If the ugly shoe fits, wear it

A model wears a pair of Prada shoes. (Reuters)

A model wears a pair of Prada shoes. (Reuters)

Forget dainty kitten heels or towering stilettos. The sandal to be seen in this year is the "ugly shoe": footwear that is hefty, flat and defiantly unsexy.

Seen on the catwalks of fashion houses Celine, Prada and Givenchy, the ugly-shoe trend encapsulates a variety of styles, from Celine's neoprene pool sliders and sequinned hiking sandals at Prada and Marc Jacobs to luxe floral Birkenstock-inspired sandals at Givenchy.

All are united by an emphasis on chunkiness and comfort. Easy to recreate inexpensively, using rubber and Velcro, ugly shoes are big news in shops, too.

"We haven't seen such a fast-moving trend in flat shoes for a long time," says Polly Thrussell, senior footwear buyer at ASOS.com, Britain's largest online-only fashion and beauty stores.

The Maya Gladiator Footbed – four thick leather straps with a cushiony rubber sole – went on sale in January in black, white, navy and silver.
The silver and navy versions have already sold out.

As the name suggests, the new style is hard to love … at first. One furry blue version, by Celine, so incensed the London-based Daily Mail that the newspaper was compelled to ask: "Are these the world's ugliest shoes?"

That said, the trend has been incubating, over a few seasons, among the more experimental sections of the fashion industry.

The Celine furry blue shoe

For his spring/summer 2012 collection, Scottish fashion designer Christopher Kane sent models down the runway in metallic pool sliders. Soon afterwards, fashion bloggers and a few celebrities, such as singer Rita Ora, started wearing a far more affordable version: plastic sliders by brands such as Nike and Adidas, which cost about £20.

Last year, style magazine AnOther proclaimed 2013 the year of the pool slider revolution, offering Celine's SS13 fur-lined Birkenstocks as a possible starting point. The magazine's editor, Laura Bradley, described the trend as one that "started on the street" and was "unexpected; just like all brilliant things in fashion".

Natalie Kingham, the head of fashion at luxury designer fashion retailer matchesfashion.com, had a pair of the Christopher Kane originals, but "it wasn't until this summer that most people's eyes seemed to readjust to them, and that translated to sales," she says. "When I first saw them, they reminded me of the shoes we wore in the 1990s. [They were popular then], and I thought about how well they would work with the current relaxed, sporty vibe."

The Givenchy floral Birkenstock

Indeed, in a year when Karl Lagerfeld sent models down the runway in trainers at the Chanel couture show – and with trend forecasters predicting that "normcore", the act of studiously dressing plainly, will be the decade's biggest fashion trend – it is perhaps no surprise that ugly shoes are being accepted.

"They are often called unsexy," says Kingham, "and maybe they are not men's favourite shoe for women to wear ... but they make you look cool. They offer a lot of comfort; you can run around in them. I think they will be around for a few seasons."

Thrussell agrees: "It's a trend that offers comfort – and those are the ones that last. Since last season, when Stella McCartneyesque chunky ankle boots were a huge success, gradually our customers seem to have got used to a less sexy shoe; they are getting more experimental, wearing chunky sandals and jelly shoes with ankle socks. They are not styling the shoes with ugly clothes, but experimenting with footwear. We like to say that they are dressing from the feet up." – © Guardian News & Media 2014

Hannah Marriott is deputy fashion editor of the Guardian.

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