It doesn't take a fashion scout to decode the latest shoe trend: It's the moccasin.

From the street to the spring runways, the old, comfy friend is everywhere. Holt Renfrew carries Miu Miu's dainty interpretation for $395, whereas boutiques such as Toronto's HeelBoy have Steve Madden "Tipee" loafers for $60 on sale.

Several designers have riffed heavily on native American themes this year, from the feather-loving Anna Sui to Miguel Adrover, whose gorgeous and conceptually complex spring 2005 show featured models from seven different North American tribes as well as two native Ecuadoreans.

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"The show was called the Americans and the only real Americans are the American Indians; everyone else is an immigrant," explains Adrover by telephone from New York. His signature piece is a suit that took three months to hand-embroider, an homage to the carved totem poles of the Haida of Canada's Queen Charlotte Islands.

The trend all started "with Miu Miu last spring," explains David Miller, president of U.S.-based Minnetonka Moccasin, whose $50 boat- and soft-sole moccasins with thunderbird beading have turned into the darlings of the fashion cognoscenti. "They interpreted mocs on the runway. Then Lucky magazine ran a picture of ours as a get-the-look-for-less option."

Minnetonka's old-fashioned mocs are actually holdovers from the late forties, when they were sold from a trading post near Lake Minnetonka, Minn., to postwar tourists on road trips. Nowadays, they're more likely to be seen on celebrities such as Drew Barrymore and Pamela Anderson. Intuition, an L.A. boutique, tipped off People magazine when boho actress Kate Hudson snagged a pair this fall; then US magazine filled a whole page with moc-loving "A-listers."

Hitting what could be the saturation point so quickly is posing a bit of a dilemma for the style forward, who were hoping this comfy slipper would provide the perfect answer for those tired of the Marc Jacobs flat but still in need of a cute day-shoe.

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Morwyn Brebner, a Toronto playwright, was dismayed when she saw the US magazine story while in line at Dominion, because she had recently ordered a pair of white boat-soles on the Web and they were set to arrive any day.

"When they came," Brebner says, "I didn't care, though. They're just so comfy and what I need right now."

Zoe Wolff, an editor at Domino, a new Condé Nast home décor shopping magazine, complains that "a lot of people in this building wear them. I thought I was at the tip of the iceberg and almost bought a pair . . . ugh. Or should I say, Ugg," referring to the shapeless sheepskin abominable snowman boot that's become shorthand for anything overworn by the trendy set.

"Miu Miu did it last spring, that's all you need to know. Over," Anne Slowey, U.S. Elle's fashion news director, says with a laugh. But Slowey, in fact, always keeps a pair of mocs in her wardrobe as a staple. "They feed my Pocahontas fantasy," she says.

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From the perspective of the Canadian stylehound, there's one clear question: To moc out, or not to moc out? Invest in pieces made by aboriginal craftspeople, which are widely available across the country through museum gift shops and trading posts. The "it" Minnetonkas are mass-produced in the Dominican Republic. While I admit that I caved and bought a pair, I feel a bit uncomfortable wearing them, knowing perfectly well that if I'm going to be complicit in cultural appropriation, a person of native heritage should at least be the one who profits.

If you need any more convincing that a pair of intricately hand-beaded traditional slippers are a better, more timeless investment than 10 new Miu Mius, a visit to the Bata Shoe Museum's current exhibit Paths Across the Plain, about the evolution of decoration in the Plains tribes' beadwork, will do the trick. In Toronto, the Native Canadian Centre gift shop (416-964-9087) sells handmade moccasins by individual artists from $80. Or pick up Kabir Kouba's rubber-soled style, sold at ; you don't have to treat them as gently because they are sewn on a machine, and they would look seriously fetching with Jil Sander's grill-pleated sundresses.

Kabir Kouba of Wendake, Que., has been in the same Huron family since 1937, one of several companies operating out of the province. Others include Eugene Cloutier ( ), which has been making the widely known Laurentian Chief line since 1945, and Huron Moc ( ).

Unlike Minnetonka's Miller, who says that when the fashion world calls, "we try and chase it the best we can," Marcel Sioui, the owner of Kabir Kouba, has seen no recent spike in sales, and says he isn't chasing down business cycles. All the more reason that his shoes will feel good on your feet long after Lindsay Lohan has moved on to Earth shoes.

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Paths across the Plain will be at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto until September, 2005 (416-979-7799; ).