This spring, putting fashion's best foot forward could get ugly. The meta-trend of inexplicably hideous shoes continues apace with the introduction of Prada Creepers, $795 (U.S.) men's-style brogues set atop several layers of multicoloured soles, one of which is raffia, like an espadrille. The fashion press is calling them "flatforms." I call them educated-clown chic. On vacation.
These shoes are so coveted, though, that there are waiting lists for them at Prada stores across North America. For those who can't get their hands on them (or afford the hefty price tag), there's no need to worry. Knockoffs abound.
But who would want these?
Leandra Medine of the popular satiric fashion blog ManRepeller.com is one enthusiast who has already ordered a pair. "The Prada flatforms are a great example of the manipulative power that designers have over the industry and the consumer," Medine says. She stresses, though, that she does not consider Creepers ugly.
"Fashion to me is more about wearing art and it so happens that intriguing and [many]complex shoe styles are considered conventionally ugly." To Medine, wearing supposedly unattractive shoes sends a strong message. "They say, 'I wear what I want.' " And that is the message fashion is supposed to send."
Ken Thomas, an economist and the hobby blogger behind UglyShoes.com, agrees that such footwear can also be fashionable.
"What is the purpose of fashion?" he asks. "It's to attract attention. Lots of the shoes we feature as being 'ugly' are very unique. You may not like them but they are attention-getters." The only negative feedback he gets, Thomas says, is from readers who disagree when he deems a shoe they like ugly. "Ugly is in the eye of the beholder," he laughs.
But it isn't just high-end, high-cost shoes that challenge our notions of taste and aesthetics. At first, Uggs looked odd; Crocs did, too. Both, however, have become mainstream hits. Even Birkenstocks, considered the height (or depth) of Deadhead schlubbiness, circled back from their uncool past to hit runways in recent years.
My own arguably ugly shoe purchases for spring include clogs from Sweden and Warishofers, best described as orthopedic granny sandals, from Germany. Neither pair would win pretty points in a pageant. But I love them for their comfort and, yes, their fashionability.
In truth, the only really ugly shoes are shoes that are irrelevant, like your white workout sneakers or the wacky statement shoe that references or appeals to nothing.
Picking the "ugly shoe" of the season is participating in the fashion game. Wearing them says you've embraced an alternative to gravity-defying high heels, to jacking your foot, heel and posterior, as flattering as that may be.
Of course, Uggs are notoriously bad for feet and some clogs are as high as stilettos, but they are the exception. With many ugly shoes, the comfort factor may be the most stylish thing about them.