How I spend it... Will Self on Clarks shoes

Will Self unpicks his obsession with the brand’s normcore Rockie Los

Klaus Kremmerz
Klaus Kremmerz

How long has this been going on? By which I mean: how long have I been obsessed by Clarks Rockie Lo shoes? I used to think I was cool – and so I wore Chelsea boots, specifically RM Williams ones, which are all-leather, and wear well. But the harsh truth of the matter is that the RM Williams are saddle boots, made for encountering the Australian outback on horseback, while I seldom venture further afield… than nearby fields. And that’s where the Clarks came in: because I was growing older, and facing the fact that I wasn’t cool any longer, while I desired a shoe that was comfortable, versatile and – most of all – utterly inconspicuous.

Yes, yes, I concede this much – for me to wear Clarks shoes is also a form of ironising, English people’s favourite exercising; because whatever else I may be, I’m definitely the sort of person who’d like to imagine that the last thing anyone would suspect him of doing is to wear such footwear devotedly. And yet I do – and it feels perfectly natural. After all, as with any superannuated punk, Clarks are encrypted in my fashion DNA as what-not-to-wear: the most normcore of shoes, for those at the very core of respectable English normality – but then perhaps that’s where what little patriotism I have resides: in the Gore-Tex soles of my Rockie Los.

Because I walk a lot, the leather soles of my Chelsea boots gave me blisters – and on occasion I had to ply the corn-shaver to produce cheesy little bits of me. I resolved to shift to properly comfortable footwear that I could adopt in every context I found myself in, whether formal or farouche. I wanted shoes I could wear to the ambassador’s reception at the British Embassy in Vienna – then walk out in, before heading straight on for a long tramp in the Vienna Woods. (I’ve actually done this.) The Rockie Los are absolutely perfect from this point of view: the leather uppers give them the superficial appearance of being standard brogues or Oxfords, but the Gore-Tex soles are deeply ridged for off-road grip – while also rendering the shoes 100 per cent waterproof.

There’s something tremendously liberating about knowing I possess this ability: to stand easy in the salon – and to pace easily, whether traversing urban jungles or bucolic woods. I do understand, of course, that this is a privilege I need to check, for it comes courtesy of my performative masculinity, quite as much as any other. Let’s face it: no one gives a toss what a middle-aged man affects at the end of his legs unless it’s so egregious that it’s actually noticed. For the most part, a middle-aged man’s feet are invisible – so why spend any time at all worrying about how they’re shod? I remember years ago seeing David Cronenberg’s film The Fly and grooving to the way the increasingly maddened scientist – played by the inimitable Jeff Goldblum – hung onto sanity, in part, because he always wore exactly the same clothes. There’s a scene in which his wardrobe is opened to scrutiny, and there they are: normcore outfit upon outfit, and all exactly the same.

Advertisement

Sadly, such sartorial uniformity doesn’t stop Goldblum’s character from turning himself into a grotesque fly-human hybrid. Indeed, recent neuroscientific research would suggest that his ability to even conceive of such a transmogrification may have been aided by his restricted wardrobe options. Yes, that’s right, not having to choose what you’re going to wear really does diminish your cognitive load – because, apparently, all decisions involve the same expenditure of mental energy, whether they’re about creating bizarre mammal-insect chimeras or what shoes you should wear. I like to think that my ability to make bold – some might say reckless – creative decisions rests, at least in part, on my own quotidian shoe certainty.

Although, having said that, I feel prey to a terrible anxiety – one which will be familiar to anyone who gets hung up on a single, essential artefact or tool: what happens if the swine stop making them? In this case, the Quaker swine, the Clarks – because 200 years since its foundation, the business is still owned by the Clark family and still has its headquarters in the sleepy Somerset town of Street. Should I stock up on the things in a Goldblumian fashion, so that were anyone to open my wardrobe door they’d see serried ranks of Rockie Los, or should I carry on with my current policy, which is to wear each pair into the ground, then walk into a branch of Clarks, buy another pair and ask the sales assistant to discard the old ones?

There’s purity in this latter mode of being, I think – purity, and almost a certain asceticism. Listen, I’m not claiming that Clarks Rockie Los are propelling me towards enlightenment, but when I do the switcheroo, it makes me feel light and unburdened – as if I were a sanyasin, who’s abandoned all worldly things in order to wander afield armed only with a staff and begging bowl. Frankly, if Clarks made staffs and begging bowls as well – I’d be off. 

Will by Will Self is published by Viking

Advertisement

See also

Advertisement
Loading