Classic Wallabees from Clarks are an easy sneaker substitute
First launched in 1967, the Clarks Wallabees have appeared on everyone from Kanye West, the Wu-Tang Clan and Pharrell Williams to Wes Anderson, David Beckham and Drake – as well as a few famous Brits in bands like Oasis. and Blur. The ubiquitous style hasn’t changed much since its inception, making it one of those rare products truly worthy of being called timeless – like Rolex watches or LL Bean’s boat and tote, for n ‘to name others in its category. (And see, timeless doesn’t always mean expensive.)
The original Wallabees referred to a German moccasin – similar to the ones South African brand Grasshoppers sells today. They featured a similar crepe sole and upper reminiscent of shoes first designed by Native Americans. But the Wallabee did not inherit its sole from the Locusts. He adopted it from the Clarks Desert Boot, which debuted in 1949. This style drew the concept of the boots Nathan Clark, the great-grandson of C + J Clark (aka Clarks) founder James Clark. , found in Cairo.
The globetrotter’s design did not immediately spark much interest in the UK, although it has been a benchmark elsewhere in the world for over a hundred years. It wasn’t that the shoe was bad at all – it looked and felt essentially the same as it does today – but it lacked the coolness that catapulted it to its current status. But reggae and dancehall artists in Jamaica, then hip-hop artists here in the United States, then groups in Britain gave it away.
In return, Clarks gained a lot of airtime in songs by artists of both genres: Vybz Kartel and Popcaan dedicated an entire song, aptly titled “Clarks”, to the brand; on Wu-Tang Clan’s “Gravel Pit”, Method Man raps “Wu-Tang has to be the best thing since Starks and Clark Wallabees”; on Snoop Dogg’s original “OG” he raps “They punished me but it didn’t work, now I’m wearing khakis, Wallabees and a T-shirt.” There is an entire book devoted to the history of Clarks in Jamaica. And Clarks even collaborated with Wu-Tang Clan as recently as 2019.
Wallabees have lasted for a number of reasons – they’re comfortable, come in an endless assortment of colors and textures, and truly are one of the few shoes you can wear with (almost) anything. As such, people rarely pass them. They become a pair of shoes you can trust to get the job done, whatever it is. Clarks Originals global marketing director James Frapwell told the Financial Times that the Wallabees perform well because they are “shoes for people who don’t want to wear them.” In the same interview, Frapwell revealed that the Wallabees are Clark’s best-selling shoes, which surely surprised me because everyone owns a pair of Desert Boots.
But as someone who owns both, I’m more drawn to the Wallabee when choosing an outfit. Sure, DBs (short for Desert Boots) are easy to pair with a wider assortment of pants, but Wallabees have an interest in themselves. The uppers are most often cut from two pieces of rough suede fused with a moc-toe and a folded and connected tongue, while the outsole is often crepe. The crepe creates a soft, cushioned footbed with a lot of flexibility. As such, the shoe is comfortable and eerily quiet on any surface.
Some newer versions come with Vibram studded or wedge-shaped soles, but in my opinion it’s better to forgo that for the original. Along with the outsole, they all come with the same unstructured eyelets (i.e. no metal or other hardware) and a two-stack lace configuration.
Because Wallabees are one hundred percent suede, they’re soft – and after a lot of wear and tear, pretty messy. If you are someone who buys a pair of shoes and keeps them every day until they die, you will find that they wear out particularly quickly. Rubber, if worn over difficult terrain, will break down faster than shoes with cleats or leather soles. But that’s what is expected if you like the look of the Wallabees.
Suede, on the other hand, while sturdy, does not stand up to the elements, a hallmark of easy-to-wear (and washable) mesh sneakers or extremely durable boots. Wallabees are admittedly somewhere in between, but that could be a drawback for someone who lives in a city where rain can be a bit hard to predict (like me in Pittsburgh).
Wallabees are worth it – 100%. Whether it’s because of tradition – how they crossed the world starting with South Africa and ended up in Jamaica, then New York and New Jersey – or how they look, you shouldn’t hesitate to hand over to Clarks ~ $ 150 for a pair of your own. The high and low versions are both a noticeable advance over sneakers, but much further removed from polished moccasins, making them an acceptable option for any setting about 98% of the time.
Your Wallabees will need a little care, however. You will need a suede brush to keep the nap even. Small circular motions all over the shoe should do the trick – just avoid wearing them in the rain or standing water, unless you’ve waterproofed them first.
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