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Pretty Ugly

Fashion - shoesPretty hurts, but significantly less now that orthopedic shoes are back in the game. ANNA SAXON reports.

I don’t think anyone was expecting the humble, homely Birkenstock to be this July’s fashion craze. Relegated for years to the elderly or deeply uncool, the German orthopedic footbed sandal seems to have become the unlikely mascot of the sensible yet stylish.

Trend setters such as the Olsen twins and those in the know were snapping up ‘Birkis’ (unfortunate nickname) last year, but when Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci sent his models down the label’s spring/summer 2014 catwalk with chunky, double-strap sandals (a riff on Birkenstock’s best-selling Arizona style), it was clear that this was going to be the ‘it’ shoe silhouette of summer – or winter, here Down Under. But what elevated these frumpy tourist sandals to the height of fashion footwear?

Well, it’s all got to do with the ‘ugly’ shoe renaissance. Multi-strapped ‘Man Sandals’, the ones every Australian father owned in the 1980s; jelly sandals every colour of the rainbow; the one-strapped mule monstrosities of the ’90s which Rachel wore for almost 3 straight seasons of Friends: the clunky footwear of our youth has come back in a wave of nostalgia and washed away the chic, delicate styles of the competition. The trick is to take a classic silhouette and make it as ugly as possible. Socks? You got it. The colour and consistency of wet cardboard? Hell yes. Cork heels with orthopedic insoles? You’ll be on every Best Dressed List in the city. The comfy revolution has arrived, ladies, and I for one am ready to embrace it with open arms.

I’m no fashionista, but I own about 5 pairs of jelly sandals. Who could forget the thrill of putting on your first pair of sparkly jellies and heading out to pre-primary, Bayswater Waves or the Jungle Gym? Jelly sandals make me feel young and playful, with the added plus that they are a cheap, quirky alternative to bank-breaking leather sandals which may or may not last the summer. A little tacky and totally perfect – just the way I like them. And now Vogue is totally backing up my cheap-ass, ‘comfort first’ shopping decisions.

What started this trend? Who knows. Maybe women are just sick and tired of the torturous shoes. Perhaps this flight en masse to the flat, supportive footwear traditionally worn by grandparents, hippies or tourists with matching bum bags (which are yet to make a true comeback but I remain hopeful) is a marked move against certain painful beauty standards and a turn towards more realistic and reasonable ideals for women. That or it’s all just a very clever advertising move on the behalf of Mr. Birkenstock.

Whatever is driving this so called ‘Ugly Shoe’ trend, I’m on board for as long as it lasts. Let’s celebrate the flat footed days of yore, and dance the night away – which I’ll now be able to do, thanks to built in arch support and stylish orthopedic.