For those unfamiliar with the term “chukka,” don’t feel bad – I did my own double-take upon hearing about them. Often lumped under the term “desert boot” in many stores and websites, the chukka is a classic boot design that’s found its place in both fashion and on the battlefield. Having recently re-surged as a core part of men’s fashion, especially for guys in warmer climates looking to avoid sandals, I think it’s time to dive into just exactly what makes the chukka a chukka.
What is a Chukka Boot?
According to June Swann, a shoe historian (and holder of a job I didn’t realize existed), in order to be considered a chukka, the boot must feature a few defining characteristics.
- The height must come up to or just cover the ankle bone, just high enough to place them firmly in the boot category
- Unlike the many parts that make up modern combat boots, the chukka is only made with two parts: an upper ‘quarter’ and a rounded lower ‘vamp’
- Because the quarter is involved in securing the lacing over the foot, chukka boots will only ever have two or three lacing eyelets
- They are traditionally made of suede leather with thin, leather soles
History of the Chukka
With the pictures and description, it’s pretty easy to see how easily the chukka matches up with modern wear. The more interesting part of the story is where the boots came from and how they made their way here. The story isn’t 100% clear, but it’s universally agreed upon that the chukka originated from off-duty British soldiers stationed in India. Polo was the preferred game among Brits in India. The name chukka possibly comes from one of two words. “Chukker” is a polo term for a period of play, so it doesn’t take long to put together a polo boot being named from a polo term. The other idea refers to the rounded vamp, where the Hindi term “cakkar” means circle or wheel, and was adopted to also mean a casual stroll.
The term “desert boot” doesn’t come around until roughly World War II, where a similar boot became the standard issue boots for British GI fighting in Africa. The military versions of the chukka were rounder and bulkier than the polo versions, based on an African shoe design called “veldskoen,” but would eventually come to be synonymous with the chukkas we see on shelves today. Chukkas remained popular in Britain since the 1950’s and have come and gone from American men’s fashion.
Chukkas are a flexible piece of footwear that, depending on the material of the sole, can be dressed up or dressed down to fit the fashion needs of an event. More than that, they are a boot steeped in military and political history that has come to reside as a popular option for everyday wear. If you’ve never considered wearing a chukka yourself, ta
ke a chance to try on a pair and see how you like them: you never know just how much you have in common with 19th-century polo players.
(A quick thanks to the Gentleman’s Gazette for their guide on the chukka, which helped fill in the gaps in my own knowledge https://www.gentlemansgazette.com/the-chukka-boots-guide/. Happy shoe hunting!)
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.