About a decade ago, Crocs were the cutest.
Dome-shaped foam clogs became a kind of stereotypical fashion banned, shoes W Magazine noted usually reserved for “gardeners, nurses, Mario Batali, and families vacationing at Disney World”.
But Crocs’ fate has turned around.
Now, brands notorious for their ugly enrollment of celebrities like Justin Bieber and Post Malone to collaboration deals and you’ll find them on your feet. many influential Australian fashion identities.
The pandemic has helped – who needs fancy shoes when you never leave the house?
But it is more than that.
The story of not only Crocs but Tevas, Birkenstocks, UGGs and other ever outdated shoe types is truly about cyclic and subversive nature of fashion.
The evolution of the ‘ugly’ shoe
When they were first imported from Germany to the US in the 1960s, Birkenstocks were an odd thing.
They transitioned into trends over the decades, first among the counter-culture types of California and then at Paris Fashion Week 2013, when creative director Celine Phoebe Philo wore them on her models.
Before long, they were in the habit of Vogue’s office.
This reclaimed “badness” has helped many brands.
And it’s behind the normcore trend, which celebrates ill-fitting basic denim and the kind of gratuitous white sneakers that Jerry Seinfeld wore in the ’90s.
Nicole Adolphe, head of style at The Iconic, says these kinds of brands have gone from “something you associate with your dad or for around the house to a choice of consumer-driven style-driven footwear.”
“The essence of the evolution of this force is revival of the ugly trend“she said, covering” oversized sneakers, mom-fitting denim [and] flat shape, because consumers rebelled against traditional fashion constructions. “
Our insatiable appetite for different, new and exciting – the internet-accelerated framework of thinking – means that what is even recently considered strange can quickly be embraced, says Icaro Ibanez-Arricivita, lecturer and fashion researcher at Queensland University of Technology.
Part of the appeal is ironic – liking something you don’t like seems subversive and cool – and part of it is generational.
“This is something parents don’t get,” said Mr Ibanez-Arricivita.
This is partly a clever marketing trick
Crocs president, Michelle Poole, told The New York Times recently that the company is collaborating with Post Malone because the brand is also “marmite”, a reference to a British spice that tends to be loathed or defended with gusto.
In this way, he has rejoiced and profited from his outer status.
Last week, when Bieber – another controversial pop star – teased the news of his collaboration with Crocs on social media, the company’s share price was up 12 percent.
Mr Ibanez-Arricivita relates this back to the idea of Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel in 2002 to collaborate with the main H&M road network.
“This the tension between the comfortable and the fashionable, the uncool and the cool … those fine lines, transmitted in the right way, can mean cultural influences [and] it equals a lot of money. “
This also happened with the UGG.
While it has always had an ingenious image of being comfortable in Australia, and popular with surfers in the US, it was reimagined in the 2000s after being bought out by US company Deckers.
As Deckers claimed in a lawsuit against another shoemaker, “repositioning the brand as a luxury sheepskin line”. It was done in part thanks celebrity endorsements from Leonardo DiCaprio and Sex And The City’s Sarah Jessica Parker.
For Birkenstocks, Celine’s 2013 show saw celebrities like Miley Cyrus embrace the brand, helping to redefine the shoe’s image (although a company executive said in 2015 they “don’t count the next fashion trend”).
There’s an element of locking convenience here
Ms Adolphe said Australians had shifted their purchases this year to account for more time spent at home.
“We’ve seen them get attracted to comfort driven footwear from brands like Birkenstocks, UGGS and the like,” he said.
But while locks play a role, this pivot is mostly just fashion doing what fashion does.
Jessie Webb, 27, from Melbourne, is one of the Millennials who voted for Crocs in 2020.
“I kind of like that they have been disliked in the past, so I wear them for convenience and practicality, I also think they are used as a statement.”
Mr. Ibanez-Arricivita said that beauty and ugliness can be seen; they are not the innate qualities of an object.
“Anything that isn’t cool will eventually become cool. It’s just about when and how.”