English shoemakers Clarks are legendary for their suede desert boot, footwear of choice for slightly depressed teachers approaching middle age with regret and a desperate need to hold onto some vestige of youthful rebellion. Their chukka boot, somewhat back in fashion with a generation of younger men trying to meet the expectations of a workaday world while retaining a little of their college sense not having sold out to anything or anyone has some big shoes to fill (ahem) so lets see how they go about that….
Where I got them and how much I paid
Clarks have a reputation, at least in this country, as being solid, sensible shoes at a good price – most often worn as schools shoes or as the ubiquitous footwear of Walter White. I’d been looking for a pair of chukkas which wouldn’t break the bank for a while when I came across a sale at Macy’s, where I could get them for about AUD92. This was good as most locally sourced examples would run me 50-100% more and the less expensive ones just looked like something you’d see on a bricklayer’s site. So, it was with alacrity that I sent off my order for a pair of deep brown chukkas (along with a pair of slightly odd Stacy Adams Chelsea Boots but more on their delights later).
And the catch
the biggest drawback to the entire process were the shipping times. Ordered 3/3 to arrive here in Australia 26/3, with a poor tracking service to boot (ahem).
What I got
Pretty much what I paid for. Given I was looking for something that was lighter than my Colorado work boots but could still conceivably work as a “Friday Shoes” and considering my personal preference for a less ornate, more pragmatic shoe, it was a tight remit to fit.
Oiled leather, made in India, with a deep leathery smell (although somewhat corrupted by the smell of the thick injection molded PU used in the soles) which feels good to the touch. A great, consistent fit (my history of broken toes does occasionally mean some wear and tear particularly on the outside of the right foot). The boot profile is bang on, not too high or too low, rising slightly from the quarter to the peak of the topline. Stitching detail is neat on the upper – it adds to the look but doesn’t soften it. I’m not sure if the stitching around the sole is ornamental or practical. The crepe sole matches in nicely with the colour and the two eyelet trim is consistent with the no-nonsense, hard wearing aesthetic the boots put out. Overall, it’s a nice, well put together look.
How they wear
So, where better to walk-test a pair of tough but stylish boots than the slightly more upmarket of my two nearest shopping malls, by walking through that very maw of hell itself, my personal bête noire, the local IKEA.
There are two things you immediately notice on putting on the boots – firstly, as they are never worn, the toecap seems slightly bulbous next to the narrower throat of the shoe. This makes them look a little like clown shoes. Pleased to report that settled down and stretched to fit after a short time walking. The other, more concerning one was that given the absence of any dressing on the topline above the heelcap, and the stiffness of the leather, had me worried about rubbing and blistering. I have to say that, for the first half an hour, I did tread carefully but eventually the leather became a little more flexible and I was walking normally with no ill effects.
As I mentioned the fit was fine and, as I found to my great pleasure, the 3 mile walk around IKEA in them was comfortable and supportive. The crepe sole, while not aesthetically the most pleasing thing in the world, had a lot of give which cushioned the walk and gave no slip at all. The heel was just the right height for a comfortable mall-walk and the internal cushioning and lining, while not a luxury ride, did give a better experience than one might expect at the price point. I’m a heavy guy, so I appreciated that. One drawback – arch support is non-existent. Socks, by way of reference, were a pair of Geoffrey Beene dress socks -so no hiking socks necessary.
The two eyelet lacing kept the boots together well on the foot. By the end of the walk the boots had broken in sweetly and felt light on the feet. Like any oiled boots, they picked up their share of little scuffs and scrapes but a light brushing and two minutes of the scuff ‘n buff and they were right as rain.
And, in the end
Let’s not kid ourselves here. We’re not buying into cachet with these boots. They are as mass market as mass market can come – but they look good, they wear great and, shipping woes notwithstanding, the price is right. So as shoes for shoes’ sake, they are dandy. But would a man want a pair?
Well, given that there is not even a whiff of formality about them, this makes them what I would call “Friday Shoes” – you’d only wear them to work on Fridays, where people who cared about such things would notice you were on trend for the boots and those who didn’t would at least notice you weren’t wearing sneakers (although some of the developers I have worked with, I’d be grateful if they even wore shoes). They are good for wearing out and about, they have a touch of “street” (and I loathe that term, usually) about them and, jazzed up with some brighter laces (gold and brown, I am thinking) they style well with pretty much any coloured chinos and a short sleeve button down. If, like me, you have given up on trainers/sandshoes and want to dress like a little more like a grown-up, they are a great option.
So, caviar on a peanut butter budget? Of course not – but good peanut butter on an average peanut butter budget they are. Look beyond the ubiquity of the name and you have a boot which is comfortable, on point style and trend wise, has a purpose to it’s existence (so many shoes don’t) , is comfortable to wear and you can buy them and have enough left over for some rather sexy Stacy Adams Chelsea boots. What’s to quibble with? As for me, I’m going to wear the heck out of these suckers.