A Visual History of Fashion’s Fugliest Shoe Trends
From the Birkenstock clog to the Balenciaga Triple S, ugly shoes are having a moment—but the decision to clad your feet in hideous footwear actually goes back further than our hippie parents. In a style salute to the crunchiest, the chunkiest and the most geriatric, we’re taking a look back at the history of the ugliest shoes known to mankind.
Middle Ages: Poulaine
The longer the point, the higher the status. (We’re not joking.)
Date Unknown, Style Unknown
That anyone ever wore these is terrifying.
13th Century: Wooden clogs
Wooden clogs (called klompen, appropriately) are the footwear of choice in the Netherlands, because nothing says “fashion” like a bulbous wooden heel—never mind that pairs either rot away or end up as firewood.
On a spa trip to Germany, American Margot Fraser “discovers” the, um, supportive sandal—designed by Karl Birkenstock (and his son, Carl Birkenstock), descendants of arch-support pioneer Johann Adam Birkenstock. The inimitable cork-soled slip-on is imported to the U.S., and pot smokers everywhere rejoice.
1970: Earth Shoes
The podiatrist- and commune-approved shoes debut three weeks before the first Earth Day. Designed by a Danish yoga instructor, they’ve got a negative heel and raised toes to “realign the body,” or something.
1971: Moon Boots
Is that a sleeping bag on your foot? No, it’s a Moon Boot.
1972: Adidas Adilette
The sporty slides are originally introduced to German soccer players as a way to stave off the athlete’s foot lurking in communal locker rooms; we all immediately regret not leaving them in the shower (not to mention wearing them with socks).
Fueled by cocaine and the alluring glow of a disco ball, platform shoes emerge—and are quickly embraced by men, women and David Bowie.
1983: Doc Martens
The pseudo-military boot becomes the shoe of the punk movement, the new wave movement and the grunge movement, after an unfortunate stint as the shoe of the skinhead movement. (Sorry if we ruined them for you just now.)
1984: Teva Sandals
Noticing a need for river-ready shoes, geophysicist Mark Thatcher designs the Velco-y, strappy Teva. Upon introduction, the sandals (pronounced teh-vah) are synonymous with outdoor enthusiasts. Who could’ve predicted they’d become the footwear choice of your Midwestern parents and Phish-blasting RA in college?
1995: Chunky Sneakers
“Borrowed from dad” is the look du jour, this time paired with tube socks. Princess Diana gets in on the trend (but that doesn’t mean we approve).
1997: Platform Sneakers
We seeeeeee you, Victoria Beckham.
1999: Flatform Slides
The chunkier, the better.
2000: Ugg Boots
When Oprah listed the Australian shearling boot (originally popular with surfers) as a “Favorite Thing,” she probably didn’t know that in its motherland, it was a house slipper associated with being, well, unfashionable. Over the next decade, it was worn by Kate Moss and Beyoncé, reached the sweaty-footed, and then became synonymous with sorority girls drinking PSLs.
Fashion authority Tim Gunn would later call it a “plastic hoof.”
2005: Vibram FiveFingers
Genius idea: Make a creepy sneaker for the barefoot running set, because you know who wants to see the silhouette of your toes? Literally no one ever.
Céline’s Phoebe Philo (bless her) stuffs blue mink fur into a Birkenstock-esque sandal at Paris Fashion Week; a trend is reborn.
2016: Haute Couture Crocs
Fourteen years after its invention, noted Croc-lover and fashion designer Christopher Kane sends models down the runway in luxury Crocs. By luxury, we mean marbled brown foam bedazzled in crystals. (How very 2016.)
2017: Balenciaga Triple S
The Dad Sneaker 2.0 debuts, thanks to creative director Demna Gvasalia (aka the head designer for troll fashion brand Vetements). Its prototype? A triple-decker stack of molds taken from the soles of running, basketball and track shoes—hence the name. For a cool $950, you too can look like you have toy trucks on your feet. God, we hate them so much.