How I Became the Blue Suede Wally Don

Sometime in the ’90s, when I was at Stonehill College, my friend Matt declared, “You need to dress more hip-hop.” We loved rap, but many of its sartorial signifiers didn’t feel right for me. Karl Kani was overcooked, Timberland was too try-hard, Polo was too expensive, and FUBU was, well, not something I should try to pull off.

There was one hip-hop favorite that I aspired to wear, though: the Clarks Wallabee. In 1995, Raekwon dropped his album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. . . In the intro to “Glaciers of Ice,” fellow Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah walks listeners through a footwear epiphany: “Yo, I got a crazy idea how to do Clarks now / Check it out, boom, this is how you freak ’em.” Suddenly every Wu-Tang verse, cover, and video offered a primer on customization, from sand suede Wallys dyed half green (“chicken and broccoli”) to the same color dyed half navy (“blue and cream”).

For me, the apex of this was Ghostface’s “Apollo Kids” video, featuring the self-described Wallabee Champ striding through Starks Enterprises—basically a Wonka-esque version of the Clarks factory—as pairs tumble off a conveyor belt and whirl through a bath of orange paint.

My first pair of Wallys, purchased shortly after Matt’s declaration, was a permutation of the classic, with toes like the ones on elf shoes. They were . . . odd, but so was the decade. Soon after, I adopted the desert boot as my go-to. Versatile, respectable, it felt more me than the Wallabee.

Clarks Originals Wallabee

Clarks Originals Wallabee

But in the past few years, I retired the desert boot. My style had evolved, driven by a “fuck it” attitude that was as much an emotional response to the pandemic as it was to my own creeping mortality. Age also deepened my confidence while widening my nostalgia. Which is why I finally bought some slate-blue Wallabees. I announced their arrival to Matt with a text that read, “The blue suede Wally Don!” They’re a reminder of one of my favorite cultural and style eras—and a reminder that, fuck it, I can pull them off.

As for the next pair, I’ve already got some ideas. Or as Ghostface said, “Yo, son, I had crazy visions!”

This article appeared in the April/May 2023 issue of Esquire magazine.


Michael is a Brooklyn-based writer; follow him at @runmbd. 

Source : Esquire