Vintage Clarks Desert Boot Ads

The Real Clarks Original Desert® Boot -Esquire Magazine Advert 1950s

When my good friend Herb Lester is not out visiting the weird wonderful and downright excellent in specialist stores and entertainment, he seems to be most often found by the fireside leafing through a mountain of vintage Esquire magazines from the 50s and 60s, iPhone camera at hand, ready to email The Weejun the choicest morsels of unattainable vintage goods.

Over the holiday he sent me these classic images of Clarks’ US advertising in Esquire, apologising for the vagueness of the last one but not able to scan the large format.

Clarks Desert Khan (for some reason also called Kahn these days) is not a faithful reproduction of their original Desert shoe, at least as sold in the UK. In the USA the Desert Khan retains it’s distinctive lace up facings – a much more interesting design than the current ‘chopped’ desert boot sold in Europe.

No surprise really as Clarks are criminally lazy when it comes to their heritage (or cynically revisionist?). The printed crap that comes with their Originals range is so full of typos and factual inaccuracies to shame most other ‘heritage’ brands.

It would be great to see them reissue the Desert® Saddle shoe but if they did I’m sure it was have plastic tablecloth for a lining and be made in nasty waxed leather.

It’s difficult for me to talk about Clarks without the need for a rant, so I please excuse me but a rant really is in order.

For a current example of nastiness check out this OFFICIAL website product image.  Can you believe that this is the Clarks website and they couldn’t find a shoe that was a reject? That crumpled crease is bad making, this is not soft leather that somehow droops a little, this is hard cheaply tanned inferior material which has been badly lasted.

This warped example is a Clarks official website product shot!

Most companies would reject that shoe at the factory and never in a million years use it to try and sell the damn thing. Surely with the global reach of Clarks there’s a market for a niche Made in England/Ireland desert boot or wallabee even selling at £150? Some of their Wallabees for sale in Italy (and the J Crew ltd edition one) are actually Made in Italy. The Italians are serious about their desert boots.

I recently bought the Clarks Wallabee boot in Walnut shown on their website with a nice natural unstained crepe sole. I went to their flagship store in Regent St to buy some (from experience the sizes are all over the place) and the guy in the store had no idea of what model I was asking for.

He looked it up on the till computer and told me I could only order it online for home delivery. When asked why they didn’t have the full range of Originals models on offer in their London flagship the response was “It’s because of the trees and stuff they make’em from. Them trees is rare, innit”. You honestly couldn’t make this stuff up.

I went home and bought them online and they didn’t look anything like the picture on the website. I left a ‘review’ saying as much but (no surprise) they didn’t publish it. They were well made however, the sizing was better and the last shape is now correct (and not the squashed cornish pasty the earlier post P&B ones looked like) but it shows how little some companies care for the intelligence of the customer that they can’t be bothered to either get the factory to make the shoes as per the samples, or at least change the bloody photograph when the product differs so much in production.

But Clarks once were mighty, in the days of the Padmore & Barnes wallabees, and the real original Desert® Boots (can you imagine someone getting away with registering the word ‘desert’ these days?) and these great ads serve to remind us of times gone by when the Clark’s desert boot was perhaps the biggest selling shoe model in the world and the most imitated.

Herb Lester pointed out the Invisible Man style crossed boots on the footstool. Brilliant!


  1. Amen, Weej. Couldn’t agree more re: the state of Clarks’ current wares and haphazard marketing. They are surely a company in the rare and enviable position to be able to positively exploit their rich design archive and manufacture faithful re-editions of their classics at an understandable premium over their ‘regular’ output yet STILL position them in price bracket affordable to most to the majority of interested buyers. What a wasted opportunity. I bet if they did get their act together re: real UK/Eire produced Desert boots the factories would have to work flat out to cope with demand. Reciprocal rant over! Happy New Year & all the best for 2011!

    1. The worst of it Mark is that I’ve had more or less this conversation with the most senior person at Clarks.
      In one ear and out the other.
      Happy New Year!

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