There is nothing offensive about a pair of Clarks. Desert Boots, Mountain Treks, and Wallabees, these are the simple suede chukkas that your mother probably bought you for your first day of elementary school, and what could be offensive about that?
And yet, in Jamaica, the one word most associated with Clarks is “rude.” As in rude boys, the rebellious subculture that emerged amongst Jamaica’s lower class during the 1960’s. Driven by a reggae backbeat, Jamaica’s disenfranchised youths became enamored with the skinny suits, raucous music, and devil-may-care demeanor that defined England’s counterculture movement. The interplay between youth cultures in Jamaica and England was a mutually beneficial relationship that ultimately gave Rude Boys a chance to separate themselves from slum-life in a way that simultaneously audacious and aspirational.
For Jamaican youths the consumption of English goods raised them up above their lower class life and gave them something to strive towards, which is how Clarks (which back then were produced in Street, Somerset, England) came to be so popular in Jamaica.
As the shoes became a status symbol, rude boys would stop at nothing to get a pair of their own, which of course spurred a series of shoe robberies that eventually got so out of hand that police officers began to instantly assume that anyone wearing Clarks was a thug. This did little to dampen the Rude Boys love affair with their suede chukkas, and as Jamaican ska and dancehall musicians began to tour internationally, they always made sure to bring back suitcases full of Clarks for their friends and fans back in Jamaica.
The shoes might not be made in England any longer, but the Jamaican infatuation with Clarks remains as strong as ever, having transcended rude boy culture and spread throughout the island years ago. Jamaica’s relationship with those crepe soled shoes has even inspired a book, “Clarks in Jamaica,” by Al Fingers which features scores of great images like the ones seen above and below, and is well worth checking out if you too are a Clarks connoisseur. -JG