CULT ITEM: CLARKS WALLABEES
By Sam Higgins, 5 May 2017
Clarks Wallabees have been humble servants to our feet for over 50 years now and, despite a notable history, the shoes have barely shifted from their original, timeless silhouette. Here, we take a closer look at how your trusty pair of Wallys survived subcultural appropriation and remained the epitome of laid-back style.
It was in 1967 that Somerset shoe merchant Clarks designed its debut Wallabee shoe. The fresh take on a suede chukka, which boasted a boxier structure than the brand's previous styles, took cues from a moccasin called the Grasshopper, which had launched two years before in Germany. Undeterred by seeing a similar shoe on the market, Clarks trademarked the Wallabee name and worked on replicating the hype that surrounded its older and arguably more iconic sibling, the desert boot.
Although at times it has languished in the shadow of its half-cab counterpart, by the early 70s, both shoes had become integral in the sartorial arsenal of the Jamaican ‘rudeboy’, providing a new signifier of quality and style. Rummage through vinyls from reggae’s golden era and you’ll likely find the lead singer clad in a suave blend of smart/casj, the outfit accented by a fresh pair of Clarks. Towards the start of the 80s however, with the help of new electronic advancements, the soulful sounds of roots reggae evolved into dancehall, offering a more upbeat, club vibe. Despite the musical shifts, the humble Wallabee remained relatively untouched, still offering the perfect blend of casual comfort and dance-floor dapperness.
A wave of immigration from Jamaica to New York in the late 70s saw the Wallabees gain popularity in the South Bronx and influence the wardrobe of the then-young subculture of hip-hop. Despite this, the hype around Clarks died down somewhat, with the rap scene favouring technical sneakers and, towards the start of the 90s, big, bulky Timberlands. That is, until Wu-Tang Clan donned the silhouette in the early 90s – in particular Ghostface Killah, whose love for the style extended to naming a whole album after it and, at times, adopting the pseudonym ‘Wally Champ’. Of course, we can’t attribute the shoe's revival and the brand's escape from near bankruptcy solely to the rap collective, but their sartorial influence can’t be underestimated – it’s no secret they laid the building blocks for the recent super-oversized trend.
By the noughties, Wallabees had become internationally renowned, with the understated shoe still inspiring dancehall stars like Vybz Kartel to rap lines like: ‘everybody haffi ask weh mi get mi Clarks’, and British school kids testing uniform rules with the comfy-yet-neat style. Even in a sneaker-saturated world, the Wallabee remains the shoe of choice for many of the stylish set and – with the style now presented in refined shapes and a host of colourways, from the classic brown suede, to the more bold, pink versions – the Clarks classic is set to stay stylish for some time yet.