ESC, History of the Ugly Shoe

It's a styling choice that can forge rifts between even the best of friends. Some applaud its comfort and practicality; some abhor its dated look and unconventional take on beauty. Yes, we're talking about the ugly shoe—and it's having a moment…again.

For the past four or five seasons, we've seen celebs sport their favorite iterations on the red carpet and models strut new versions on the runway, but before brands like Teva and Birkenstock became today's fashion mainstays, they were, well, must-haves once upon a time.

ESC, History of the Ugly Shoe

The oldest surviving remnants of clogs were found in the Netherlands circa early 1200s. Though many today view the wooden-soled shoes as clunky and homely, it was the clog—not diamonds—that once marked the ultimate symbol of love. In the late 19th century, men in the Netherlands would hand carve clogs with intricate designs and give them to their brides as a token of their love. 

Kitten heels were all the rage in the age of prim and proper, when Audrey Hepburn helped to popularize the style. But let's be honest: The slender, short heel doesn't often flatter a woman's profile. We try to forget the days in the early 2000s when kitten heels were added to sandal and flip-flop silhouettes. Now, they make a perfect choice for 10-year-old girls.

ESC, History of the Ugly Shoe

Before these military boots were popularized by '70s punk and '90s grunge styles, the first pair of Dr. Martens was produced on April 1, 1960. The shoe has always been embedded in youth subculture, but the original idea behind the design stemmed from practicality, not angst, as the inventors created air-cushioned soles to help cope with a skiing injury.

There is no ugly shoe more stylized on the runway nowadays than the Birkenstock. The German shoe company was founded in 1897, but its contoured footbed and cork soles weren't exported the States until the mid-‘60s. Birkenstock-style shoes have seen innovation among the high fashion set in recent years, with brands like Marni and Isabel Marant coping the look as well.

ESC, History of the Ugly Shoe

These high-stepping shoes were pretty much disco balls for your feet. The party shoes of the‘70s often sparkled, sometimes featured ecosystems in its platforms and were a perfect symbol of the excess of the times. In the early aughts, the platform stiletto saw a more subtle resurgence with best-selling designs like the YSL Tribute.

The sport sandal isn't just for lounging near a pool. Though they were created in the ‘70s, the hip-hop explosion of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s reignited the craze for these casual slides. Nowadays, the shoe is supplemented with socks—a trend which furthers the idea of unconventional style and beauty.

ESC, History of the Ugly Shoe

It seems the ‘70s was the decade of conceptualizing ugly shoes. In the latter years, an Australian surfer founded Ugg—that of sheepskin and oversize boots fame. It wasn't until 2000 when Oprah named the brand one of her "Favorite Things" did we see a demand filled by every big box retailer near you.

Another style loved by previously uncool (now cool?) fathers and fashion fanatics alike, Tevas have seen an evolution much like the Birkenstock. What was once a Velcro-equipped flip-flip designed by a Grand Canyon river guide has morphed into high-fashion iterations by Stella McCartney and DKNY.

ESC, History of the Ugly Shoe

In the early aughts, sightings of cartoonish yet undeniably comfortable shoes were plentiful among young children, medical workers and celebrity chef Mario Batali. Will an A-lister ever be spotted wearing one of these hole-ridden steppers? With the right endorsement offer, we suppose.

Today, there are no limitations to the ugly shoe game; anything goes. High fashion designers, like Céline's Phoebe Philo and Nicholas Kirkwood, are taking iconic shoes and pushing the limits with exaggerated silhouettes, embellishments and crazy colors.

All we ask? Bring back jelly sandals, please.

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