Clarks: a Jamaican rudeboy fashion statement

Other | Tuesday 12th February 2013 | Varala


How did staple English footwear become a Caribbean trend?

In England, when most children are doing their back-to-school shopping, sooner or later their mothers drag them into the local Clarks store.  And with the desire to break free from this monotonous situation comes the desperate question: ‘Must I wear another pair of Clarks this year, mum?’ Only to be followed by the annual list of reasons: ‘Clarks are strong, they will last you the year, Clarks look smart and are sensible for school’. But while that may be the case in England, the brand’s image takes a drastic turn in the Caribbean.

“Ah where yuh get that new Clarks deh, daddy? … Everybody haffi ask where mi get mi Clarks. The leather hard, the suede soft… Everybody haffi ask where mi get mi Clarks” goes the chorus of the popular dancehall hit. The song ‘Clarks’ by Jamaican artist, Vybz Kartel, has gone viral across the Caribbean since its release in 2010. The tune encapsulates the enthusiasm that reggae and dancehall buffs share for the brand.

The Clarks trend has been ongoing since the late sixties when the West Indies first received shipments of desert boots. Although these boots were the most expensive in the shop, young boys insisted on Clarks. And by young boys, we mean ‘rudeboys’; typically perceived as juvenile delinquents.

Clarks became such a trend within the Jamaican rudeboy subculture that the authorities simply could not understand it. In the 70s, boys risked being beaten by police for wearing Clarks in Jamaica. Police would automatically assume the boys had stolen the shoes.

Today, Jamaicans still feel proud to wear these shoes and they make it a priority to keep them spotless. So much so that Kartel sings: ‘Toothbrush get out di dust fast’ in his song.

And this has transcended to other Caribbean nations as well. Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, I recall secondary school boys tending to their Clarks habitually.  They may have ‘forgotten’ a textbook or two, but they always remembered to pack their shoe brush to tend to their Clarks.

With such a deep rooted history of Clarks, it is clearly more than just a trend. And now that the love affair has its own theme song, it is an even more celebrated part of Jamaican culture. 

By Varala Maraj