My Kinda Clothes: Shoes To Persevere Through Troubled Times

I really should be writing my dissertation now, but a combination of pristine Spring weather, study fatigue and an unashamed adoration for Clarks Wallabees has compelled me to write about “my kinda clothes” instead. 

Ever since Ivy Style threw these contrarian shoes in front of my headlights, I’ve been infatuated with their horrific silhouette. Wallabees seemed like a unique take on smart-casual shoes in the same way that Nike’s Air Jordan sneakers had redefined basketball shoe design in the mid-1980s. In a London footwear market dominated by Yeezys, Adidas Stan Smiths, and other overpriced, continental designer sneakers, the way to stand out has been to adopt a more preppy look, and the Wallabee represents an unorthodox theme on this style. Even away from London’s rain-spattered streets, in the neoclassical warmth of my club, most are content with a pair of oxfords, chelsea boots, or any of a number of loafers. Few are bold enough to embrace the Wallabee’s idiosyncratic silhouette. 

I first put on a pair of Wallabees in 2016, and have been loathe to take them off. The maple suede of the classic version blends into a crepe sole, and the use of a leather insole within the boxy silhouette strikes the perfect balance between the employment of both an unorthodox, somewhat innovative silhouette, and traditional materials. One classmate remarked that they resembled “peasant shoes,” which, given the history of the Bass Weejun, may not be an insult. They’re extremely comfortable and, to an extent, formal enough to wear both to my club’s more dress-code restricted areas (in case of emergency), and to classes at university.  

They are also extremely rugged shoes, but they had to be. Whether the designers knew it or not, these shoes were released as the world stumbled into the tumultuous 1970s, when the shoes were popularized in Britain and America. In Britain at the time, industrial strikes, deindustrialization, and loss of the empire had earned Britain the moniker “The Sick-Man of Europe.” Across the pond in the US, stagflation, Watergate and Vietnam syndrome combined with an OPEC-orchestrated oil shock to tear asunder the very fabric of the country. 

Today, the worst that my beige pair has been subjected to is a handful of internships in biochemistry labs, with all manner of reagents and organisms splattered over them. However, instead of irreparably damaging the shoes, their punishment only served to toughen the character, and harden my admiration for them. 

The Wallabee has a close place in my heart mostly because they, like my parents in the 1970s, grew up during a time when the world was far uglier than it is now, and represent the slightly unhinged character required to persevere through troubled times. — MIKHAIL HAMEEDI 

19 Comments on "My Kinda Clothes: Shoes To Persevere Through Troubled Times"

  1. elder prep | March 20, 2019 at 2:04 pm |

    For me, the shoe proved to be just a little too strange looking. I’m staying with my Weejun’s, deserts and saddles.

  2. Charlottesville | March 20, 2019 at 3:00 pm |

    Thank you Mikhail. The Wallabees were indeed popular in the late 70s, at least in Virginia, and I happily wore them with outfits (and hair) a lot like that of the student in the last photo above. Perhaps they are not quite as classic as desert boots, but as I recall they were extremely comfortable and I wore them with jeans, cords and khakis, and even with a corduroy suit (cheaper than flannel, and acceptable on a youngster). Seems like the perfect footwear for a grad student, and certainly preferable to the glut of athletic shoes, flip-flops and crocs that I see on a certain university campus near these parts.

  3. Square End Knitted Tie | March 20, 2019 at 3:03 pm |

    Although I don’t think of them as Ivy specifically, I’ve got one short boot level blue pair of Clark Wallabees that are great in summer. I like the look but it isn’t for everyone. I do not see it as ugly, I have other apron front and apron with split toe shoes. The Irish Padmore and Barnes version which was the original one sold by Clarks is for the purist. I found mine as New old Stock via that electronic-bay online which I ironically bought from USA dna imported back to UK at a decent price.

    Padmore & Barnes seem to be still going (though I’m not sure it’s the original owners) at:
    http://www.padmore-barnes.com/

  4. Roger Sack | March 20, 2019 at 3:36 pm |

    I wore them through the 70s when I was a graduate student in Chicago.
    Very comfortable on my 3E feet. However, with crepe soles they were
    treacherous on ice, which is pervasive in Chicago. At the time Clarks
    produced a variant in smooth leather which had lug soles and much safer
    in winter.

  5. whiskeydent | March 20, 2019 at 4:46 pm |

    For some reason, I identify these shoes with liberal arts professors and Volvos. They’re about as good looking as a Volvo.

  6. Good post.

    BC

  7. When I was in second grade I saw these on my classmates and they terrified me.

  8. C,

    Way back when in second grade were you sporting saddle shoes 😉

    Cheers, BC

  9. Anony Mouse | March 20, 2019 at 6:54 pm |

    I think the wallabee was a modification and adoptation of the desert boot, which the UK issued during the war.

    As to the 60s/70s connection, to my mind it may have been served as a bridge to the awful “earth shoe” trend of orthotic looking shoes with gum soles.

  10. Desert boots for me. If you ever catch me in Wallabee’s, I want ya to tan me hide when I’m dead Fred!!

  11. Ezra Cornell | March 20, 2019 at 9:59 pm |

    Not for me, but my wife is devoted to her pair and she wears them well.
    This was a fun post.

  12. Miles Coverdale | March 21, 2019 at 8:11 am |

    I’d like to see the rest of the vimtage Japanese fashion magazine. 100 Ivy Leaguers Plus 30 Female Students sounds a little awkward as a title, but quite promising nevertheless.

  13. I have the same pair of Wallabee low tops in my year ’round rotation that I first bought in 1988 while in college. I’ve had them re-soled twice and they are still going strong. I’m 50 and work in a casual environment and wear them during any season provided it’s not raining. Cotton rag socks, or no-shows.

  14. Jonathan Sanders | March 21, 2019 at 8:48 am |

    Really great “My Kinda Clothes” entry. Just another example of how classic articles of clothing or footwear that we embrace grounds us in ways that go beyond simply style or practicality.

  15. Evan Everhart | March 21, 2019 at 10:43 am |

    I found this little entry and perspective upon one man’s fascination with a particularly idiosyncratic shoe to be most entertaining! I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing the things, just not my taste, but I do have a pair of leather soled “desert boots” in sand colored reverse calf floating around somewhere.

    The first time that I recall seeing these shoes however, was on re-runs of the 1960s Mission: Impossible series, typically worn by the character “Barney”, in black calf or some such, or occasionally on “Rollin Hand”, in the same make. The shoes did seem to work with the typically rather fashion forwardly modish wardrobe for Barney in most episodes, and with Rollin Hand’s more casual ensembles when posing as a day laborer or the like, in others (when he wasn’t going for the whole white canvas tennis sneaker look) by way of a disguise element.

    Despite the fact that I wouldn’t wear them, I’d prefer to see them worn by others, in preference to ugly modern sneakers from outer space, or ugly cow-hide square toed blucher loafers in black with rubber soles and “fun socks”. They do have that nostalgia element going for them as well, but as I said; enjoyable on others, not for me.

    Thanks for the write up Mikhail and best of luck in academia! 🙂

  16. MacMcConnell | March 21, 2019 at 1:52 pm |

    Evan Everhart
    Speaking of desert boots, in 1969 I happened to be in Topeka, Kansas. Not only was Topeka the capitol of Kansas, it was also the capitol of desert boots. I was touring Washburn University, every one dress Ivy wore desert boots, oatmeal socks and high water pants. Not a Weejun in sight, strange.

    These “wallabys” aren’t my cup of tea, remind me of the white shoes the cafeteria women wore. To each his own. 😉

  17. Although it has been eight days since this blog entry was posted, and so no one will probably read my comment, I still must post a “yea” in support of the Wallabees. I used to wear them all the time. Not sure why I stopped. I may need to remedy that situation.

    Like Charlottesville, I dressed almost identically to the guy in the last photo too many times to count.

  18. I went to an sec school so maybe not “ivy”, but my frat brothers and I wore basically only 3 pairs of shoes for daily life – boat shoes in summer, wallabees in winter, and new balances to spice things up now and then.

    That was in the 90s though so things may have changed.

  19. That first photo is an unfortunate look.

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