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From Cruggs to dad sneakers, why is the internet so obsessed with ugly shoes?

Though the trend has truly risen to fame in recent years, one could argue that ugly shoes have always been around, inhabiting a special place in the hearts of many fashion enthusiasts around the world. From eccentric bread shoes, mullet shoes and the downright atrocities that are toe shoes or Cruggs, to the few lucky ones that have made it into the mainstream such as UGGs, Crocs and the Puddle (Bottega Veneta’s luxurious reinterpretation of its ancestors), join us as we fall down the rabbit hole of the unsightly shoe trend.

What are ugly shoes?

Let’s get one thing straight from the start so as to avoid confusing any of you who might have ended up here through a curiosity-induced Google search. The term ‘ugly shoes’—in this specific case as well as any time it is used by a person who’s somewhat clued in on everything fashion—is not used to define any type of covering for the foot that one might deem unpleasant or repulsive in appearance.

‘Why is that?’ I hear you ask. Well, while there may be a consensus that clunky, rubbery and flashy footwear such as Crocs is ‘hideous’, your personal opinion might be that black boots with big soles—fun fact: they’re called ‘écrase-merdes’ in French, which literally translates to ‘shit crushers’—are just as awful. I would strongly disagree with you, but that’s exactly why we’ll be using the more advanced (and trend-focused) definition of ‘ugly shoes’ in this case. So we can avoid confusion, yeah?

Nowadays, there’s a general agreement on what type of footwear can be categorised under the ‘ugly shoe’ trend. Oh yes, because as hideous as a pair of lime green Crocs might be, it’s also so inherently ugly that it has become cool. At least for now.

So what are ugly shoes then? Think about everything that goes against the adjectives ‘charming’ and ‘dainty’. Delicate strappy heels are out and substantial, almost bulky, strange-looking footwear is in—and more often than not, it will come in a clog version too, because it’s almost common knowledge that ugly shoes were born from the fashion industry’s insanely late realisation that comfort is luxury. In other words, clogs are well snug, you should give them a go. They’re also big players in the ugly shoe trend.

Old school (and heavy) clogs, perforated rubber gardening shoes and uber-comfy lambskin boots put aside, ugly shoes also come in ‘sport mode’. These athletic options consist of what many call ‘dad shoes’, ‘dad sneakers’, ‘dad trainers’ or even ‘grandpa sneakers’—any style of popular footwear that used to be commonly worn by dads and middle-aged men, only now they’re super trendy among grandpacore enthusiasts and gen Zers alike. Start with two classics: New Balance 624s and Nike Air Monarch IV trainers and the only way is up…

Why are people into ugly shoes anyway?

Now onto the elephant in the room. Why would someone purposefully spend money on a pair of shoes they know are not nice-looking? Even worse: why would they spend money on a pair of shoes they know everyone else would also describe as ugly in the first place? Make it make sense, am I right? Well, it’s a bit more profound than you may think.

While most people dress simply to not be naked, cold or vulnerable, when it comes to fashion enthusiasts, putting an outfit together means more than what meets the eye. And although it would be simplifying things to say that everyone who’s interested in la mode uses clothes to create a specific persona they want to project to the rest of the world, it should be noted that such an approach to fashion is common nowadays.

But let’s take a closer look at those who not only wear certain clothes to play with their self-image but instead make a point of picking specific items in order to draw others’ attention to them—the ones who ‘dress to impress’.

Let’s be honest, if you wanted to be the centre of attention for a day, don’t you think ugly shoes would play an important part in winning you some of those stares? “Ugly fashion attracts attention because it is different,” explained Carolyn Mair, PhD, a cognitive psychologist who specialises in fashion, when speaking to Refinery29. In other words, ‘average looking’ objects often get ignored since we know how to process them, but we always pay more attention to unusual ones, ugly shoes included.

“It may be considered aesthetically unpleasing,” she continued, “but it’s this exact feature that appeals to others… Wearing something different that draws attention could be interpreted as risk-taking, which may be perceived as exciting, adventurous, and fun.”

Now that you’re aware of the few benefits that come with being bold enough to rock the ugly shoe trend, you might feel more inclined to try it yourself. But where do you start when faced with such a variety of ill-favoured footwear? Fear not, because we’ve compiled the ultimate beginner’s guide to wearing ugly shoes:

1. Start during summer time with a pair of Birkenstocks

Vogue once called these now-iconic German sandals the “original ugly shoes.” Introducing the oh-so-faithful pair of Birkenstocks, which comes with a foot bed sole that allows it to mould to your foot’s shape. Real sexy. They might not sound like much at first, but once you’ve broken them in, they’ll become more and more comfortable over time—making them the go-to footwear for, well, people with orthopaedic problems. At least, until fairly recently.

As confirmed by the publication, back in 2016, Birkenstocks were adopted by the Olsen twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley. Then in 2018, the one and only “dark lord of fashion” Rick Owens came out with his first collaboration with the brand, giving us a hirsute-goth take on the kitsch footwear. Valentino later churned out a logo-fied pair, Jil Sander reshaped them into a suede slip-on, Manolo Blahnik turned them into luxurious sandals and more recently, even Dior jumped on the bandwagon.

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All this to say that since 2016, Birkenstocks are still all the rage, whether worn with bare toes or paired with socks.

2. When it gets cold, turn to your trusted pair of UGGs

It’s now February and your Birkenstock sandals are long gone—even with socks. What do you do? Easy peasy, you switch them for the noughties icon turned basic bitch staple turned gen Z-optimised footwear: the UGG boot. “Slipping into that cushy lambskin feels like your toes are being coddled by rice pudding,” Vogue wrote and honestly, we couldn’t agree more.

First adorned by celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, Vanessa Hudgens and even Leonardo DiCaprio in the early 2000s, though they never truly disappeared, UGGs recently came back stronger than ever before with the help of a clever multi-channel marketing strategy, collaborations with big names in the fashion industry as well as the development of new models which went viral on TikTok and Instagram.

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If you were one of the (un)lucky ones who already rocked the shearling boots during the noughties, it’s understandable why you may not want to do the same nowadays. But the brand’s new highly popular designs might convince you otherwise. Just check the Tasman slipper in chestnut or go bolder with the Tasman X in taffy pink. Loves it!

3. Time to move up the ugly ladder with Crocs

Okay, we went easy on you for the first two steps—now it’s time to really level up your ugly shoe game, and we’re sorry to say, that starts with a pair of Crocs. First barging into our lives (most definitely against our will) as a closet staple for nurses and cooks due to their unanimously-proclaimed cosiness, Crocs have since been adopted by high fashion brands, including the likes of Balenciaga and Christopher Kane.

Other brands have shamelessly embraced the foam-like clog trend, reimagining the style according to their own trademarks. As mentioned previously, Bottega Veneta graced the world with its Puddle boots, while Gucci gave us £380 perforated rubber platforms and even Prada joined them with its £450 pair of mules.

Depending on how dedicated to the ugly shoe trend you’re planning on being—as well as on your budget—it’s up to you to choose between Crocs or its more upscale alternatives.

4. Get sporty or die tryin’

Bringing back previously ‘blacklisted’ items is a favourite trick among the fashion scene since the move adds an unexpected twist and indicates that one has true personal style. This approach is more evident when it comes to anything athleisure. This brings us to Balenciaga’s groundbreaking Triple S sneakers and the chokehold it had most fashionistas in when it first launched in 2017. Since then, the chunky, gym-inspired trend hasn’t waned one bit.

Can’t relate? We’ve got another iconic shoe you’ll recognise. Once reserved for dads grilling at the barbecue, New Balance’s go-to silhouettes such as the 990v5 and 992 have now become must-haves for sneakerheads across the globe. So much so that the brand is now responsible for some of the most significant trainer collaborations of the past several years, with the likes of Aimé Leon Dore, Casablanca, Joe Freshgoods and JJJJound bringing the heat consistently.

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A post shared by Aimé Leon Dore (@aimeleondore)

5. You’re officially an ugly shoe master—pick your fighter

If you’ve made it to the fifth and last step of this journey into ugly footwear, congratulations—you’re now fully prepared to sport the most unsightly shoes known to mankind. Though the world is truly your oyster by now, below are a few classics your professionally-trained fashion tastebuds might be ready for:

Cruggs, ‘the anti-Christ of footwear’

Introducing Cruggs, the hybrid between a pair of Crocs and UGGs that once made the internet go: “Gee thanks, I hate it.” Though originally created as yet another meme back in 2012, Cruggs were eventually turned into reality after DIY videos explaining how to create a pair of the hybrid footwear started appearing online.

Toe shoes for the wellness-obsessed

As previously stated by Jack Ramage for SCREENSHOT in an article titled Toe shoes: they’re not just ugly, they’re also bad for your health, the minimalist footwear often refers to Vibram FiveFingers, “a type of shoe with individual toe pockets.”

Fivefingers was first developed in 2005 and marketed as a more natural alternative for shoes used during outdoor activities. They’re supposed to replicate being barefoot, having thin and flexible soles designed to contour the shape of our feet. Then again, you might want to stay clear of these since they’re actually not as good as promoted…

Bread shoes, ‘The Walking Bread’

Though it can be debated whether this unconventional footwear fits into the ‘ugly shoes’ definition you’ve read at the beginning of this article, we simply couldn’t list all of these without mentioning their weirdo artsy sibling, bread shoes. To put it simply, if we had to explain what bread shoes consist of, we’d say they’re the fashion embodiment of turning around to look at a dog that is so ugly that it’s incredibly cute. And that’s as much as we can tell you without ruining the surprise.

Mullet shoes: business in the front, party in the back

Last but not least, let me present the mullet shoes, which are exactly what their name indicates—a pair of high-tops with long luscious locks attached to their heels. Yes, you read that right. It’s a mullet, but for your feet. I’ll let you drown in that mental image for a while now.

Bread shoes are the latest footwear trend putting ‘Hansel and Gretel’ to shame

Be it as boomers, millennials or gen Zers, we’ve all been brought up with the childhood axiom that we should not “play with our food.” Fast forward to 2022, there’s renewed interest in a particular trend that is currently gaining traction across social media platforms. Forget Cruggs, toe shoes and stiletto clogs, people are once again loafing around in bread shoes and toasting the entire internet into a frenzy while they’re at it.

What are bread shoes?

For the uninitiated, the term ‘bread shoes’ might sound pretty straightforward: an edible and (questionably) wearable trend where you cut up loaves of bread and don them as footwear. Well, that’s what I thought too until I interviewed a bunch of enthusiasts who have debuted their own take on the trend over the years. There’s more to bread shoes than what meets the eye, to say the yeast.

For footwear and accessory designer Anna Melegh, her interest in bread shoes stemmed from an evergreen fascination with the idea of continuous production and consumption of objects, food and people. “I started to question why things that should last, do not, and those which shouldn’t, actually do,” Melegh told SCREENSHOT, highlighting how she has created a pair of bread shoes and sandwich slippers that were both part of her MA Footwear collection at London College of Fashion.

“Everyday objects were the core of my collection. For example, bin bags, egg boxes, milk bottles and bread. Could I go ahead a few steps and create a collection based on these items but by using high-quality materials? Could it be a bin bag turned into a fashion piece? Or a sandwich?”

When asked about the design process behind both her creations, Melegh took me back to early 2021—when the UK was under lockdown and physical teaching was suspended. “At this time in the course, we were in the design stage [where] we had to develop our concept and make a lot of material experiments,” she explained. “The lack of [a] workshop led me to search for alternative ways of making my mockups. I walked into the kitchen and started wrapping objects around my feet from the recycling bin—hand-stitched and glued into shoe-like shapes.”

At the time, Melegh also worked in a deli where loaves of bread past their shelf life were tossed into the bin at the end of the day. “I decided to take some of these unused de-purposed baked goods home and experiment with them,” the designer continued. After cutting holes and carving the insides out, Melegh tried the discharged loaf on her feet in different positions to repurpose them into the resultant bread shoes.

These quick experiments also led Melegh to include a sandwich slipper in her collection. “A few designers already made bread-like shoes so I was thinking that making a trompe-l’œil sandwich footwear would be more interesting,” she said. Lo and behold, the slipper which looks toasty enough to take off and dig in:

Image courtesy of Anna Melegh

A crumbling tale of ‘The Walking Bread’

A quick Google search for the history of bread shoes will transport you back to 2009, the self-proclaimed age of “extravagant slippers”—when two Belgian twin brothers known as R&E Praspaliauskas launched a line of edible bread shoes that came in hand-picked cardboard boxes. Heck, the duo even curated the uncanny footwear for children too at the time.

A few years later, Coddies (you might recall the brand for its famous fish flip flops) kickstarted the concept of anti-skid bread loafers, which you could slip on both indoors and outdoors, to keep your feet nice and toasty in the winter months. “Perfect gift for your gluten-free friends!” the description of the product reads on the brand’s website. Bready or not, it looks something like this:

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A post shared by Coddies (@coddies)

Virtually indistinguishable, right? While the comical slippers are styled like two fluffy loaves of bread that just came out of the oven, they actually sport a cotton interior, velvet exterior and foam base for optimal padding. Wear-resistant and easy to wash, the creation hit it off almost instantly on the internet as it evolved into the perfect choice for gag gifting and comfort cravers.

On my journey to break down the resurgence of bread shoes, I also stumbled across the works of Bernardete Blue, who graduated from University of the Arts London and Goldsmiths University. For Blue, bread shoes manifested as a full-fledged installation at Streatham Festival back in October 2020.

“As a visual artist, I use homemade bread as my main sculptural material, my language,” she told SCREENSHOT, adding how the medium, in all its forms, shapes and flavours, carries an abundance of cultural and religious connections for her. “My childhood memories of my mother’s freshly-baked bread are echoed in my own experience as a solo parent. The same arms and hands that are raising a child are kneading the dough, caressing it, shaping it and handing it over to the world to continue its journey of growth and subsequent decay.”

Blue also pointed out a particular element in her work that confronts what’s expected from her as a multifaceted woman and, consequently, releases socially-repressed desires—challenging what being a ‘capable’ mother and a dedicated artist actually means.

“As a mother, I tell my child to not play with his food. [But] when he’s sleeping, I play with food in a defying gesture of what entails to be a responsible or perfect parent or artist,” she explained. “I grew up watching my mum challenging the traditional gender stereotype that a woman belongs in the kitchen. I follow these memories with my take on creating works that seem like they are domestic (yet deliberate) accidents with subtle humour: ‘Oops! Look what happened in the kitchen…’.”

According to Blue, her bread shoe installation is rooted in all of the above, alongside the context of lockdowns. “When we couldn’t go out, our shoes were indoors—left to become stale as bread,” the artist continued. All of this, coupled with the additional struggle of food supply to stores, made her recall Charlie Chaplin’s scene in the 1925 American silent comedy film The Gold Rush, where they eat actual shoes in times of need.

“I aim to have a surreal yet giggly and playful vibe throughout my work, the [bread] shoes are of actual shoe size and could be worn by someone,” she added.

In terms of the design process, Blue outlined how she wanted the bread shoes to be real enough that they could be worn by an actual human. “This was important for the uncanny aspect of the work,” she said. “If the shoes were too small, they would resemble toys and miss the surreal touch: something that looks real (the shoes) but there’s something wrong with it (the material it’s made of).”

In terms of the technical aspects, Blue first created a structure capable of gently holding the dough where she wanted it to stay. “Once it goes in the oven, it expands and that’s its growth and independence,” the artist explained, adding how she later brushed it with water for a smooth and tanned effect so that it resembles leather.

The internet’s untamed obsession with the upper crust

Now let’s address the elephant in the room. Although bread shoes like Melegh’s are created with discharged material, some people on the internet are literally hoarding new packets of bread, cutting them up and wearing them—only to film the entire process and upload the video ‘for the views’:

@tysloth

Had to pull up with the loafers to prom 🍞#breadshoes #foryou #prom #bread #party

♬ Are You Gonna Be My Girl - Jet

When asked about her take on the so-called trend gripping users online, Melegh started by highlighting how bread has become a centrepiece of diets worldwide. “Honestly, I think it’s awful that some people are capable of wasting edible food just to get more views,” she admitted. “We live in a century in which we could stop hunger around the world. It’s fun to experiment with food that isn’t edible or otherwise wasted, but I recommend donating unwanted food that hasn’t crossed the expiration date or rather donating to charities the money they would spend on bread to cut up for views.”

The designer also mentioned that her sandwich slippers were made out of at least 70 per cent upcycled leather pieces she sourced from a factory based in the UK.

As for Blue, the visual artist hopes that her artistic practice is not identifiable with the trend in question, given how she has clarified her inspirations at the root of making her bread works. “I think that this trend is just another reflection of our contemporary way of living. We could go on and on about food waste but everything is a waste (for example, the water bucket challenge: waste of water, energy and more),” she said. According to the artist, our exciting search for the next big ‘thing’ keeps us entertained, and taking part in this keeps us connected socially—consequently awarding each other with the most funny or outrageous media birthed out of the same, resulting in more views and likes.

“From my grandparents and parents’ generations, I recall their stories of going to bed with hunger as their company after long and exhausting days of working in the fields. Whenever there was any stale bread, they would use it with warm milk (fresh from the goat or cow) and peppermint leaves to create a kind of soup. Nothing was disposable.”

Blue further noted how sawdust was incorporated into bread dough to make it more ‘nutritious’ during the war. “I find that this reflects their needs and way of living perfectly—just as the fresh bread shoes’ videos trending today reflects our contemporary ways, where humble sustenance is less connected to food and closer to entertainment and social display or acceptance,” she added.

When I reached out to writer Faith Hale, who curated a mini zine on bread shoes way back in 2017, the creative explained, “I make my zines by Googling something basic like ‘dumb lol’, ‘ridiculous’ or ‘wtf hahaha’ and then seeing what novelty pops up. I had never seen bread shoes before and they fill me with absolute joy! They’re so dumb! So silly! So totally useless but they make me laugh.”

In terms of the ethical standpoint of the resurfaced trend, Hale had a different outlook—highlighting how bread shoes serve an important social function. “It really feels like a ‘goof’ for goof’s sake,” she said. “Anyone who gripes about it being a waste of bread is a misguided cranky pants who’s clearly missing the point, which is fun.”

Let’s grow m-old together

While interviewing the creatives about bread shoes, one particular query kept bugging me in the back of my mind. Do ethically-sourced edible bread shoes have the potential of hitting the streets in the near future? Or is it more of a couture piece that is nothing more than a fad on the internet today?

“Though bread shoes are comfortable and soft, they aren’t practical if it starts to rain!” Melegh enlightened. “But seriously, I think we won’t use actual bread as shoes not only because food prices are increasing, but also because I hope we are going towards a more sustainable fashion industry and wasting food can’t fit into this.” The designer personally visualises a more “look-alike” approach to the trend with the juxtaposition and assemblages of ordinary objects rather than using actual food in fashion. “Using factory waste and making food-looking pieces from it is a better route,” she explained.

Now, if you’re a fan of Melegh’s sandwich slippers but are clueless about how one could style them for an everyday look, we’ve got you covered. “I could imagine wearing them with something plain, like a full black or white suit,” Melegh concluded. “Extraordinary footwear is like jewellery that could be worn as the showpiece of the outfit.”

As #breadshoes sports 7.8 million views and counting on TikTok, let’s observe a moment of silence for Hansel and Gretal who could have found their way back much more efficiently if they’d thought things through before venturing into the forest.