Fashion: Cloggy Days

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They look like matching gravy boats and sound like Majestic Prince on the stable floor. Thumbscrews would seem more comfortable to wear. Still, such is the rage for wooden shoes these days that no one cares.

Clogs, in one form or another, have been kicking around for centuries. The Swedes took to them long ago, to such an extent that they are known as "Swedish sneakers" even in Sweden. Only recently, however, has the shoe caught on in America. When Ulla Olsenius, now 30, came to the U.S. six years ago as the exclusive importer of clogs for two Swedish factories, she found business less than slow. "All the buyers were very nice," she remembers, "but they just shook their heads."

Lacking warehouses and trucks, Ulla went down to the Manhattan piers, personally supervised the unloading of the clogs and sold them (from $9.50 to $14 a pair) at her tiny shop, Olof-daughters, in Greenwich Village. She wrote orders for only 5,000 pairs the first year; today, she has contracts with eight Swedish factories and sells some 23,000 pairs of clogs a month.

Brealcing-In Period. Clog devotees have also taken to the U.S.-made Dr. Scholl's exercise sandal, a wooden-soled scuff with the added attraction of a raised ridge at toe level, which is designed to slim ankles and strengthen leg muscles. The Scholl sandals tend to pitch the wearer forward, but Cecil Beaton does not care. Neither do Scholl-shod Jackie Onassis, Jean Shrimpton and all of England's Royal Ballet Company. Greta Garbo clomps around sidewalks in Swedish clogs; so do Dustin Hoffman and the trapeze troupe from Ringling Bros, circus.

Both styles require a breaking-in period, like contact lenses, before the wearer can work lip to full-time use. Even the most dedicated clog-hoppers admit that the shoes are duds going up-or downhill. Esthetically, the clogs rank somewhere between unattractive and downright ugly. But mere ugliness has not stopped fashion trends in the past, and anyway, clogs are unbeatable for the beach or for wearing in and around water. They also solve one of the livelier problems of urban living. Says Mrs. Elliott Erwitt, wife of a Manhattan photographer: "Cockroaches haven't got a chance. And you barely hear the crunch."