G. Bruce Boyer on the Chukka Boot
I think I learned as much about how to dress from watching Fred Astaire movies as anything. His way of combining different elements and flaunting the rules of the game with elan were inspirational. Wearing a button- down shirt with a double-breasted suit was iconoclastic, as was using an old tie for a belt, pairing a checked tweed sports jackets paired with white flannels and white buck shoes, or attaching a collar pin to a button down shirt. It was pretty heady stuff for a young man to contemplate.
It was the mix of the casual with the dressy that intrigued me, that gave Astaire that wonderful nonchalance that was so much a part of his graceful style. He wore his clothes with that deceptively too-cool-to-care exuberance. I remember seeing several photos of him taken when he first came to Hollywood in the early 1930s wearing a combination I’d never seen before: a classic three-piece suit with suede chukka boots. Even for me, a devotee and dress rebel, I wondered if this was a step too far.
It wasn’t. As a young man I was used to wearing desert boots, that wonderful casual footwear of World War II heritage. They were made from rough reverse leather, unlined, and had a thick foam rubber sole. That was my reference point for boots and we wore them with jeans or khakis, some Ivy aficionados wore them with Bermuda shorts. It wasn’t til much later, when I was first in London that I saw the real chukka boots: fine reverse calf suede uppers, leather-lined, two-eyelet, and a welted sole of either leather, rubber, or Dainite. These were boots elegant enough to wear with a tweed sports jacket and cavalry twill trousers, or as Astaire wore them, with a well-cut country suit. My eyes opened, I got it.
I’ve had a pair of chukka boots in my wardrobe ever since. I prefer a Dainite sole because it’s lighter in weight than rubber but just as waterproof. I’ve had them in dark and medium brown suede and even in grained leather. There’s something liberating about wearing this classic designed boot with a dressier garment. I’ve even tried them with a tan linen suit in the summer. But that may have been a step too far. Of course the true glory of the chukka boot is that it can be worn with virtually anything, apart from swim trunks or a bathrobe that is. They look great with corduroys, khakis, or jeans, and I still think the pairing of them with a duffle coat – a post-WW II college classic look – makes for a great outfit.
In case you were wondering about the name, chukka (also spelled chukker) refers to a period of play in a polo match, so we may surmise that the word is of Indian origin. There are six chukkas in a polo match, of around seven minutes each with a break between. Funnily enough, some very natty clothes come from the game of polo, including the “wait coat”, that distinguished belted camelhair garment we still call a polo coat. And the button down shirt itself, which Brooks Brothers, the store that popularized the collar style in the early 20th Century always called a polo collar. But the renowned chukka boot is perhaps the most versatile. And that’s not a step too far.