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