Saturday, 12 May 2012

Desert Boots

Welcome again to what we must all understand by now is an occasional blog.

OK. McQueen wore M-43 boots in The Great Escape. He wore playboy boots on plenty of occasions.

Desert boots. Clarks says they've "been worn by Hollywood legends like Steve McQueen". The operative word presumably being "like". I wondered once, briefly once, which "Hollywood legends like Steve McQueen" wore them.

Desert boots do have Steve McQueen style, though. Clarks especially of course knows they're the kind of thing you'd associate with Steve McQueen regardless of whether he wore them. They're close to the playboy style (which incidentally predates the desert boot). It's little wonder people think he wore them.

Ancient Romans wore practical, ankle-high laced leather boots. If you had some kind of machine to take you across 17th century Europe, say, you'd see similar things on the end of many commoners' legs. But don't lie, because I know perfectly well that you have no such machine. I'd be a fool to fall for that again. Anyway these commoners' boots, called startups, were the template for the first industrially manufactured work boots.

Schier Hyena Veldskoen

Somebody who seemed odd (that's a compliment far as I'm concerned) once posted a comment on this blog about the history of the desert boot. He said that the Hottentots, the native people of southwest Africa, wore similar things on the end of their legs. He mentioned veldskoen, southern African footwear that descends from the Hottentot design.

Veldskoen certainly look like desert boots. Rather, desert boots look like veldskoen. The huge Dutch East India Company made the first veldskoen in the 17th century. A company called Schier has made veldskoen in southwest Africa, in Namibia, since 1938. Eight tribesmen make 20 pairs of veldskoen by hand each afternoon in the Herbert Schier workshop. The footwear is vegetable dyed leather, mainly from culled antelope. Hyena is most traditional apparently, and it's also similar to the tobacco colour of our man's Bullitt boot.

Clarks Desert Boot in sand

Clarks began in a Somerset village in 1825, a tanning and wool stapling business run by a Quaker, Cyrus Clark. Three years later the business began to sell footwear, thanks to brother James Clark. He'd had the idea to make slippers from sheepskin off-cuts.

Nathan Clark, great-grandson of James, volunteered to help the goodies in the Spanish Civil War. He noticed the espadrilles – the light comfortable shoes with jute rope soles – that the local peasants wore.

Nathan served in World War II and went to Burma. He served with allied officers sent east when operations were over in the deserts of North Africa. Nathan noticed the practical, ankle-high boots these officers wore when they were off duty. They were made of rough suede, were light and comfortable with crepe soles. It'd started with the South African officers, who'd had replacements of their veldskoen made in a Cairo souk. Clark copied the design in good old Somerset and launched the result in Chicago in 1950. Most of Britain only became interested in them in the 1960s. (Nathan Clark died last year, aged 94.)

I've become something of a Clarks Desert Boot fundamentalist. I've put several colours on this blog but I now believe only in one. Clarks' website says its desert boot "now comes in a neutral sand shade". That's the colour, with the orange stitching, they've always sold. If you're afeared that they're too light, be not afeared. They're about the same shade as the "wolf" colour they sell by the time you've sprayed on protector and walked a few miles.

Perhaps the "cola" colour is still acceptable to me, especially as it's close to the Bullitt snuff colour. Hmm. I admit that I like the look of the "ebony vintage" leather ones too. Trickier than it looks, this fundamentalism lark.

The Schier boot looks great. If I ever get some money again, I'll try them. The Clarks boot is great. I love the crepe soles. Natural and sustainable. I love the whole boot. It's too much for a few people that Clarks makes its desert boot in Asia. These people usually give me the impression that the root problem is racism rather than any sound ethical consideration. It's also too much for a few that Clarks are relatively common, but it's rare to be that pathetic. Most of us understand that the Clarks Desert Boot is great: now you understand even more than most.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012


Barbour Clifton cardigan in brown

Somebody told me that last week was fashion week. It seems fitting for me to begin to post again after the fact. Yeah, you heard right! I'm back!

Barbour has had its Steve McQueen collection for a while. It was around even when I last posted. Some wondered why I'd failed to write much on it. Well, I have plenty of things I'm yet to go into in depth, but I doubt I'll write much more on the Barbour Steve McQueen collection. I get too angry sometimes. I at least want to try to focus on positive stuff, and I only see the negative in that collection.

While I'm on the subject, for a similar reason I'm unlikely to write much more about Dockers. I intimated that chinos were a thorny issue the last time I tried to tackle them. More than anything, I recommended Dockers for want of better alternatives. I had little else to offer, but even given that it was something of a mistake.

All the usual designers of the moment seemed to have a chino or two in the collection then. These other chinos were more money and all told about as good as the Dockers. It was only just over a year ago, and the situation is much the same. Those Toys McCoy still look great, mind.

I have another couple of chino recommendations to make in time. That's quite an achievement when you look at the choice. That's the least of it, though. I've learned much more about the Levi's Sta-Prest type of option and boy, do I have the mother of all posts on Steve McQueen trousers to come?! Yes. Yes, I do. I've done an incredible amount of research and joined many dots in a unique way. I honestly am a genius of Steve McQueen style. You'll just have to wait… 

I hope, now I've said that, the trouser post will live up to your expectations.

Anyway. I'm similarly unlikely to recommend anything from Grand Prix Legends and sister site The King Of Cool, as I did initially. The umbrella company name is Lylebarn. Close readers (there are some!) will have watched my misgivings for the company's "Frank Bullitt jacket" grow. (Things are always complicated: I'll defend the version of the jacket when I next write about Bullitt and natural shoulders and all that.) It's obvious to anybody that Lylebarn goes for a broad market. That's incidental insomuch as if something turns up for me to recommend then I will.

Take that company's cardigan, for instance. People fail to achieve anything like Steve McQueen style if they're simply in Steve McQueen fancy dress. It's fun, but just fun is something other than Steve McQueen cool. I've said this kind of thing again and again, but it'll always bear repetition: Steve McQueen style is about being as stylish as the man, more than dressing as much like him as possible. (This blog relies on the idea you can pay homage and get away with some items that are exact or thereabouts, of course.) I like the idea that the Lylebarn cardigan, despite the blurb, is something other than "a very close replica" of one worn by McQueen. The problem is that, except in the crudest sense, it hardly looks like any kind of cardigan. OK, I exaggerate. A bit. Ho ho.

It makes me feel a bit bad to say any of this, because I can't help but feel a connection. The Lylebarn guy is obviously a genuine McQueen fan. That kind of thing sounds silly to anybody who isn't a fan but I take it you understand, as you're reading a blog called Steve McQueen Style. Apparently tenuous to some, it's a connection that counts. I suppose it's odds-on this Lylebarn guy cares little in the overall scheme of things, though. Perhaps he started out rich. Regardless, odds-on that company's made him a good deal richer. The real bottom line is, he owes his customers more.

One final tiny stab-wound in this Greek tragedy. Lylebarn peddles imitations of the Bullitt roll-neck. I thought the blurb for these jumpers said the original was French Navy. Well, it does. They mean the colour, though. They confusingly capitalized navy. Ho ho. That's right. It's a rare example of a tiny mistake that causes genuine confusion and justifies grammatical pedantry.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Barbour. Must stay positive. I can recommend a couple of things outside the Steve McQueen collection. I'll do another cardigan post at some point, but I'd like to recommend a great example now. I found the Barbour Clifton chunky shawl collar cardigan early. I know others have found it too.

Here's the bad news. It's taken me a long time to get round to this post. The Barbour Clifton cardigan is somewhat difficult to find. Since you began to read this mother of a post, it's doubtless even more difficult. Barbour is at fault, of course. They've discontinued it.

The Clifton cardigan comes in four colours: brown, blue, green and barley. The barley colour strikes me as ridiculous for some reason, but that's almost certainly just me. The blue is just like the Big Sur one McQueen wears, at least in that it's difficult to determine the exact shade. It's a mid-blue in about half the photographs, but I believe it's navy. They call it navy and that's how it looks in other photographs. Sage or seaweed is a classic green for a shawl cardigan and the seaweed Barbour Clifton looks great on paper and screen. I've seen this one in real life, though. It's in fact something slightly more hideous than a classic sage or seaweed. The brown is great. Darker than a Cincinnati Kid or Bullitt brown, mind.

The Barbour Clifton is a quality ribbed cardy. It's big, as uh big cardigans tend to be. Five-gauge 100% lambswool. Leather knot buttons including collar button. Two patch pockets. Remember, all the cool kids leave the bottom button of their cardigans undone.

You might be able to find the odd colour to interest you in your size if you're fast. Barbour By Mail, "Barbour's official online partner", has a few Clifton chunky shawl collar cardigans left for £110. Shop around if you have time.