Are you wearing a pair of Tevas or Birkenstocks right now?
This summer has already proven to be unlike any other, but not even a pandemic will stop some in the perennial quest for a new seasonal sandal. And this year, it’s the “ugly” sandal — that orthopedic-looking or sport-leaning comfort sandal that many of fashion’s chicest are wearing with the same regularity as the usual comfort crowd. Retail sales in apparel and footwear may be way down, but the search for Birkenstocks, Tevas and myriad homages to both have abounded since March.
To be clear, the ugly sandal trend was already destined to have its moment this summer. The spring ’20 runways were filled with clompy, comfort-forward, open-toed styles, and last September’s top street style looks from fashion month featured plenty of them from brands like Chanel and Prada — plus the OGs, of course. Last year, Teva embarked on a multi-season partnership with Anna Sui and has picked up runway collaborators like Jonathan Cohen along the way. And Birkenstock is well into its long-term strategy to take over the fashion world one Arizona at a time; the most recent collaborations include a super-buzzy Proenza Schouler capsule and a unisex collection with Stefano Pilati’s Random Identities, which debuted at Pitti Uomo in January.
But that the fashion world decided to anoint the ugly sandal as the “It” shoe of spring and summer ’20 season reads as both happy coincidence and eery foreshadowing of what the world looks like today. As most people continue to stay at home, the society’s collective wardrobe has shifted dramatically, from professional office wear — or at least jeans — to comfy, cozy loungewear and similar attire that reads as just one step above pajamas.
In a world that is makes no sense right now, the ugly sandal is actually one of the few things that does, given its practical, comfortable nature. It just makes things easier, at a time when things are not so easy.
Why did it take this long — and a global pandemic — for fashion to warm up to a sandal that keeps feet comfortable? Well, for starters, they really can be very ugly. Without the right styling (or a proper pedicure), it can be challenging for a comfort sandal to look glamorous, chic or put-together, which is not always — but is often — the objective of some people when dressing themselves.
Fortunately, designers have started to use the ugly-but-comfortable sandal as a canvas for creativity. Yes, some inevitably look like knockoffs of the originals, with the same basic structures (though it must be noted, not with the same orthopedic qualities). But seeing these traditionally ugly sandals dressed up in tulle or decorated in whimsical beading is opening the door to a new chapter of fashion and style where comfort and beauty are not mutually exclusive. And that’s very good news.