How ugly shoes won (and why they are getting uglier and uglier)


IN THE SHOE market, strangeness won. Take a walk into a department store shoe store and you’ll find a buffet of quirky high fashion shoes like a $ 1,250 block wedge heel for women Bottega Veneta with red spots resembling chickenpox or a leather mule. $ 645 unisex from JW Anderson with a gold Mr T-esque chain gigundo on the front.

It’s not just high-end designers who have come across a case of quirks. Accessible retailer offers $ 65 platform Crocs in a zebra print and $ 120 Hoka One One running shoes with chunky, clementine soles. “There is a real appetite for color, pattern and interesting craftsmanship,” said Catherine Newell-Hanson, director of style for the site. The shoes, she continued, have become “a safe space where people can have fun with a weirder personal style expression than they could in the rest of the world. [their] outfit.”

There are precursors to this trend, like Margiela’s split Tabi boots, which debuted in 1988, but the weird-is-good movement has really exploded over the past half-decade. It has gained ground in the pandemic, as the WFH’s freedom to experiment away from the critical eyes of its colleagues has coincided with a search for comfort at all costs. In 2017, the launch of Balenciaga’s bulbous, pre-weathered Triple S sneakers set a new standard for intentionally ugly designer shoes. Meanwhile, goofy Crocs and Birkenstocks were recontextualized into beloved, if not coveted, shoes, a trend spurred by collaborations with stars like Justin Bieber and luxury brands like Jil Sander, respectively.

The forces of casualness have made office shoes like shiny dress shoes and chaste heels, once a crucial investment for adults, less and less relevant. It is now acceptable to wear surprisingly informal shoes on a daily basis. “The most scandalous [the shoe], the better, ”said Jessica Pridgen, 37, a graphic designer in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The pandemic has accelerated the trend, said Ms. Newell-Hanson of Zappos. Freed from the constraints of an office, telecommuters began shopping for fun shoes. It’s hard not to smile (or smirk) at a pair of wacky tie-dye Crocs or purple furry Marni mules. Who hasn’t needed this their year? And when your only daily excursion is a brisk walk with your dog or an efficient walk through the grocery store, function trumps formality: all you really need are doughy Gray New Scales or mules. Keen elastic bands.

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