You have to love the British army.
They’ve given us loads of fashionable mainstays from trench coats to wristwatches—heck, they even gave us Pilates.
Churchill’s officers wore crepe sole chukkas during WWII. They’re grippier than leather soles but lighter than hard rubber.
These qualities, along with their distinct look, make crepe soles worth considering for your own boot repertoire. You might like them for lazy summer camping or tailgating on a warm day (or for the dance floor—no judgment).
We’re going to break down the functions and styling of crepe sole footwear so you can decide if it’s for you.
What Is Crepe Rubber?
Crepe rubber is a natural porous material with a crumpled texture made from latex.
Organic latex is sap tapped from the South American Pará tree, aptly nicknamed “the rubber tree.” It’s coagulated for up to 12 hours then rolled into sheets. The resultant crepe rubber can also be further processed to make hard rubber.
Because they’re unrefined, crepe soles are springy and provide a lot of traction.
Crepe soles look natural but high-end. Kind of like when fancy organic food companies use biodegradable paper for packaging. They also add a casual flare and are often built into chukkas.
Dressier crepe sole chukkas work well paired with a suit as a casual statement. Think of it like pairing a suit with sneakers a la Lebron.
History of the Crepe Sole
Nathan Clark was a British infantryman whose family owned the C. & J. Clark shoe company. In 1941, he was deployed to Burma where he noticed fellow officers wearing a distinct style of suede boot.
These boots were cobbled at the famous Khan el-Khalili bazaar in Cairo. Allied South African soldiers needed them for the hellish desert terrain.
Fast forward to 1949: C. & J. Clark introduced the Clarks Desert Boot, a descendant of what the officers wore during the war. Esquire ran a feature on the boot, and it took off faster than Netflix’s stock in the 2010s.
Benefits of a Crepe Sole
- Crepe soles are soft, flexible, and lightweight. The cushion is great for your joints. They’re comfortable like sneakers, but dressier, which makes a crepe sole super versatile.
- They provide good traction compared to other boot sole types in reasonable conditions. If WWII soldiers could get around desert topography in crepe soles, you’ll do fine getting from your car to your barstool. Crepe rubber gets slippery when wet though, so don’t wear them in the rain.
- Crepe rubber is biodegradable and sustainable. Not only is sap tapping harmless to the Pará tree, but it strengthens it. Every pair of crepe sole shoes should come with a Nobel prize.
- They have a unique organic look. Crepe soles make dressier uppers less extravagant, and casual uppers more high-end.
Crepe Sole Drawbacks
- Crepe soles aren’t durable. Don’t take these bad boys hiking. The flexibility provides little protection between your foot and that jagged rock on the trail.
- Don’t use one pair as an everyday shoe unless you plan on replacing it every year. Cobblers who could replace crepe soles are few and far in between.
- It gets dirty easily. The textured bottoms, though cool looking, are filth magnets, especially compared to leather soles.
- The softness is a problem to those with low arches because they don’t provide much support. The break-in period is more like a break-in saga for the flat-footed gentleman.
My Top 3 Iconic Crepe Sole Boot Recommendations
1. Clarks Desert Boots
Few crepe sole shoes offer the lore that Clarks Desert Boots do.
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The uppers are fashioned from two pieces of quality leather. Choose from a range of types including suede and beeswax. The leather is so heavily oiled that maintenance is infrequent.
Style-wise, Clarks are best for casual outfits. The leather elevates jeans and relaxed looks more than a typical sneaker.
I love being a part of a story. As the weight of a Submariner on your wrist connects you to its fabled Bond heritage, the Clarks Desert Boot connects you to its cultural history.
2. Grenson Oscar Suede Desert Boots
Grenson is closely associated with the Goodyear Welt shoemaking method. It’s this method that makes the Oscar Suede Boot special.
The Goodyear Welt makes replacing soles less like a half-court shot and more like a layup, at least for a skilled cobbler.
The welt is a thin piece of leather that runs around the edge of the outsole, which the welt is sewn to. The welt is also sewn into the insole and upper, thus attaching all three components. This makes it so that no parts of the shoe are damaged when soles are replaced.
In the grand tradition of Grenson, this desert boot is finely stitched adding a touch of elegance. The rounded toe still makes the boot casual enough and crepe sole-appropriate.
3. Common Projects Chelsea Boot
You can literally take the Common Projects Chelsea Boot from game day beers with the guys in the afternoon to an art benefit with your lady that same evening.
The boot’s tapered silhouette gets full attention because of its simple, laceless upper. The rounded toe makes it effortlessly casual, but the understated classic form pairs it seamlessly with evening wear.
I’d say that this is the fanciest of the three boots. For an excellent alternative to the Common Projects Chelsea that costs under $100, check out the New Republic Sonoma Suede Chelsea.
Crepe sole boots are a great choice if you want a comfortable, casual shoe that levels-up relaxed looks. Some varieties can even dip into evening wear.
Stick to hard rubber if you plan on wearing your new shoes everyday or if you need them to be able to take a beating.
What do you think? Will you add this iconic look to your shoe collection, or is the comfort and style not worth the wear and tear?
For more boot care and styling tips, be sure to check out the BootSpy YouTube channel
How can I distinguish between general crepe and artificial crepe?
Natural rubbers are softer and less odorous. Natural crepe is stretchier, but synthetic crepe can be made much stronger, with greater traction on wet surfaces.
How do you clean crepe soles?
To clean crepe soles, mix water with grease-removing detergent or curd soap, roughly two tablespoons of cleaning agent to a quart of water. Using a sponge or a brush (an old toothbrush works), scrub the sole with the soap water. Rinse and repeat as needed.
Are crepe soles good for snow?
Crepe soles aren’t good for snow. They’re typically slippery and don’t do well in wet conditions.