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Clarks' Classic Wallabees Are an Easy Sneaker Substitute

Available as both high- and low-tops, the Wallabee has been worn by style icons aplenty.

woman wearing wallabees
Clarks

First launched in 1967, Clarks' Wallabees have appeared on everyone from Kanye West, the Wu-Tang Clan and Pharrell Williams to Wes Anderson, David Beckham and Drake — plus a few famous Brits in bands like Oasis and Blur. The omnipresent style hasn't changed much since it first debuted, making this one of those rare products truly worthy of being called timeless — like Rolex watches or L.L. Bean's Boat and Tote, to name others in its class. (And see, timeless doesn't always mean expensive.)

History

The original Wallabees referenced a German moccasin — similar to the ones South African brand Grasshoppers sells today. They featured a similar crepe sole and an upper reminiscent of shoes fashioned first by Native Americans. But the Wallabee didn't inherit its sole from the Grasshoppers. It adopted it from the Clarks Desert Boot, which first debuted in 1949. That style pulled the concept from boots Nathan Clark, the great-grandson of C+J Clark (aka Clarks) founder James Clark, found in Cairo.

The globetrotting design didn't immediately garner a whole lot of interest in the UK, though, despite being a go-to elsewhere in the world for over one hundred years. It wasn't that the shoe was bad by any means — 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 US, then bands in Britain gave it that.

In return, Clarks earned plenty of airtime in songs by artists from both genres: Vybz Kartel and Popcaan dedicated an entire song, aptly titled "Clarks," to the brand; on the Wu-Tang Clan's "Gravel Pit," Method Man raps "Wu-Tang gotta be the best thing since Starks and Clark Wallabees"; on Snoop Dogg's original "O.G." he raps "They put me on punishment but that didn't work, now I'm wearing khakis, Wallabees and a T-shirt." There's an entire book dedicated to Clarks' history in Jamaica. And Clarks even collaborated with Wu-Tang Clan as recently as 2019.

clarks wallabees
Clarks

Clarks Wallabees

The Good

The Wallabees have endured for a number of reasons: They're comfortable, come in an endless assortment of colors and textures and truly are one of the rare shoes that you can wear with (almost) anything. As such, people rarely outgrow them. They become a pair of shoes trusted to get the job done, whatever it is that may be. Clarks Originals' Global Head of Marketing, James Frapwell, told the Financial Times the Wallabees work well because they're a "shoe for people who didn’t want to wear shoes." In the same interview, Frapwell revealed the Wallabees was Clarks best-selling shoe, which surely came as a surprise to me because everyone owns a pair of Desert Boots.

But as someone who owns both, I'm more drawn to the Wallabee when picking out an outfit. Sure the DBs (short for Desert Boots) are easy to pair with a wider assortment of pants, but the Wallabees have interest on their own. The uppers are most commonly cut from two pieces of roughout suede merged together with a moc-toe and folded, connected tongue, while the outsole is often crepe. Crepe creates a soft, cushioned footbed with plenty of flexibility. As such, the shoe's comfortable and eerily quiet on all surfaces.

Some newer versions come equipped with Vibram lug or wedge soles, but it's best, in my opinion, to forgo them for the original. Outsole aside, all of them come with the same unstructured (meaning no metal or other hardware) eyelets and two stack lace configuration.

wallabee clarks
Clarks

The Bad

Because the Wallabees are made from one hundred-percent suede, they're soft — and after plenty of wear pretty unstructured. If you're someone who buys a pair of shoes and sticks with them every day until they die off, you'll find that these wear in especially fast. The rubber, if worn on tough terrain, will break down more rapidly than lug or leather soled shoes. But, that's what's expected if you're into how Wallabees look.

The suede, on the other hand, while sturdy, doesn't stand up to severe weather, a hallmark of easy-wearing (and washable) mesh sneakers or extremely durable boots. Wallabees are admittedly somewhere in-between, but this could be a drawback for someone living in a city where rain can be a bit hard to predict (like me, in Pittsburgh).

The Verdict

Wallabees are worth it — 100-percent. Whether it's because of the lore — how they traversed the globe starting in South Africa and ended up in Jamaica then New York and New Jersey — or their looks, you shouldn't hesitate to hand Clarks ~$150 dollars for a pair of your own. Both the high- and low-top version are a sensible step up from sneakers yet plenty removed from polished penny loafers, making them an OK option for any setting about 98-percent of the time.

Your Wallabees will require a little bit of care, though. You'll need a suede brush to keep the nap even. Small, circular motions all over the shoe should do the trick — just avoid wearing 'em in the rain or through standing water unless you've waterproofed them first.

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