tailoring, hem your suit pants as you would for Derbies or Oxfords. There should still be that natural ‘break’ on top of your boot. If you can see ankle, you’ve gone too far.
Suede Chukka boots
Suede and Nubuck Chukka boots are more casual by nature. You could wear these with a suit, but they’re more at home with suiting separates. Something like the CORTES, for example, would look great under khaki chinos, knit blazer, and a blue button-up shirt. Most of the time, suede and Nubuck Chukkas are going to be your weekend go-to boot (at least if the weather is dry). Simply throw them under some double-cuffed jeans or chinos pants, then layer up with shirts, knits and casual jackets. It’s pretty hard to mess this one up. Start with some BELLARD khaki boots, then finish things off with a mid-indigo denim, leather belt, crew tee and cotton bomber.
How to care for suede Chukkas
Just a quick note on Chukka care. All leather Chukkas will need basic care and protection, including a water-resistant spray. That’s a great place to start. Suede and Nubuck Chukkas, however, will require a bit of extra love. We’ve written a comprehensive guide over here, but let’s break down the basics. First, keep them dry. Getting your suede Chukkas wet will dry and crack the nap over time. Next, make sure you clean them with the proper tools: we’re talking a suede shoe brush and dedicated suede shampoo. Keep your Chukkas on a shoe tree, if you can, too. This will extend their life and help them hold their shape.