The lure of the ugly shoe
From the Ugg to the floater and the platform sneaker, a timeline of our obsession with cult hideous footwear, and why the unattractive is so irresistible.Updated: May 05, 2019 18:00 IST
By most accounts, 2018 was the year of the ugly shoe. Sneakers got chunky, stilettoes bulged into ungainly heels; even flats got flashier and more unwieldy. Ugly shoe obsession reached its lowest point (the bottom of the sole, so to speak) when luxury fashion label Balenciaga debuted its $895 (Rs 62,000) Triple S trainers. The sneakers didn’t just look like Rishi Kapoor’s sweaters from the 1980s, they were designed to look scruffy and dirty too.
2019 brings little respite. The three-year-old brand AllBirds, makers of comfortable, sustainable, no-socks, normcore trainers, is so popular with Silicon Valley techies and gig-economy hipsters, that it’s valued at $1.4 billion.
It’s hardly the first time we’ve fallen for hideous design – every generation can recall a cult favourite that, in retrospect, must surely have been loved for its inner beauty. Shoes that veer away from sleek, aerodynamic, contoured styles tend to get the most hate. Consider the lasting popularity of the stiletto versus fashion’s fleeting love affair with the heeled moccasin.
Laksheeta Govil, whose popular brand Fizzy Goblet has contemporarised juttis, even fusing them with aesthetically pleasing loafers, brogues and sneakers, believes there’s a reason we’re drawn to polarising styles. “It’s easier to experiment with accessories than with a whole outfit,” she says. “You can make a bold or ironic statement with them.”
An unusual pair is likely to change the look of your ensemble, she points out. But it’s likely to remain a passing fad. You’ll cringe when you look back, recognising your misstep. Take a look at the designs we’ve loved to hate…
THE PLASTIC SLIDE: How to upgrade one’s bathroom slippers? Retain the moulded plastic footbed, but add a coveted logo, rhinestones or even faux fur to the top. Adidas and Supreme have done it, giving celebs something to wear when they’re carefully disheveled at the airport. Rihanna has one too – her furry Fenty Puma slides have been bestsellers since 2016.
FITFLOPS: Fans say they’re unbelievably comfortable. They’re designed to activate leg muscles, have shock absorption and relieve underfoot pressure. That’s why, when they were created in 2007, you saw the shiny elevated chappals everywhere from offices to parties.
THE VIBRAM FIVEFINGERS: These separated-toe shoes, launched in 2005, may be fantastic to run in. But some users wear them to the café, the park and the cinema, not realising that they look like one of Guillermo Del Toro’s beasts from the ankle down.
THE CROC: They’re soft, light, incredibly durable (for better or worse) and took over the world in the 2000s. But even in the monsoon, on a beach holiday, in a restaurant kitchen or on a boat, they’re an eyesore. Adding socks only seems to make them worse.
THE MBT SNEAKER: MBT stands for Masai Barefoot Technology, a 1996 brand created out of the belief that the Maasai had toned, cellulite-free legs because they walked on sand, not hard, flat surfaces. Enter the first of many fat-burning shoes, whose convex heel meant you worked to stay upright with every step. And looked ridiculous in the process.
THE PLATFORM SNEAKER: The Spice Girls laced them up in the 1990s, and wannabe girls around the world tripped all over themselves to follow suit. Some actually sustained serious ankle injuries, and as the trend returns, minus the pop stars, more women, and dignities, are set to take a tumble.
THE TEVA: We call it the floater. The sport sandal was designed in 1984, when a Colorado river guide and geophysicist fixed Velcro wristwatch bands to a chappal to create a shoe that stayed put when floating downstream. Great for rafting trips. Out of place on terra firma.
THE UGG: Born in Australia in 1920 but unleashed upon the world since it was branded in 1978, they’re slouchy and comfortable but match with nothing. Except your oldest blanket.
THE CLOG: No comfort is to be had from an elevated sole carved from a single piece of wood. No style either. And yet these chunky sandals have been selling since the 1970s. The version with an open back is called a mule. It’s not much prettier.
THE BIRKENSTOCK: Lifting your arches and lowering your overall trendiness since 1966. The classic two-strap slip-ons with the contoured cork foot-bed are unisex and loved and reviled by both sexes in equal measure. Put one on and you could be a tree-hugger, add socks and you’re a hipster, wear the shiny pink ones and you’re a celebrity with a confused stylist.
THE DR MARTEN: Born in 1945, after a real Dr Marten fashioned a boot with an air-filled sole while recuperating from a skiing accident. British skinhead gangs discovered it in the ’80s. The boot continues to have a bad-boy vibe. But minus the history, it’s just ugly.
On Instagram, @CrimesAgainstShoemanity documents the worst of footwear design, from mash-up mistakes to concept shoes that no one was ever meant to wear. There are plenty: see-through sneakers, furry yellow flats, lightbulbs for heels.
On the runway, design houses from Coach and Balenciaga to Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton have created sculptural, embellished, loud and borderline uncomfortable sneakers. These aren’t the classic white Keds or North Stars of your youth. They’re not what Jeetendra or Bruce Springsteen might wear. Instead they’re chunky, thick soled, outrageously hued and over-layered. But if you’re looking for shoes that can take you from red carpet to gangsta party to glamping to the International Space Station, 2018/19 seems the ideal vintage.