The history of the chukka boot is a little ambiguous. Depending on which retelling you hear, it features characters including the Duke of Windsor, Marlon Brando, and of course Nathan Clark, in addition to some combination of South African conscription, Indian polo, Dutch colonialism, and at least one World War.

But for the most part, they’re a short ankle boot with a couple eyelets. Of course the funny thing with shoes is, while there are some rules—many rules actually—those rules aren’t ever really rules. (See: oxfords, not).

Esquire Desert Boot Image 20th Century

A traditional but casual chukka for a postwar edition of Esquire, which supposedly helped popularize the boot in the U.S.

Let’s backtrack. Massachusetts shoemaking stalwart Alden collaborates regularly on special makeups with retailers across the US, and they’ve been at it for decades (fourteen, to be a little more specific). Despite all the Indy Boots and such, Alden is a dress shoe maker—America’s last remaining great one.  And every Alden makeup still goes through a grueling internal approval process (they say owner Art Tarlow still signs off on every one), aka collaborative retailers can’t just do WHATEVER they want.

Which means Alden is not running PNW-style boots spec’d for the Japanese market with Vibram V100s and double midsoles and four colors and two textures of leather, or hyper-sleek chisel-toes that look like the Concorde. But there’s still plenty of space to get creative on makeups. Because of that, what Alden retailers are ordering is a bit of a weathervane for the interests of the broader heritage shoe world.

And lately they’ve been ordering more 750 Chukkas.

Now of course the Chukka has always been eyelet-poor, but the 750 definitely holds the record for Least Chukka Eyelets, at a whopping zero. So without them, is it even a chukka??? Oh boy we’re now back to the wonderful world of Confounding Shoe Grey Areas. Well it’s probably not a loafer—it’s a bit too high. There’s that pull loop. And it’s just clearly…not a loafer! And hell, while not too many 750s have been kicking around before recently, Alden’s been calling it a chukka for a minute now. So, let’s do the same. Chukka-ness established.

Garments x Alden - Slip-on Chukka - Black Calf

Engineered Garments most recent Alden collaboration — an eyelet-less 750

It’s unclear just how old the pattern is, but its recent circulation seems to originate in the early 2010s with Leather Soul, a well-named outfit which at the time maintained locations in Hawai’i and Beverly Hills and regularly hosted trunk shoes from Alden, Saint Crispin’s, and John Lobb. Leather Soul ran several versions of the 750 chukka model, primarily on dressier leathers and dressier lasts.

Like many, many things in life, it entered circulation, made an impression of on a few people who ran makeups, and then fell dormant, waiting for its next time in shoe-sun.

Alden Madison Folsom Chukka Reverse Chamois

Alden Madison’s Folsom Chukka, sold as an archive release in 2020.

That time came in 2018 and 2019, as a small resurgence of the sort of 750 chukka makeups that had been put out by Leather Soul: mostly shell cordovan and suede, mostly on dressy lasts (Copley, Plaza, Aberdeen). Coincidentally, it happened to an extremely good time to be an easy, comfortable boot that you could slip on and off—just a year later the pandemic hit. The world shut down. And everything that could offer ease, comfort, or utility exploded.

A whole lot of people who had previously worn welted shoes to work, or just to look nice going out, suddenly didn’t need to do either of those things anymore. If you liked the feel of your Aldens but couldn’t be bothered with laces because you were basically only impressing yourself, slip-on chukkas were a tailor-made option—and retailers took notice.

At this point, they converged on the formula that’s are dominant right now: casual leathers (mostly from Horween), commando or wedge soles, rounder lasts (like the Barrie), and a pull tab to say “no really, leave me by the door.” The Alden x Zahner’s and Alden x David Wood versions both follow this pattern: Barrie last, Horween Chamois upper leather, split-reverse welt, commando sole, and a pull tab. Japan’s Engineered Garments naturally takes things even further, subbing in a beefy foam cavity wedge and making everything monochrome. (Ben described the critical shift away from formality here)

alden ealdwine asheville slip on chukka

Another casual, pull tab equipped 750 — an Ealdwine makeup from 2022.

And it all kinda makes historical sense. The name “chukka” comes from the Hindi term “chukkar,” either directly—it apparently refers to a stroll or light walk (though we can’t truly verify that translation)—or indirectly via the anglicized “chukker,” the seven minute play period in polo. In British-occupied India, light boots of similar make were supposedly worn by polo players after matches as light, comfortable alternative to Jodhpurs. So Alden’s now doing, or at least honoring…athleisure? Ok that’s probably an over-reach, but fun to think about nonetheless.

Of the many pandemic boom-items, one through line amongst the shoes that have persisted the last couple years is that they’re comfortable and utilitarian, but not too much of either to wear out and dress up (see also: the loafer boom.) Which might be a partial explanation of why the slip-on chukka is still on the ascent.

Alden Folsom 750 Chukka

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