The return of 2012’s most divisive shoe: Why wedge sneakers are making a comeback in 2024

By Emma O'Regan-Reidy

Published May 21, 2024 at 05:01 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

Another day, another divisive fashion trend. You may have done a double-take when you saw the Isabel Marant Bekett on your TikTok FYP recently—and we’re here to say that the footwear which The New York Times calls “the original ugly sneaker” is back. Whether you avoided or wholeheartedly embraced the heeled trainer trend back in 2012, now’s your chance to give the style another go.

While the wedge sneaker may not seem like a groundbreaking design in 2024, it certainly was in the early 2010s. “Bridging that idea of a basketball high-top on a wedge, making it sexy, cool and casual at the same time, was just revolutionary in fashion 10 years ago,” Roopal Patel, the fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue, told the NYT. When Beyoncé wore a pair in her 2011 music video for ‘Love on Top’, the shoes sold out everywhere, resulting in six-month wait lists.

The trainers “transcended fashion and became culture. It was emblematic of a moment, just before social media took over our lives and millennials took over the narrative,” explains Jessica Iredale, a New York City-based writer and editor.

Tara Gonzalez, senior fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar, points out that the Bekett came into relevance at just the right time to be subversive yet mainstream: “The shoes launched at a moment when business casual had become the du jour club look for young adults, and they offered a chic alternative to blister-inducing pointy heels,” the expert explained.

Think of the Bekett as the 2012 version of TikTok’s wrong shoe theory. Clara Perlmutter, more commonly known as @tinyjewishgirl on TikTok, is a fashion influencer who has been sporting the shoes as of late. Perlmutter told Gonzalez that she “was drawn to sneaker wedges mainly because of their practical purpose, but also because they are divisive—which makes for good content.” Fair play.

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However, Isabel Marant isn’t the only label that has recently revived the wedge sneaker. Ancuta Sacra was among the first to popularise this sporty-meets-glam aesthetic by creating heels from repurposed sneakers. Earlier this year, Berlin-based Ottolinger ran two styles similar to the Bekett down their runway at Paris Fashion Week; Converse even launched a modular heel of its own in 2023.

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To further understand this reiteration of the trend, SCREENSHOT spoke with Katie Devlin, the assistant fashion trends editor at Stylus, and she said: “We’ve seen a huge resurgence of interest recently in super stylised and girly sportswear pieces, especially in footwear, so it felt like only a matter of time.” Moreover, Devlin pointed out how “sporty ballet-style flats are having a huge moment, and also play into fashion’s ongoing penchant for mashed-up styles that bridge sports aesthetics with hyper-femininity.” A good example of this is New York City Ballet’s recent collaboration with Heaven by Marc Jacobs and Sandy Liang.

Isabel Marant initially relaunched the wedge sneakers in 2021 with the Balskee, a high-top similar to the Bekett. So why are we just seeing them gain traction now? According to Devlin, “the sneaker market had reached peak saturation in 2021, and at that time was driven largely by novelty pieces and kitschy collaborations.”

The editor also observed how sportswear has become more “open-source and fluid” in recent years, citing the blokette aesthetic as an example—gorpcore also reflects this. SCREENSHOT also spoke to Agustina Panzoni, the head of trends at DEATH TO STOCK about this trend. Panzoni adds that the Isabel Marant release in 2021 felt tied to the popularity of Y2K aesthetics at that moment, which is now dying down: “I believe we’re realising how pointless revivalism is in an era where we can source references from any decade all at once.”

The wedge sneaker peaked in popularity around the same time athleisure had a big moment in the early 2010s. At the time, function and practicality was a top priority. This was “tied to our mentalities around work (grind), the constant pursuit of self-optimisation and the streamlined minimalism following the 2008 recession,” according to Panzoni. Conversely, athleisure in the 2020s is more playful with layering function and dysfunction.

Panzoni sees the return of the shoes as an example of anti-utilitarian sportswear, highlighting the “growing presence of digital spaces in the real world and their effect on how we see and present ourselves in real life.” What’s more, the expert thinks the trend is connected to a wider shift that Morning Agency calls ‘Meta Fantasy’: “In this post-authenticity era, fashion serves as a tool for our self-storification, and aesthetics detach themselves from function. Wedge sneakers are a perfect example of this.”

The wedge sneaker shows us how athleisure has evolved over the past decade; it’s no longer just a sleek lululemon set or a baggy, earth-toned sweatsuit. “There’s an elegance and refinement we’re seeing in sportswear that feels really fresh and new. Post-pandemic, consumers are arguably more comfort-focused than ever before but are also not willing to compromise on aesthetics, so are really seeking out pieces that merge both form and function,” explains Devlin, citing dancewear and golf and tennis apparel as examples of where this innovative crossover is happening.

Panzoni agrees, saying: “I loved Zendaya’s Challengers viral press tour looks; they were the perfect example of merging the aesthetics of tennis with clothing you could never actually play tennis in.” It’s safe to say that athleisure has seriously levelled up stylistically in the 2020s.

All in all, the Bekett sneaker has come a long way since its early days when it was almost exclusively paired with skinny jeans. Today, you can expect to see them with baggy cargo shorts, micro mini skirts, chunky knit leg warmers and more exciting silhouettes. The bottom line? This hybrid footwear is bound to be a statement shoe this summer. As Gonzalez sums it up, “they’re sexy, but not in an obvious way.”

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