Odyssey of the Desert Boot

My family is hilarious. Not only do they fully support you in your dreams but so much so that they take part in them  with you, often carrying your lifeless body through the mire of life that we call the Great Race in order to see a watery smile on your face after you’ve been through months of, shall we say, drought. In such times their support does nothing but produce a sense of hilarity in how family works and the measures taken to prove that you are, indeed, special.

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Such a moment has been happening over the last few months, or if we’re honest, years. This story begins with my dad. Stephen. My dad works in the clergy business and often finds himself consulting many a man and woman whose lives seem to be falling apart, and on top of that, many a minister who just can’t get over the crazy people in his ministry. His reach is far and wide and we’ve affectionately dubbed him the “Pope”. (He would be mortified if he knew this was now public knowledge).

The only reach poor dad didn’t have, was in his closet. The poor man was at a style loss. Shirts like tents, pants that were most likely used during the prohibition era to smuggle whiskey in their legs and not the right shoes. Ever. His jackets hung on his thin shoulders like bags of empty potato sacks and often one could find golf shirts hearkening from an era gone by.  As such, being from a classy, beautiful family (legitimately everyone in my family could be models or actors) appearance was of somewhat a high order. The understanding being that first impressions are everything, especially if you’re leading people out of purgatory. You don’t want to look like you’re actually leading them into it.

With the birth of the Luxurie, and my own personal passion for timeless style, classy life and a general air of living life well (inherited from my wild parents)  came the sudden frenzy of supporting dreams and jobs and all of sudden Dads closet got thrown out and the old man had to let go of his faded golf shirts and bootlegger pants. Look at him now and you’d witness a man in his 50’s being the best looking man I’m sure you’d see for miles around. Slim, trim, everything fitting well and all the right shoes. Such has been the excitement of the family makeover that Mom has been digging in the origins of where things came from. Being an intelligent woman she has dredged up all sorts of information from the corners of cyber space and a sprinkle of information from the grounds of Africa from whence she hails.

This is where this article comes in. I now introduce to you my Mother. She had decided it was high time my dad got desert boots and as such he now looks better than most young adults and adults. The woman is extraordinary and dad has no choice in the matter whatsoever, though he has fallen head over heels with his new babies.

Here then, is her article. Written with much gusto and excitement. Read and enjoy.

It is that time of year again: the nights are chilly and often a gust carries a warning that “balmy” is a word that will be used again only next year. Most of us are in the seasonal process of storing summer clothes and shoes, hauling other stuff out of storage, airing, cleaning and looking with dismay at what appeared to be so gorgeous last season, only now to be so lifeless and boring.

For the men here on Cape Cod it means out with the boat shoes and loafers and in with anything that will prevent some serious frost bite: roomy enough for thick socks and high enough to keep the feet and ankles warm.

Enters the Desert Boot. Like their cousins, Chukka boots, Desert boots are ankle-length boots with two or three pairs of eyelets for lacing. Desert boots are generally loose fitting with a durable high-traction sole and less support at the ankles than the cousin Chukka. Desert boots are known for their comfort and durability; though a casual shoe, they’re suitable for work. I once read the Desert boot will carry a country boy through a night in the city and a city boy through a weekend in the countryside, and do it in style….

Whilst in Egypt in 1950, Nathan Clark (Clark’s shoes) saw British officers  who wore crepe-soled, rough suede boots that were ordered from the local bazaar in Cairo. Clark’s have since turned this soft, floppy ankle-high boot in a fashion icon – the Desert boot.

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Long before Nathan Clark saw these ankle boots in Egypt, they were  being worn in South Africa, already  for many  generations. Veldskoen boots (pronouned feld-skoon) and colloquially known as “vellies” (try fell-lese) are worn by just about everyone in South Africa. Boys wear them to school, farmers trape in the fields and office workers hit the sidewalks in Vellies. Vellies have a long history in South Africa – they are believed to have been made by the Khoi people with untanned leather uppers sewn without tacks or nails. The original Veldskoen was handsewn from two pieces of Kudu hide (antelope indigenous to South Africa). Members of the Dutch East India Co copied the shoes in the mid 1600’s. Veldskoen was the footwear of the Great Trek in 1836, the migration of white people to the north. It is believed that the British, in turn, copied these easy to make, lightweight and extremely tough shoe during the Anglo-Boer War at the turn of the previous century; the design was carried by the British to the second world war in Egypt.

Veldskoen or Vellies were manufactored all over South Africa but Schier Shoes put the Vellie on the international map. They have been making Vellies out of Swakopmund in Namibia since 1935. Eight Damara gentlemen turn out 20 pairs of shoes per day, made entirely by hand. (Visit www.schiershoes.com to see a great selection of Vellies.)

The Desert boot has come a long way. Known for their comfort, they’re a far cry from the rugged Vellies. The saying goes that if you buy a Vellie today, the blisters will stop by next year Christmas. The topline of the Vellies is considerably lower than chukka or desert boots but in all other ways they are similar.

Time to shop! If you want a great comfortable ankle-length boot for your chinos or denims, just about nothing beats a Desert boot. If you want to step back in time for the ultimate shoe experience, visit www.schiershoes.com for the Desert boot’s ancestor, Vellies. This humble shoe is enjoying a fashion revival beyond the borders of native South Africa.

Written by Dalene Russell for the Luxurie.

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