There are certain things in life that are so ugly they’re beautiful, or so ugly they’re cute. (The French call it jolie laide; the Japanese, busakawa.) Think of bulldogs, bumpy noses — or Birkenstocks. This week, we’re celebrating the faces that only a mother could love. Welcome to Fugly Week on the Strategist.
I counted 11 people wearing Stan Smiths on my way to work one recent morning. In the last few years, New York — and every other metropolitan city around the world — has been awash in a sea of plain white sneakers. There are the budget versions. There are the Converse versions. There are the $400 versions made with Italian leather that fashion editors wear because they get them for free. And there are Stan Smiths. So many Stan Smiths.
I get it. They go with everything. Dress them up! Dress them down! Their defining feature is their complete lack of character, but in their ubiquity, they’ve gotten to feel a bit … boring. The world could use a few more sneakers with character, and I am here to advocate for sneakers that have a lot of — possibly even too much — character: Some Asics Gels. There are all sorts of Asics Gels, but the model that we’re here to talk about today is the Gel-Lyte V, which is mostly defined by the lack of a traditional tongue in favor of a little stretchy sockliner that is both kind of unattractive and yet also very comfortable.
I’m not saying these are the ugliest sneakers available, but they’re not exactly “sleek,” either. They debuted in the early ‘90s, and they manage to look both futuristic and hopelessly outdated. It’s like the designers set out to make something sophisticated, but then just gave up and kept adding different stuff. Chunkier than many homely pairs of New Balance dad kicks, they also come in all sorts of bonkers colors. The pair to which I am currently most partial is a mash-up of colors, materials, and textures that really have no business existing together on the same shoe. But here’s the other thing: Anyone who has owned a pair will tell you they are the most comfortable thing they’ve ever put on their feet. They feel soft and cushioned but also somehow supportive. If I wear them after a long jog I feel like I bounce back more quickly than I do with other shoes. (I mean, I’d also probably wear them to jog in a pinch, which I guess is what they were designed to do).
They’re also relatively affordable and hold up more or less forever. And, most important: They’re a little ugly, which is sort of the whole point, especially when everyone else’s shoes all look the same.
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