The Desert Boot Down the Years
By Faye Fearon
Jul 13, 2022
Writer Faye Fearon presents a potted history of the desert boot – a shoe with unparalleled cultural significance – leading all the way up to our own contribution to the genre: the trusty Clifford boot.
I find it quite easy to buy clothes for my dad, mostly because his style has always been consistent. By definition, I’d hang his garments up in the ‘essential’ section of a wardrobe, and it has been this way since his late teen years which dawned at the end of the ‘70s. Growing up in Liverpool, his social circle evolved alongside the explosion of post-punk music in the North West of England, and, on your average week, he and his friends would jump back and forth between gigs at Liverpool’s Eric’s Club (well worth a Google) and Manchester’s Haçienda (before its hardcore rave reputation kicked in). To drink and coyly dance, they required comfortable yet culturally relevant outfits, and when it came to footwear one design took centre stage: the desert boot.
This boot was by no means a bandwagon purchase for your average man in the ‘80s. Its presence was as minor as the music it was worn to hear (early gigs from bands like Joy Division drew just a few hundred people). So without bigging my dad and his friends up too much, I have to give them credit for being onto something important. It was one of music’s biggest underground zeitgeists, one which many young people now look back on in admiration, and attempt to distil into a contemporary image. But the funny thing is that at the time, my dad’s little ‘80s circle did the exact same thing as us today: took ideas from past cliques. If you’re into an art form, it’s impossible to escape nostalgia because pleasures of the past are how we’ve arrived at the present. Allow me to elaborate.
The desert boot dates back to 1949 and was originally based on the South African veldskoen: a rough-suede, crepe-soled boot frequently worn by soldiers in bush wars. The design was simple, strange and unconventionally appealing, but much like every other object that’s now heralded in the world of menswear, its attractive reputation was manifested by way of artistic expression. The earliest point of reference – to my dad’s knowledge – was the Beatniks. Poets like David Meltzer and Allen Ginsberg made an unintentionally cool case for the shoe in the late ‘50s – not entirely surprising given that they were driven by exploration. So the boot was practical, of course, but when paired with oxford shirts, lambswool v-neck jumpers and loose workwear trousers, it became subtly (and inherently) stylish too.
From there, the footwear of this influential literary generation popped up across the pond through England’s mod movement – styled brilliantly by the likes of Steve Marriott (of Small Faces) and Ray Davies (of The Kinks). Fast forward to today, and the shoe has even enjoyed prominent cameos on the silver screen – most recently worn by none other than Daniel Craig in his role as James Bond. In the upcoming No Time To Die, he swings from bridges and rides a motorbike around a sleepy Italian town while wearing a single-breasted beige suit and a dark brown suede desert boot. Bond remains muted on his sources, but I’ve got to give praise where it’s due: his footwear is from Drake’s.
In an always-moving cycle of style, what I like about Drake’s is that each design is built on classic, cultural heritage, but with something uniquely fresh about it. Case in point: the impressive variation of desert boots currently on offer, from a moc-toe Crosby style (as worn by Craig) to the unlined Clifford boot – my personal favourite. Other than the obvious visual charm, there’s one main reason why I like it, and it's the upgraded rubber sole. In a practical sense, this ensures everlasting durability and adaptation to pretty much any occasion (the secret key to effortless style).
One final note on how to style your Clifford boots. I’m all for constructing outfits out of classic, well-crafted pieces (and fortunately, so is Drake’s) so by day, I’d complement the Clifford with some stonewash selvedge denim jeans and a crew neck jumper – ideally one from their recent collaboration with Aimé Leon Dore. And as for the evening? A suit, naturally, but if there’s one sartorial cue to take from 2020, it’s relaxation – so I suggest a softly tailored corduroy number. The desert boot is that most failsafe style of footwear, and while they aren’t guaranteed to start you on the road to literary greatness, they will keep you comfortable and unflappably stylish, and that’s almost as good.