Cool Or Fugly? The Wallabee, Footwear Of Choice For ’70s Preps & Southern Frats

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as you’ve probably heard before. So when someone posted a picture of Clark’s Wallabees on Ivy Style’s Facebook group, wondering their place in the Ivy/prep pantheon, my bias against them immediately showed.

The shoe gave me childhood trauma in the late ’70s — not because I was forced to wear them, but merely that I was forced to look at them. I’d like to think I was born with a sensitivity “regarding love and art,” as the Tinman sings in “The Wizard Of Oz,” and even as a second-grader I knew the Wallabee was an eyesore.

But it’s not my place to shove my personal preferences down the reader’s throat — or on his feet. After all, there is healthy disagreement in Tradsville on just about everything. And so with a disinterest and a sense of duty I present this ode to the Wallabee, which graced the foot of more ’70s preps than you might expect, and which continues to find wearers today, including Southern frat boys.

Let this post stand as a balancing weight for a future post, as a contributor wants to write about Belgian Shoes, something wholly on the other end of the footwear spectrum.

Below, the blogger “OCBD” has posted about the Wallabee and is fond of the shoe:

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This shot is from 1982:

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What do you bet the caption translates “for the young and young at heart”?

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The post-heyday campus look of the ’70s:

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Director Wes Anderson apparently has quite a thing for the shoe, and somehow it makes perfect sense that an artist whose work is routinely referred to as “twee” would find comfort in these shoes:

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Women will put anything on their feet in the name of fashion. Would you kick this lovely young lady out of bed for eating crackers? Or kick her out of camp for wearing Wallabees? Only you can make that call.

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Neo-prep revival:

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And yes, what one of our Facebook members said happened apparently happened. In the early 2000s Southern frat boys wore Wallabees with their go-to-hell pants, buttondowns and bow ties.

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For those who feel like they need to cleans their palate — or perhaps even take a shower — head on over to the (in)famous “Ode To The Bit Loafer” thread over at Andy’s Trad Forum. — CC

51 Comments on "Cool Or Fugly? The Wallabee, Footwear Of Choice For ’70s Preps & Southern Frats"

  1. Theodore Bouloukos | July 11, 2016 at 3:23 pm |

    I’ve worn them for 40+ years and still enjoy their comfort and versatility, whether dressed up or down.

  2. Is Anderson wearing Seersucker pants with a corduroy jacket in the last picture of him? Sweet Jesus.
    I’m surprised I’m not in that last photo.

  3. They’re just as popular in the northeast, many wore them at my prep school. Thankfully boat shoes and bucks outnumbered them. I think they look sloppy no matter how you wear them.

  4. Depends on how you wear them. Ive seen on leave soilders at the beach in low top Wallabeez.

  5. Clark’s Wallabees are in the same category as grey suede New Balances, as some people think they look good while others view them as ugly. Not surprisingly, these Wallabee wearers who also tend to be hip and over 40 years old and they also wear grey suede New Balances. An example is Eric Goode.

    https://www.yatzer.com/sites/default/files/article_images/2789/Eric-Goode-loft-in-Manhattan-photo-persona-production-yatzer-5.jpg

  6. Chewco L.P. (Offshore) | July 11, 2016 at 4:33 pm |

    Nice. But I think OCBD’s sweater deserves a post of its own… Yowza!

  7. Wallabees, to me, are as profoundly ugly as wearing a piece of extension cord as a belt. The girl, however, looks awfully cute in hers. I would love to see more Ivy/Trad/Preppy females.

    Will

  8. That girl looks more like a fashion victim, as I bet she dislikes the looks of the shoes.

  9. Is it me or does that girl look drunk? Or maybe she was asked to model those Wallabees (also made famous by Walter White) and wearing them made her bilious.

  10. @GS

    I’ve seen that look before. My wife, shortly after waking and making coffee with our French press before the rest of our friends rise after a long night of partying around a bonfire at an Eastern Shore campground. My wife wears Bean Boots though. Good times.

    Will

  11. @Chewco

    Clicking through to OCDB’s blog reveals that the sweater was a custom job, courtesy of his sister.

  12. Gah! “OCBD”. Obviously a post about Clarks shoes made me think about Clarks Desert Boots, aka “CDBs”.

  13. @sacksuit

    Ha! And your wife sounds like a well-dressed woman, I love Bean Boots.

  14. Since you asked, put my vote in the Fugly column. I prefer Clarks Desert Boots.

  15. @FJW

    As do I, they’re like high-top Bucks.

  16. Never owned a pair but have considered it many times over.

  17. Max Macmillan | July 11, 2016 at 11:52 pm |

    I always thought of them as the conservative man’s GTH shoes.

  18. Roger C. Russell II | July 12, 2016 at 12:09 am |

    I am with Christian on the Wallabee. A very ugly shoe indeed. However, I live in the proximity of Memphis, TN. and it is a very popular shoe here. The shoe is such a big deal in Memphis that somehow a store named OakHall gets a shipment of made in Ireland Wallabees every few years and sells them out with a waiting list. I will say it is part of the Prep/Trad culture of the city and though very ugly the shoe actually does feel very comfortable. They become very popular about once a decade, but they never completely die out.
    Some people do have a way of pulling the look off. For instance, the frat guy in the shorts and socks could be in Memphis, and I like the look. I do the same thing with Camp Mocs. However, plenty of people think that the socks and shoes together are just gauche.

  19. Clarks Desert Boots and Wallabees were popular in my SoCal high school (Uni in WLA) in the mid to late 60’s as were Venetian and Penny loafers. Tennies were for gym class.

  20. If you want to clear a room full of women, wear Wallabees.

  21. Mark Henckel | July 12, 2016 at 6:13 am |

    I still wear them. Just bought a new pair.

  22. Ghastly, and so are bit loafers. Desert boots are a much better option.

  23. I wear grey suede New Balance sneakers. I love them. I can’t get into the wallabees though. I prefer Clark’s desert boots.

  24. Proudly wearing Wallabees and CDBs. Love ’em. The real Southern prep mistake was the brief fascination with those slip on Merrells around 2000 or so. Brutal

  25. MRS: It was New England prep schools too, my brother came home with a pair, they stunk to high heaven…

  26. Prep or Ivy or not, they’re pretty cool, I think.

  27. I don’t really have strong feelings about those shoes. I don’t love them; I don’t hate them.

    I’d never wear them, but that doesn’t mean I have anything against them. As long as they stay on other peoples feet and in other people’s closets and leave me alone, I’m fine with them.

  28. Charlottesville | July 12, 2016 at 12:54 pm |

    I wore them with jeans, khakis and corduroys through the mid and late 70s, but somewhere along the line I switched to desert boots for informal suede footwear. Not sure that I’ve ever thought about why. The book-toting kid in shot number 4 could be me, circa 1975 or so. As I recall, at least in Virginia, they were pretty standard teenage and college wear back in those ancient times, but I don’t see them often these days.

  29. Had a (very brief) fling with Wallabees circa 1973-74; thought they were awful as walking shoes and probably gave them away.

    The shoe I REALLY liked in that era was the Clark’s Trek (brown cowhide, not suede) which I first bought in 1972 to wear on a two-month er… trek in Ireland. Treks were introduced to the U.S. in 1971 and were made in Ireland until, I believe, the 1980s.

    So are (were) Treks Trad?

    BTW those Treks came with a terrific leather hang tag featuring the “trekker” image that I used as a key ring fob until I forgetfully left it with the keys for an AWD Blazer I sold during a hasty departure from Riyadh for Dublin in the fall of 1978.

  30. Son of Ed | July 12, 2016 at 1:34 pm |

    Wallabees’ shape has always reminded me of hippies. I don’t have an incredibly strong aversion to them but I’ll take the desert boots over them eleven times out of ten.

  31. Son of Ed | July 12, 2016 at 1:39 pm |

    @Mazama, I currently have a pair of Clarks (Desert)Trek in brown leather– a little wacky but more stylish by far than those Wallabees. They’re still available and still come with the leather tag– though Lord knows where they’re currently made!

  32. I’ve worn Clarks Desert Boots for a long time and currently have two pair, each in beeswax, and recently came upon the “Desert London,” a low-cut version of the desert boot. These are the most comfortable shoes I own and I think it’s the natural crepe sole. (See Vees are nearly the same but their sizing runs a bit tight for me.)
    To increase the comfort, though, I remove the heel pad completely from the DBoot, then insert a fresh insole – that, combined with the crepe sole gives the feeling of walking on thick carpet. (Some may need to order a half-size up for this; I don’t.) The Desert London is fine as is. On my older pair of DBs, years of occasional saddle soaping, followed with a proper treatment of natural mink oil, leave the leather like gloves of kid. The newer ones will get the same care.
    I’ve never been brave enough to wear the Wallabees, but on certain people they look, well, not bad.
    All told, it’s the crepe sole, I tell you. The crepe sole.

  33. Wore Wallabees in college during late 70’s. When the laces broke I replaced them with Argyle laces that I took from a cheerleader’s saddle shoes. Would only wear with jeans, anything else would be wrong. Would never wear today.

    @sacksuit I wear Bean Boots year round. Occasionally get strange looks on hot summer days when I have left the house and forget what I am wearing.

  34. Southern bond girl

  35. I’ve been ceaselessly fascinated by how men absolutely loathe this shoe yet it’s never failed to be an excellent conversation starter for me with women. Hmmm. Maybe I shouldn’t have posted this. I’m ruing what appears to be one of the most well kept secrets of the fashion world…

  36. I love this shoe! I actually found out about this shoe from Ghostface Killah and bought them and immediately thought they were ugly. It wasn’t about 2008 that I started to actually wear them constantly. Now I have black suede, brown, and green suede. Recently my dark blue suede just started to look used and I stopped using them. I did not know that they where a prep shoe until after I read this article and thought that was funny since I associated them with “east coast gangster rap, Wu-Tang Clan”. Also thought of them as a grandpa shoe. Not a lot of people where I live wear Wallabees and when you do see them its like “they know” lol.

  37. EVAN EVERHART | March 29, 2018 at 10:18 am |

    I don’t have anything new to contribute to the debate upon this shoe, other than to contribute my own opinion in affirmation with the party against these rather hideous examples of footwear. If these are indeed preppy, as seems evident from their being worn in photographs, it must be stated (and the wearers forgiven and it be considered as a mitigating factor) that after all, it was the 1970s, and everyone was lowering their stylistic standards. Beyond my above statement; I’d like to state for the record that I consider these shoes to be the suede equivalent of Crocs, sans the holes for one’s dignity to run out, unless, somewhere along the line, they came out with a perforated/aerated model – in which case there would indeed be the proverbial holes for one’s dignity to run out through. I wouldn’t be surprised. These shoes are only a quarter step above Birkenstocks. Yuck. CDBs or Bucks all the way, if you’re going suede, or spectators for Spring/Summer. The word that comes to mind is “homely”, ineffably so.

  38. EVAN EVERHART | March 29, 2018 at 10:22 am |

    Sorry to be so vitriolous, and I don’t mean to be offensive to anyone who somehow likes those things, but my revulsion at them is overwhelming. I would not be so rude as to say anything if I were to see someone wearing them, unless they were a friend in which case I’d have to say something, if only for the preservation/conservation of their own dignity.

  39. elder prep | March 20, 2019 at 2:22 pm |

    These shoes are perfect for librarians and teachers where moving quietly is an asset.

  40. Michelle Welker | August 28, 2020 at 8:20 pm |

    They were the most comfortable shoes ever

  41. Wallabees rule.
    That is all.

  42. Some things are so ugly they’re cool, wallabees, bean boots, any Citrôen built after 1956, the Ramones…

  43. Roger Sack | May 19, 2021 at 4:46 pm |

    I wore them in the 70s when I was in grad school at the U of Chicago.
    Perfect for my 3E-4E feet. However, the crepe soles are treacherous
    on icy streets.

  44. whiskeydent | May 19, 2021 at 5:00 pm |

    During my wasted youth in the 70’s, the frat rats who wore these things had hair that was a little longer and eyes that were a little redder. They looked a lot like Wes Anderson, in fact. If he had arrived at the University of Texas in the late 70’s instead of the late 80’s, I’d say it was him.

  45. michael powell | May 19, 2021 at 7:14 pm |

    I’ve got seven pairs; four suede, three leather. Six colors. Worn with khakis or chinos; occasionally jeans. Will wear them with a jacket, shirt and tie.

  46. Correction: Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder. Please put me firmly in the “No thank you” column.

  47. Childhood trauma indeed. I recall very well seeing Wallabees (and the equally unattractive suede Earth Shoe) in the mid-1970s as a gradeschooler on a my male teachers in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades. I still occasionally wake up screaming in a cold sweat. 😉 Definitely not the leather whole cut or split-two dress shoes worn respectively daily by my late father and maternal grandfather.

    Best Regards,

    H-U

  48. When I travel (or used to travel), I routinely take the subway into downtown areas instead of driving a rental car in busy, unfamiliar traffic patterns. When I do this, I often end up looking at the footwear that other passengers are wearing. The reality seems to be that shoes like Wallabees are actually a notch or two above what your typical person is wearing these days. Maybe wearing them should actually be encouraged.

  49. Fugly – and perhaps that is the point.

  50. Old School Tie | May 27, 2021 at 12:06 pm |

    At first glance I thought the top picture was an open casket.

  51. 1973 riding my pony

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