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My Clark’s Desert Boots

Carlton Boyce / 16 June 2016

Carlton Boyce explains why his Clark’s Desert Boots are the most comfortable, stylish and practical footwear he owns.

A well-loved pair of Clark's desert boots

Brothel Creepers have all sorts of connotations, none of which appealed to the men who ran Clarks in the 1940s. They dismissed a suggestion from Nathan Clark – great-grandson of the company’s founder and then serving in Burma as a British Army officer – that the shoe company should produce its own version of the short, crepe-soled boot that was popular with the soldiers stationed out there. They had no intention of letting their company’s good name be sullied with such an inappropriate association…

We can assume that Nathan must have been made of stern stuff – after all, Burma was no picnic – and he persevered with his proposal, convinced that he was on to a good thing. His dogged determination saw the Clark's Desert Boot make its debut at the 1949 Chicago Shoe Fair. It was an instant hit, and despite taking another 15 years to make its way to the United Kingdom, it has remained one of the company’s best selling lines ever since.

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Simple and iconic

The simple design has endured and a true desert boot still features plantation rubber soles, twin eyelet fastening, and a two-piece brown suede upper with the leather traditionally sourced from the Leeds-based tanners Charles F. Stead & Co.

Even after 60 years and 12 million pairs, the Clark’s Desert Boot is still a keystone of the brand. It has been cautiously updated, but only with a wider range of materials, colours, and patterns rather than a fundamental restyle; after all, why change such an iconic design? What was fit-for-purpose in the 1950s remains equally so today; mine are the most comfortable and stylish footwear I own.

If you enjoy Carlton's inimitable style of writing, you'll love his book How to Become a Motoring Journalist - available on the Saga Bookshop.

Timeless and classless

The soft, crepe sole provides insulation and cushioning in equal measure, while months of steady wear have moulded the uppers to the shape of my feet and they now fit like a glove. Teamed with jeans or a suit, they take me from driving and flying through to city-break walking and even formal dinners, meaning I don't have to pack another pair of shoes on short overseas trips.

Clark’s Desert Boots are, to my mind, the original and the best, even if they are now made in China rather than England; other manufacturers might make shoes that look similar but they should really be referred to as chukka boots.

Spit ‘n’ polish not required

The sizing is generous, so you can normally step down a size compared to your usual fitting. A word of warning: the suede upper doesn’t tolerate rain very well; a decent waterproofing treatment helps shed the odd shower but they aren’t really a wet weather shoe.

Other than avoiding the worst of the rain, mine get nothing but a stiff brush now and then and the occasional wipe over with a damp cloth: desert boots, like Barbour coats and Land Rovers, look better gently patinated.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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