The desert boot has become an iconic item of footwear, but its origins were not exactly fashionable. It was the officers of the British 8th Army, stationed in Egypt, who took to wearing comfortable crepe-soled suede boots, roughly fashioned by artisans working in Cairo’s Old Bazaar, who started the trend. When Nathan Clark, one of the members of the famous Somerset’s family of shoe manufacturers Clarks, saw them while on military service in Burma, a new fashion icon was created.
This comfortable boot has been true to its original design since 1950, when it was presented in the US Chicago Show fair as the Clarks Desert Boot. It became popular among the younger generations, looking for a way to show independence and a modern attitude during the years after the war. Other fashion icons in footwear that appeared during this time are the Converse sneakers, that haven’t changed much since them either.
Unlike other military inspired models, such as the Doc Marten’s boots, the desert boot is non-threatening and can look good matches with blue jeans or a more formal suit. That made it appealing to a wide variety of urban tribes, from beatniks to Mods. Music icons such as Bob Dylan or the Beatles were seen on them. People could wear them to work, or on the weekends, signifying style and comfort for men. Almost every shoe manufacturer came up with its own version, in different colours and shades and with varying degrees of quality, so there was a desert shoe for every budget.
After a slight decline during the 70s and 80s, the 90s saw a revival with the rise of Britpop as a musical movement heavily inspired aesthetically by the Mods. Along with the original sand coloured suede version, shops offer desert boots made in all sorts of textiles and colours, from tweed to purple, along with models for women and even miniature versions for babies in all the colours in the rainbow. While they may require special care and staying out of puddles, desert boots are a must have in the shoe wardrobe of any man. Not bad for a shoe that started its days as the product of humble Cairo boot makers!