Fashion

Leaning into ugly chic: An ode to the Great Crocs Renaissance

The fabled notorious-shoe-to-cult-clog pipeline.

I’m a Crocs convert. I was once wary of the now-cult clog steeze; wariness evolved into intrigue and the intrigue inevitably won. But do I, do we, actually like Crocs?

I never owned Crocs as a kid but I did own a pair of purple Big W knock-offs that I kept together with a cable tie once they inevitably broke loose. But even then, these copycats were reserved for very lowkey outings – strictly the beach or helping Mum in the garden. Never to Warringah Mall in Sydney’s north where I would frequent the hallowed halls of Diva and Equip with other tweenage mall rats.

It goes without saying (but it must be said) that fashion is cyclical, and so comes the great Crocs renaissance of the past few years. Not considered dorky as they once were – but perhaps still as divisive – these casual clogs have been purchased more than 850 million times since 2002 and have arguably been rebranded as cool in the zeitgeists.

the great crocs renaissance
(Credit: Supplied.)

Leaning into ugly chic

As an adult woman, I now own two pairs of Crocs and at times, have questioned the root of my fondness for the resin-based shoe – also for billowing skirts with trail running shoes, thrifted silk nightdresses with cowboy boots and Adam Sandler-core outfits. I can’t help but wonder, am I a product of Zillenial internet culture and the inner west of Sydney’s fashion echo chamber, or do I just have bad taste?

Playing with the spectrum of taste, it often goes in fashion folklore that Miuccia Prada ‘invented’ ugly chic with Prada’s 1996 spring-summer runway collection – a style which The New Yorker writer Judith Thurman wrote in 2012 to be “clothes that refuse to conform to received ideas about beauty or sex appeal”. A definition under which Crocs arguably also fall.

Strut 20 years from the fateful ’96 Prada runway, and Crocs make their high fashion debut in Christopher Kane’s London Fashion Week 2016 show. The eponymous designer, as reported by Harper’s Bazaar UK, was drawn to the shoes’ functional design, saying “I like that they are perceived by some to be quite ‘ugly’ and not at all feminine or designed to flatter”.

crocs on the runway
Crocs appearing in Cristopher Kane’s 2016 LFW show, Balenciaga’s 2017 PFW show and Robyn Lynch’s 2022 LFW show. (Credit: Estrop, Catwalking, Tristan Fewings/BCF via Getty.)

The comfy, the cool and the collaboration clout

Since then, the notorious clog has also made its way into Balenciaga collections and onto its runways – as well as slews of other collaborations with established brands like Levis, films such as Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, and musicians including the likes of Diplo, Bad Bunny and KISS.

And although Crocs rub ankles with the upper echelon of creatives, they are still not, like utility maxi skirts or trucker hats, considered conventionally stylish. Gleaming instead, with the glow of ugly chic. 

However you want to spin it, in its perversion of conventional aesthetics, Crocs has re-established itself as a footwear empire of the comfy and cool. Fuzzy Crocs, stiletto Crocs, platform Crocs, glitter Crocs, ballet Crocs…there’s seemingly a hybrid clog with its own collection of Jibbitz for any beach day, art show, brunch, yoga class, fashion week.

all kinds of crocs
Just a sampling of the many iterations of Crocs (clockwise from top left): (Credit: Crocs via Balenciaga and THE ICONIC.)

Gimmick factor or actually cute?

I’ve been so loyal to my Crocs within our ten-month-long-and-counting relationship that if there’s a clogs-centric meme that’s done the rounds, I’ve been sent it by multiple people. With a personal caveat of not wearing them into the office or bar  jeans and Crocs, slinky black dress with Crocs, bike shorts and high socks with Crocs, pyjamas and Crocs – the limit of Croc fits does not exist.

Whether it’s the ugly chic context, the gimmick factor or the actual aesthetic of the shoe itself at the root of my fondness, I’m not sure. Whatever the amalgamation of reason, I know I like Crocs. The nine-year-old girl on her scooter who shouted “I like your Crocs” at me last week likes Crocs, a fair chunk of the dad population likes Crocs.

While perhaps we’re not in the peak Crocdom of 2022, you’re still always going to see a pair or two of the clogs most times you leave home, and not without reason. Comfort meets cool in the ugly chic – and within an orthopedic-esque pair of Crocs.

Admittedly, there is something cool about dressing for comfort, not style; but if conscious of this, are we then dressing for performative nonchalance? Perhaps, that is a whole other shoebox to open another time.

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