Clarks Desert Boot (MSRP $119.99)
This thing is a chimera of shoe quality. On the one hand it’s cheap. I mean actually, monetarily cheap. Also the upper is unlined, the sole is made of plain rubber, and the two are pressed together and stitched visibly along the flared-out lip of the upper. But on the other hand it has a characteristic that is normally reserved for high-end shoes alone: it’s easily resoleable. Not that anyone resoles their CDB’s but they certainly could if they wanted to and that characteristic certainly stands out amongst shoes of this kind. In the dissection I’ll show you exactly how it’s put together (there’s slightly more going on here than meets the eye) and you can see that if you bought a sheet of crepe rubber you could resole these things yourself with a toothpick and some dental floss.
Insert bits: something to put the brand on and a gratuitous sliver of foam.
I couldn’t resist cutting this seam first. Every time I see these shoes I want to cut this thing.
Aaaand… it’s exactly what you’d expect. The upper comes off. It’s very floppy and made of two pieces. Since the upper is so straightforward, I next turned my attention to the sole. Primarily, where the stitching ended and how the heel was constructed.
TECHNICALLY this is made of 4 pieces of material (insole, outsole layer 1, outsole layer 2, and heel) but, let me tell you, practically speaking it’s a single, chemically bonded, bouncy hunk of matter. It feels like the contact cement almost melted the rubber on the mating surfaces and either piece coalesced into one. This was also true of the insole.
You can see how I tried to separate the insole and peel it away but that really didn’t work. I tried cutting the area between the insole and the outsole but there was no discernible boundary. I mean, you could see one but the parts didn’t behave that way. You can see it better in the next picture but the insole never actually separated, I just had to cut into the rubber with a razor so that the smallest possible amount of rubber remained on the insole as I pulled it away.
This was a fantastic surprise to me. Before I started this I just thought to myself, “simple enough, they sew the upper to the insole and cement the insole to the outsole.” So I imagined that I’d see the bottom of the stitch on the underside of the insole.
As it turns out, the thread appeared to be buried within the rubber. The stitch actually goes through the first layer of the outsole. Then I realized that this is probably why they use two layers for the outsole. They stitch through one of them and then glue on another to protect and hide the seam. I have to say though that at first glance it looked like they’d somehow magically sewn into the middle of the rubber.
After a lot of cutting, I split the heel a bit and exposed the thread. Here you can get a better sense of where the stitch is buried.
This is the outsole and heel viewed from the side. You can clearly see the two layers of outsole that I mentioned earlier.
Even though the bond created by the cement seemed to be stronger than the rubber itself, I wanted to check to see if the heel was attached using anything else. So I cut out a portion roughly through the middle to see if it would expose any pegs or extra seams; frankly, I’m not sure what I was expecting.
That search ended in vain. Predictably it’s just rubber and glue. The smaller, more manageable chunk that I cut out did however give me a good chance to get a better look at the stitch that held on the upper. After lots of cutting and pulling and more cutting I got in far enough to see better.
…and with some perspective. You can see that it clearly stops under the first layer of rubber.
Then on to the upper. I half suspected that the patch sewn onto the heel area was itself the counter. But after cutting the patch away I saw that the counter was sandwiched between the patch and the quarter.
It seemed pretty clear that there was no lining but, just to be sure, I cut into the upper a bit to get a better look; after all there was a stitch running along the entire upper edge of the throat, which normally would have been done to attach a lining. Again, suspicion confirmed: no lining, just a decorative stitch.
And that’s it. Two floppy pieces of leather sewn onto two floppy pieces of rubber. Add a heel and some shoelaces and you’ve got Clarks Desert Boots.
I wanted to mention here that the pieces of the upper are virtually un-formed. When I set them on the table they laid almost perfectly flat. Normally the lasting process leaves the leather with some permanent curves but not these guys. CDB’s shape seems to depend entirely on its pattern and not on lasting, making them about as simple as simple gets.
They may be cheap but the leather is good and guaranteed to outlast the rubber sole. So the ease with which these things could be resoled really lends them a distinction that’s not normally held by sub-$200-ish shoes. Other than that my overall assessment is leather + rubber = shoe.