Why we’re agog for clogs
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Knock, knock – who’s there? It’s the clog, clumping down a pavement near you. Once a humble piece of peasant workwear carved from wood, the clog has become a hybrid high-fashion staple. Alaïa, Loewe, Hermès, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Gucci and Prada are all currently offering a version, while fans include Bella Hadid (seen in the buzziest current model, the Bubble (by Simon Miller), Julia Roberts and Sarah Jessica Parker, who according to one website has been a clog advocate “since 1993”.
“I like all clogs,” says HTSI editor Jo Ellison, “from traditional Swedish Hasbeens to the Dansko clogs worn by masseurs and orthopaedic surgeons, to the designer ones by Khaite, Alaïa and Hermès.” She likes that they are “both wholly utilitarian – see any kitchen or hospital – while also being the preferred footwear of artists and creatives”.
“I just think clogs give a little nonchalance to the wearer,” says HTSI contributing editor Jessica Beresford, who owns a pair in black leather by Hermès. “They slip on, they are inherently casual but they can still look smart.” Emma Bowkett, photography director of FT Weekend Magazine, has a thing for those by No 6 Store. “I currently have three pairs but I am always wanting more. The 5in pull-on shearling clog moot, mid-heel in black suede [$410] will be next.”
Clogs have become complex in 2023. There’s a style for every mood, and then some. The Fashion Clog can for instance be split into two categories – Chic Clogs and Eek Clogs. Among the chicest are those from Alaïa, Khaite and Hermès. “The pair from Alaïa has been by far our bestselling clog over the past two seasons,” says Hollie Harding, buying manager for non-apparel at Browns of the thickly platformed versions of the footwear, which boast a laser-cut leather motif and studs along the side (£700, brownsfashion.com) – “we’ve stocked it in black leather and now in a rich tan suede”. She highlights other “minimal” versions by Saint Laurent, Aeyde and Isabel Marant, while Net-a-Porter reports that this spring/summer, Gucci and Chloé are selling well too. All of these propose a certain stealth-wealth aesthetic, elevated by luxurious materials and details such as suede or shearling. It’s not so much that you’ll be pruning the rose bushes in them, but you’ll definitely be giving the gardener tips.
Meanwhile, the Eek versions are more of a statement and include tyre tread surfaces from Balenciaga (£795), pointy angles and hyper-coloured rubber from Bottega Veneta (£440) and the cartoonish, chunky charm of the much-sought Bubble (£550). The only gardening you’d do in these clogs is on the moon. Yet this isn’t to say that these aren’t desirable. After all, the whole appeal of the clog is, as Ellison puts it, its “borderline fugly chic”; no fan ever claims that clogs are pretty. “They have as much movement as wearing concrete blocks on your feet,” says Beresford, “and demand a different way of walking – one that is not particularly elegant. Their distinctive clomp also makes me think twice about wearing them in the office.”
Art writer Francesca Gavin, editor-in-chief of Epoch Review, loves her dark brown Hermès clogs ($980): She has no issue with the shoe’s inherent loudness. “I love this as it means everyone knows you are coming,” she says. “The shoes deserve that kind of attention.” In terms of the art crowd’s clog preferences, Gavin says it’s a 50/50 split between the Hermès, which are “more NYC art dealer”, and “the black Prada clog for the techno-goth Anne Imhof end”. (Last year Imhof had a show at London’s Sprüth Magers that was a maze of near-empty gym lockers. Everyone loved it.) Sarah Rustin, global director of communications and content at Thaddaeus Ropac, is a huge fan of clogs by Isabel Marant (£425), Swedish Hasbeens (£170) and Saint Laurent (£740), but agrees that the Prada (€980) is the artiest choice. “They feel like a combination of clog and Marfa Texas cowboy, meets minimalism, meets Park Avenue.”
Often, though, we seek simplicity. The Birkenstock Boston (£125, matchesfashion.com) is currently ubiquitous in every pub and brunch spot worldwide – a Pop-to-the-Shop clog, if you will. They are also the chef’s shoe of choice: The Bear’s lead character Carmy has often been filmed in the Birkenstock Tokio (which is a Boston with a back strap), and the Boston is also the go-to for HTSI’s columnist and food artist Laila Gohar when working. Sales of Bostons “have increased more than 300 per cent versus last year for AW23”, says Matches’ Cassie Smart, the retailer’s head of womenswear. “Our number one colourway remains the Taupe Suede, which always sells out upon upload… and we don’t anticipate a slowdown any time soon.” Birkenstock itself confirms that the suede Boston in taupe is its bestselling clog, having developed 20 “iterations” of such shoes over the years (the Boston made its debut in 1976). Net-a-Porter reports that the Tokio is doing well too (Birkenstock 1774 versions, £380).
FT Weekend Festival
FT Weekend Festival returns on Saturday September 2 at Kenwood House Gardens, London. Book your tickets to enjoy a day of debates, tastings, Q&As and more . . . Speakers include Don McCullin, Feargal Sharkey, José Avillez and many others, plus all your favourite FT writers and editors. Register now at ft.com/festival.
Dansko, Swedish Hasbeens and Sandgrens Clogs also offer a more traditional, utilitarian take on the shoe. It’s no coincidence that these three brands are all inspired by Scandinavia, which is where the popular modern notion of the clog – a backless shoe with a covered heel and a wooden base – originates from. (The traditional Dutch clog is a rarer and more eccentric thing on the street.) In Sweden, clogs are a way of life, “especially in the summer when people spend time in their summer houses”, says Sandgrens Clogs’ marketing coordinator Hanadi Secevoric. But “there has definitely been a shift in the type of customer who wears a pair”, she says. “We’re seeing a lot of younger people wearing them as a fashion statement.”
But are Birkenstocks or, for that matter, Crocs actually clogs? Are such slip-ons just perverted mules? The clog’s origins lie in wood, after all – it should surely clack – whereas a mule is defined by being backless. Is a clog a clog just because it says it is one – or does its soul lie in, well, its sole? Our jury, for what it’s worth, are pretty tolerant, mindful of clog diversity. A Birkenstock spokesperson simply states that “a Birkenstock clog is a closed-toe sandal with an open back” – no comment on others. What is certain is that much of the shoe’s appeal lies in its suggestion of down-to-earth practicality, and that any other name might ruin the effect. Who gets much done in a mule?