The best account of the chukka harkens back to the Raj, Britain’s former rule over India, and the polo field. It’s rumored that off-duty British soldiers would wear these ankle-high boots (similar to the polo boot, the Jodhpur) during breaks between matches — the name “chukka” actually references the periods in polo matches (called chukkas). Decades later, during World War II, British soldiers who were stationed in Northern Africa would wear these tight-to-the-ankle boots to help keep the sand out (they also replaced the leather soles with crepe soles, which stood up better to the heat and the sand). While in Burma, Nathan Clark, a British soldier and an heir to the Clarks shoe company, saw these boots on soldiers who had brought them back from bazaars in Cairo, and he liked the design. He ran with the idea after the war, implemented it into the family business, and created the now-ubiquitous desert boot.
Modern chukka styles vary, but all follow a few simple rules: ankle-height, lace-up boots with two to three lacing eyelets and a rounded toe box. They’re made from two parts of leather, traditionally unlined. Good style pairs them with either cuffed denim or custom-tailored dress slacks. The boots provide more ankle freedom and are easier to take off than traditional work boots, and the variety in styles leaves chukkas well suited for job sites (as hardy desert boots), while others pair well with a three-piece suit. Choose your own chukka accordingly.
Clarks Desert Boot
The Desert Boot is Clarks’s staple. First introduced in 1950, this Desert Boot’s 65+ years of existence, and popularity, have led to myriad colorways. They’re available in various different suede, tumbled and distressed leathers. Each pair has crepe sole and fits true to size.
Axel Arigato Chukka
Axel Arigato, a footwear brand who Vogue recently said champions “the look of polished athleticism,” has a new take on the traditional desert boot. Their chukka sneaker has a suede upper, is lined with calf leather and is made by hand in Portugal. And if gray isn’t your color, Axel Arigato makes these chukkas in some other pretty lavish styles like alligator embossed leather, ostrich embossed leather and python leather.
John Varvatos Hipster Chukka
All of John Varvatos’s shoes have a vintage look to them, and these chukkas are no different. They have a goatskin leather upper, a rounded toe and, maybe their most distinctive feature, rubber tire tread soles. The shoes are available in black or brown leathers.
Red Wing Classic Chukka
The Red Wing Shoe Company has been making shoes since 1905. They use oil-tanned premium leather, which is water and stain resistant. Each shoe is Goodyear welted and comes in several upper color options including brown, gray and copper.
Quoddy Kennebec Chukka
Each pair of Quoddy’s Kennebec Chukkas is made by hand in Maine. They have Horween leather uppers and Vibram soles, and each pair is completely customizable; you can pick the color of its leather upper, lining, laces and sole.
Mark McNairy Loopy Chukka
Made in England, Mark McNairy’s chukkas have suede uppers and a Goodyear welt construction, and they’re completely lined with leather. They also come with a red sole and rolled laces. If you wear any type of chino work pant, the blue uppers will slot right in with your daily attire.