There aren’t many pieces of footwear that can go from suit to jean, or from fine dining to knockabout weekend wear as effortlessly as the humble suede chukka. But for versatility and understated chic, this hundred-year old boot is in a league of its own.
The chukka boot, like so many great pieces of menswear, originated with the game of polo - specifically as played in then-British India. The name originates in Hindi, translating to ‘a short stroll’ - appropriate for the boot as it’s used today. In polo, a chukka (or chukker) is a seven-minute period of play, four to eight of which make up a match. There is historical evidence of them being worn around the sport and by players after matches, but ironically little to suggest they were actually worn during the game itself. It was primarily a hard-wearing leisure shoe, particularly prized for its comfort.
It began making its way westward around 1924, when the Duke of Windsor, who had visited India and played polo there, adopted the style and wore it both in the UK and on travels through the United States. During World War II, the British Eighth Army discovered the chukka during their campaign in North Africa, finding this rugged and reliable boot superior to the standard military issue footwear they had arrived with, eventually replacing the leather sole with crepe rubber to create the chukka-derived desert boot. By the mid-1950s the chukka was everywhere, gracing the likes of Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront, and a little later Steve McQueen, who more or less lived out of them.
The chukka’s great strength is its adaptability. Stylistically it sits at a happy medium between casual and formal - soft in shape and construction with a vamp that finishes around the ankle, it’s a decidedly more relaxed affair than an oxford or even a derby. We’ve leaned a little towards the smarter end of the spectrum with ours, using a finer sole, a narrow toebox and high vamp to create a chukka that looks good with relaxed suiting - think cloths like cotton drill, moleskin, flannel and tweed - and really shines when paired with separates like jeans, chinos or tailored trousers. Like the loafer, its both sartorial and unpretentious - as at home with the hardiest selvedge denim with a chunky knit as it is with a smart pair of tailored flannel trousers and a blazer. If you need just one smart shoe for the cooler months, the stylish, enduring chukka boot should be the one you reach for.