Clogs are, at their simplest, shoes made partially from or completely out of wood. Although they’re often associated with the Netherlands, other countries also have their own versions of the clog, from Britain to Sweden (träksor), to Japan (get a, a cross between clogs and flip flops).
Clogs have evolved from a practical work shoe to a fashion staple, but how did this happen?
This post will take a look at the rich history of clogs and how they have evolved.
When were they worn?
Traditionally clogs were worn as protection by people working in agriculture, since they were good for walking on muddy ground. They were also favoured by fishermen and labourers, and a person’s profession dictated the shape of clog they would wear. Fishermen, for example, wore clogs with pointed toes to help pull their nets in.
In Britain, clogs first became popular during the Industrial Revolution, when factory workers needed cheap footwear that was easy to produce. In the steel industry, a worker could get through four pairs of clogs every day and many factories employed someone to make replacements (or at the very least re-sole any worn-out shoes).
However, clogs fell out of favour in Britain in the 1930s, when mass-produced shoes and boots became more affordable.
How are clogs made?
The process undertaken to make clogs requires great craftsmanship:
- A tree trunk is sliced with a pull saw
- The slice is split and shaped with a small axe
- The outside of the clog is smoothed with a knife
- Any wood on the inside of each clog is scooped out
- The clogs are left to dry for approximately three weeks
The Last Clog Maker in England talks through this process step-by-step.
Historically, it would take around 3-4 hours to make one pair of clogs. Once they had worn out they would be used to fuel the fireplace.
What are clogs made from?
In the past, clogs were made by hand, with every town in the Netherlands having their own clog maker. Materials used were based primarily on how available it was to use and whether it suited the purpose.
Wood became the ideal material for clog-making: it lasts for a long time, doesn’t hold moisture, and insulates feet from the ground. However, clogs could not (and cannot) be made from any old wood — it must be easy to work with, resist splitting, and avoid leaving any splinters in the skin.
It also needs to be wet when cut due to the curved edge style of the clog. Popular types of wood used for clog making include alder, poplar, and willow.
Nowadays, clogs are made by machine instead. They’re still worn in rural parts of the Netherlands and the EU has certified Dutch clogs (klompen) as safety shoes as they can withstand heavy or sharp objects and acid spills.
Clogs in Fashion
As mentioned above, clogs were once mostly considered to be a practical work shoe, but this is no longer the case; they are now championed for being versatile and stylish.
Vogue magazine, impressed by the practicality offered by the clog, described it as “easiest switch-up for just a hint of bohemia in your everyday look.” What’s more, they pointed to a photograph of the ever-fashionable supermodel Kate Moss styling clogs.
Nowadays clogs are more likely to be made in the British or Swedish style, with a wooden sole and an upper made of material like leather or suede (as opposed to the all-wooden Dutch version). Some designs are simple, others — particularly those made for women — are adorned with straps, studs, and buckles. The height of the heel varies, though it’s always solid.
From its agricultural, rustic origins, the clog has transformed itself into an icon of contemporary bohemian style. Perhaps most appropriately, however, is that it remains a staple of many industries; its ease and versatility, as well as the protection it offers, makes it valuable for an array of professions.
It’s essential for professional clogs to be super-comfortable and very durable; the industries in which they are worn tend to be ones that require their wearers to be stood for great lengths of time. The main industries in which they are found are catering, medical and leisure, though it’s not uncommon to find them elsewhere.
Clogs are a staple especially within the kitchen and in health care. Their breathability makes them ideal for chefs in the heat of the kitchen. What’s more, their waterproofing stops them from hindering workers through spillages. Finally, toughened rubber protects against falling utensils.
Similarly, health care professionals from doctors to nurses turn to clogs in order to avoid slips when at work, whilst remaining comfortable throughout long shifts. The kind of clogs nurses wear need to be anti-static and waterproof, which maintaining support throughout the day.
It’s easy to find yourself stuck in a shoe rut, but looking to the past can offer ideas and inspiration. Clogs are comfortable, practical and, above all, stylish — why not try a pair yourself?