History of Chukka Boots
As is often the case in men's fashion, the origins of the Chukka boot can be traced back to both the military and sport. The term 'chukka' comes from polo. In polo, a chukka (or 'chukker') is a seven-minute period of play, and a polo match typically consists of four to eight chukkas/chukkers. In India the term 'chukkar'—which in Hindi means 'circle' or 'turn'—can roughly be translated into a 'casual stroll', which is fitting for a boot that can be considered the halfway point between more formal leather shoes and casual sneakers.
It's believed that the Chukka boot acquired its name because its similar appearance to the boot worn by polo players, the Jodhpur boot, which itself shares a resemblance to the Chelsea boot. But while Chukkas were identified with the sport of polo, the boots made specifically for polo are different enough in their design from chukkas that it's unlikely chukkas were ever worn to actually play polo. They were, however, worn by polo players after matches because of their comfort.
The Chukka was probably first worn in India by off-duty soldiers. Eventually, the theory goes, the Chukka made its way west to North America, where the Duke of Windsor became involved. He wore Chukka boots in the United States back in 1924, one of the first high-profile appearances of the shoe.
Chukka boots were designed to provide both comfort and a certain amount of style, and it was precisely because of these two qualities that they became extremely popular in the 1940s and 1950s. Chukka boots were considered a comfortable alternative to be worn as both casual and dress boots.
Chukka Boot Features
Because there are so many varieties, it is not always entirely clear what a real Chukka boot is and what is not. In general, however, a Chukka boot has the following features:
- Lace up ankle boots. They reach the ankle and no further.
- Two or three lacing eyelets; anything else is not a chukka boot
- Traditionally made from calfskin suede leather
- Rounded toe-box.
- Two parts each made from a single piece of leather.
- The quarters are sewn on top of the vamp.
- Open lacing.
- Thin soles.
- Soles traditionally made of leather (crepe rubber soles were later worn with desert boots)
- Historically unlined.
Chukka Boots Vs. Desert Boots
In 1941, while deployed to Myanmar, Nathan Clark, the great grandson of James Clark (the creator of the shoe company Clarks), noticed the chukka boot variation with crepe soles and sent sketches back home. Originally, they were commissioned as a lightweight and comfortable boot with rubber soles and sand colored leather to be worn by soldiers in their downtime. At the time, the suede uppers and crepe sole were associated with footwear only lower classes would wear, and so the Clarks Desert boot was not launched until 1950. Over 70 years later, it is probably the most common version of the Chukka boot.
Chukka Boots Today
Chukka boots today have become far more versatile than the originals and have been stylized to suit the times. The differences in the finer style details of the boot today determine whether they are right for business or leisure.
- Uppers. Chukka boots now come in various leathers and fabrics. Synthetic fabrics, canvas, suede or faux leather / faux exotic skins Chukkas are suitable for work and casual occasions. Traditional leather Chukkas in brown suede and leather soles are suitable for casual outfits.
- Soles. The thinner the leather soles, the finer the boots, but overall Chukka boots will never be an ideal white-collar business shoe. However, they can be worn with suits on occasion. The more casual Desert Boots often have thicker soles and rougher stitching, making them only suitable for casual wear.
- Colors. Although there are many color variations, Chukka boots should be brown. A lace color that matches the leather is preferred for a streamlined look. Less formal Chukka boots often come with contrast stitching on the uppers.