The Redemption Arc of Fashion’s Most Divisive Shoe

I remember my first pair of Crocs. Tell a lie, they were actually knock-offs, bought from a market stall on a packaged holiday to Spain when I was a pre-teen. They were perfect for two weeks of sun-kissed bliss, featuring blue ice-creams drenched in E numbers, endless chicken nuggets and chasing girls I fancied around the pool with my Super Soaker water gun.

Reasons for my mum buying me a pair? Comfortability and practicality. Never once did she think her son was about to be the trendiest kid in Benidorm. I mean, why would she? Described by The Washington Post as literal “vermin” back in 2006, Crocs look a bit like if an alien had a go at designing an orthopaedic shoe. So spongy, so hole-y – they could make any trypophobic person hit a full-blown whitey. 

Yet, the divisiveness that surrounds the “world’s ugliest shoe” hasn’t stopped Crocs from becoming the pandemic’s most unlikely success story. 

2020 saw global fashion search engine, Lyst, crown Crocs’ signature clog the eighth most-wanted item worldwide in its annual report, with average monthly searches for Crocs coming in at 135,000. Fast forward to this year and the company has reported record sales, soaring by 93 per cent to a pretty impressive £465m by June 2021

“​​With us all being indoors, we naturally started to lean towards finding comfort both physically and mentally, and I think brands like Crocs came to the rescue here,” says London-based writer and editor Eric Brain. “​​Crocs served as a pair of shoes you could slip on when you got out of bed, wear to the kettle and back, and pop to the shops in, all while not having to get changed.”

Fashion is currently experiencing what can only be described as a full-blown Croc attack. No longer just the go-to for long shift workers, gardening grandmas and dads who like the wind blowing within their toes while they watch the footy. Oh no. These pillowy webs are adored by Insta influencers, Amex-carrying hypebeasts and global musicians alike. Questlove wore a gold pair to the Grammys in March, Saweetie is flogging some made with, er, Hidden Valley Ranch, and even the cast of this year’s Love Island got in on the action: swapping red bottoms and designer slides for all-white Crocs (perfect attire for poolside pulling, apparently). 

As Lorna Hall, director of fashion intelligence at trend forecasting company WGSN, points out: “​​Crocs had been collaborating for some time with brands but the Post Malone collaboration in 2018 really cemented its status with Gen Z.” The tatted rapper’s hazard yellow pair – adorned in a series of Post Malone-themed Jibbitz (Crocs’ customizable charms) – sold out in seconds, followed by Diplo and the Biebs, who’ve put out some rather fugly Crocs of their own. Magic mushies for your feet, anyone?

There has been a fair share of Crocs co-signs on the runway, too. First from London-based designer Christopher Kane, who sent down a slew of blinged-out, jewel-encrusted and crystal jibbitz-ed Crocs as part of his spring/summer 2017 collection. And of course, Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia, whose ongoing Crocs collab began with 10m super-stacked platform versions of the clog in 2017, going on to debut the mega-goth “Hard” Crocs at the last Paris Fashion Week – ideal footwear if you’re headed to a CEX Christmas party – and a high heeled mule he calls Crocs Madame, currently being sold for £450. 

“​​The brand’s success with the youth market is also driven by a strong element of nostalgia,” says Hall, adding that Crocs is essentially a noughties brand that Gen Z and younger millennials have grown up with. Like the comforting fuzziness of a velour Juicy Couture tracksuits, many Croc wearers – who caved and bought a pair in the pandemic but wouldn’t have been caught dead in them prior – have carved the Croc to be an essential element of their wardrobe – both in and out the house. Ditching shirts, ties and shit-flickers for a casual uniform built for hybridised working life.

“There are so many drivers for its success and resurgence,” continues Hall, “the biggest being the comfort factor and this brand’s ability to be a perfect indoor /outdoor shoe/slipper hybrid at a time when we are spending more time in our homes, yards or gardens and in our locale.” Despite being able to leave the house whenever we want these days, Croc domination is far from over, with Bloomberg stating that the brand is projected to double in sales come 2026, expected to be worth over £3.5 billion. Cha-ching. 

“I think proponents of ugly fashion will keep wearing the shoe until it reaches saturation point,” says Lia Mcgarrigle, style editor at Highsnobiety. “After that, people will likely pause for a few years, before it gets picked up again ironically.” And while fashion thrives on things going from the cream of the crop to the cringiest thing you could be caught wearing  – remember when everyone was walking around in brown chinos, red Vans and Rihanna tops? – these squidgy foam concoctions could very well be here for some time.

“Crocs hasn’t really tried to be fashionable, we — the consumer — are the ones that decided Crocs was what we wanted, and Crocs was ready to serve,” says Brain. “I think that’s a brilliant marketing tactic, to always be prepared, to always be there, simmering away. It’ll come and go, as does everything, but I don’t think this is the last of Crocs, or that its impact on the footwear industry is dying down any time soon. As the world will pretty much never “go back to normal”, why should our choice in footwear?”


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