Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.
Trends are often dismissed as ‘controversial’ – too bold, too bizarre or too impractical. But that’s the beauty of trends. It’s only a matter of time before we start seeing them on trailblazers and influencers, wearing them with as much cachet as they would a pair of socks, until we’re so conditioned to them that we too succumb to their appeal. As for the trends that don’t amount to anything? Give them time, for they will likely resurface in the coming years large and in charge.
What is an ugly sneaker?
Unattractive running shoes with disproportionately large soles, padding, tongues and grooves that, when worn, are deciphered as cooly ironic, not dreadfully sincere. For example, the complete opposite of the iconic mall scene in Crazy, Stupid Love where Steve Carrell’s character votes his confidence in his New Balance sneakers for their superior comfort before Ryan Gosling tosses them over the balcony. Those were sneakers worn sincerely and were deemed the demise of Carrell’s character’s love life.
So, what we do know so far about the ugly sneaker?
Until now, wearing unattractive trainers for their function has never been in vogue. Fast forward to present day where we’ve seen the rise in athleisure, normcore, and gorpcore, and so wearing the ugly sneaker in all of its dad-ish and orthopedic-looking-ness is at the forefront of street cred. They’re for those who are ‘serious’ about street style, if you will, but not so serious about their capability as a shoe per se.
What’s the appeal of the ugly sneaker?
Carolyn Mair, PhD and professor of Psychology for Fashion tells Vogue: “Psychologists have established that we don’t pay attention to what’s ‘normal’, usual, or familiar because it presents no danger. However, when we encounter something novel, our attention is drawn to it. So, in addition to the comfort and utilitarian value of these shoes, perhaps it is the desire for attention that motivates wearers.”
In fashion, we call that peacocking. But as Mair also points out, many people who want and wear ugly shoes do it in order to show some sartorial bravery, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
How did the ugly sneaker trend start?
We are currently living in the era of the Ugly Shoe. Millennials are obsessed with nostalgia, New Balance returned to their former glory and wearing basketball shoes as casual footwear has become commonplace for street tribes.
Somewhere between awkward shoes from eras bygone and minorities attempting sartorial bravery, designers like Balenciaga adapted the Croc, Marc Jacobs produced the Teva-meets-Shape Ups sandal, and Rihanna launched the jandal stiletto for Fenty X Puma. As absurd as these concepts are, manufacturers wasted no time in collating all of the influences at work to deliver the ‘ugly sneaker’ amidst a market saturated with ugly shoes.
Today you can go into any Footlocker and see outer space-looking Nike Air Maxes, Jordan Retros, bulky Asics and the like being snapped up with as much reluctance as if they were replacing their laces on their All-Stars.
How can you adopt the ugly sneaker trend?
Much like you would a regular white trainer, an ugly sneaker can be the perfect vehicle to dress down a bohemian maxi-dress or effortlessly ‘casual-ify’ an otherwise strictly work outfit. An easy rule of thumb is whatever you would wear your mule slides with (presuming you adopted that trend, too), there’s a high chance you could wear a pair of ugly sneakers with it. Mini dresses, cropped trousers, boyfriend jeans, wide-legged trousers, you name it. Not convinced? Search Pinterest for inspiration.
Think about what exists in your wardrobe. Do you gravitate to muted tones? Then go full-steam ahead on a colour-blocked style. Prefer pointed or almond toe shapes for your boots? Perhaps stay away from rounded toe sneaker styles. Either way, we encourage you to try before you buy (or at the least be across their returns policy).
Keep scrolling to view our shoppable edit and find out what the FQ verdict is.
Shop the ugly sneaker trend:
The FQ verdict:
“I’m a big believer in each to their own. The ugly sneaker trend isn’t something I will be buying into personally. I’m a uniform dresser, so I don’t think my ruthlessly edited capsule wardrobe would cope. But if it floats your boat – I think go for it. Just remember to recite Miuccia Prada’s famous words of wisdom as your swipe your card: “Ugly is attractive. Ugly is exciting.””
– Danielle Clausen, fashion editor.
“As an avid stiletto wearer whose go-to ‘commuting shoes’ are a pair of gold snakeskin Isabel Marant flats, it should surprise no one that virtually all sneakers are ugly to me. The Lord loves a trier so I appreciate that this new sneaker mutation is attempting to give form to function and provide visual interest of some kind. It’s just not of interest to me, sorry.”
– Phoebe Watt, features writer.
“While I’m typically not one to buy into trends, I’m certainly open to the ‘ugly sneaker’ as the peculiar silhouette is definitely growing on me. Plus, I’ve always gravitated to bulky shoes to make my legs appear slimmer. However, to make it worth my investment and keep my cost-per-wear down, I’ll probably be sticking to white or grey hues.”
– Terri Dunn, digital content producer.