Ugly Shoes: A Brief History

Every few years, tastemakers mysteriously embrace some comfortable but undeniably ugly footwear more typically associated with river-rafting potheads or line cooks. A look at the most memorable assaults on our fashion sense, and a forecast for the ugly shoe of spring 2008.

Photo: Courtesy of Birkenstock

1966: The Birkenstock Invasion
Californian Margot Fraser falls in love with the squat German sandals and buys the U.S. distribution rights; they become the counterculture’s signature footwear. Forty years later, Heidi Klum designs her own version.

Photo: Courtesy of Dansko

1971: Crazy for Klompen
Sexy, disco-era platforms reign, but more conservative dressers—especially men—adopt traditional Scandinavian clogs with a cartoonish point at the toe.

Photo: Courtesy of Earth Shoes

1974: Unsexiness Sells
Orders for the orthopedic-minded Earth shoes— the heel’s lower than the toe to mimic walking on sand—are backlogged by 3,500 pairs. Time magazine writes about them. The company’s owners go on Johnny Carson.

Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Martens

Late Seventies: The Footwear of Rebellion
First Brit punk-rockers, then angry American youth buy burly gummy-soled Doc Martens. Marc Jacobs puts them down the runway in 1992; they reappear in fashion at the 2007 Chloé and Yohji Yamamoto shows.

Eighties: What a Feeling!
Leg warmers and leotards are everywhere (thank you, Irene Cara), and so are boxy, elfin Capezio jazz shoes. In 2006, United Bamboo and Dior Homme revive the bad memory.

Photo: Courtesy of Teva

Mid-Nineties: For the Concrete Canyons
Several time zones east of Colorado, New Yorkers inexplicably embrace Tevas. The truly brazen wear them with socks.

Photo: Courtesy of UGG Australia

Winter 2004: So Soft, So Unflattering
Uggs were a generic sheepshearer’s boot in Australia for decades, but have become beachwear for surfers, then models, who wear them with minis.

2006: Croco-philia
The garishly colored slip-resistant shoes beloved by shift workers and chefs spread like a virus, engulfing entire families at a time.

Photo: Courtesy of

June 2007: Comfortable, But …
Worishofer sandals, the purview of Eastern European grannies, are stocked by groovy boutiques and worn with skinny jeans. Karen O performs in them.

Photo: Courtesy of Salt-Water Sandals

Up Next: Supersize Salt-Waters
The flat sandal that’s so adorable on kids isn’t quite so cute in a size 10, but it’s got the clunky contours that hipsters love.

Ugly Shoes: A Brief History