Confession: I Don’t Get the Ugly Sneaker Trend

Leandra Medine doesn't get the ugly sneaker trend.

I’m seated on a bench, gathering fresh air while drinking celery kombucha and wearing tiny sunglasses that do not protect my eyes but still allow for me to watch passersby come in and out of Cha Cha Matcha, a cafe that sells specialty drinks (see: celery kombucha) and looks like a Pinterest board thanks to its pink walls, kitschy artwork and real-life cast of Instagram characters that you expect to see only when frozen for photos. The majority of them are wearing biker shorts or cotton poplin tops and similarly small sunglasses. They’re boasting pointy fingernails painted beige or black, and have their hair styled into slicked-back ponytails. They clonk up and down the street before me in gigantic, lace-up or velcro sneakers, each pair grounded by a chunky sole that resembles the anatomy of a pterodactyl. I can’t quite make out if they are being worn as leg weights or to satisfy the very popular but simultaneously dumbfounding trend of wearing dad sneakers. This forces me to confess, at the risk of sounding like my grandpa — removed and disassociated and frequently dumbfounded by my stylistic choices, that I don’t get this trend.

raf simons ozweego black

I can try to get it — hypothesize with the same conviction that Pandora did about precisely why such a mode of dress has turned de rigueur. Perhaps sneakers make us feel grounded, or present an opportunity to take back and stomp all over yore’s conventions of femininity. Could they, somehow, level the political playing field that is a woman’s body? Maybe they are just big (and clever) enough to highlight and accentuate, in their ironic glory, the stereotypically-feminine daintiness of an ankle. But no matter how it is sliced, how hard I try, there is a blatant reality that remains: I not only can’t understand this trend, I think I hate it.

I am reticent to admit this because it is judgmental and hypocritical and does not inoculate me from making otherwise dubious fashion decisions: I am a proud proprietor of three bucket hats, I started a blog that launched as a reaction to drop-crotch pants and have sprained my ankles for clogs, equally as ugly in practice, at least twice. But what confuses me most is that I was an evangelist for wedge sneakers when Isabel Marant was plastering angled platforms to the bottoms of her pillow-top trainers. I scrambled enough change to purchase three pairs. I rolled my eyes when they were questioned, relegated the inquirer’s sophistication to that of a sponge with no pores and knew with every bone in my highly enlightened body that you had to be initiated — intelligent and thoughtful and sophisticated as hell — to understand where I, queen of the Superego, was coming from.

But that’s all done, and now I am the sponge with no pores, grasping for straws to understand how such a trend could catch like wildfire, while wearers look at me like I am the human equivalent of expired yogurt, incapable of understanding their appeal. How could someone spend a cool $895 on shoes (that’s the going rate at Balenciaga) as if they are art, impossible to price and therefore priceless? But if the flights of fashion’s fancy are frequently used haphazardly as a mechanism to evoke escapism, these, I am positive, further root us in reality. We’re all alone, we’re all going to eventually die and if it happens today, we’ll be wearing bad shoes.

But that’s where I stop myself short to consider the reasons that I participate in a trend — why I buy fashion that appeases said flights, and equally as often, fashion that doesn’t. One common denominator sticks out among these decisions: Impossibility. Impossibility of what? Unseeing what has now been etched into my psyche as a veritable saving grace. The holy grail. Glory, glory, hallelujah. My closet will never be the same without x or y. If I could only get my hands on z, I’d never need another thing. It is addiction to be sure — a roaring lion that yells over my shoulder, louder and more forcefully each time I try to ignore it until, eventually, I give in and watch as it whispers into the past, now a satiated lamb. But I don’t notice any of this part because I am busy marveling in the rush of my saving grace; my addiction has paid off! Until, before I know it, the next roaring lion has taken its place.

At the end of it all, I am left with yards of fabric that might hold tender stories and photos but confirm the suspicion that perhaps I am as weak as I think. It’s devastating and gorgeous; I wouldn’t change a damn thing. So what makes ugly sneakers any different from the bounty of trends in which I participate and celebrate?

Absolutely nothing, I resolve.

fila disruptor sneaker

Because we all fall victim to the wrath of fashion’s blindness. We don’t admit it, but I’m certain that we feel it. We think it is love and maybe it is, because we open our hearts to questionable trends, calling fashion intoxicating and personal, a megaphone that speaks when we fear we’ve lost our voices. We lean in a bit deeper, discover a variable that is intimidating — maybe it is price point, maybe it is size, maybe it is neither of these things but this intimidation is metabolized as insecurity, and this insecurity strives for resolution, belonging.

Of course we don’t admit insecurity, so we either turn away in haste and find belonging in this haste, or submit ourselves to the blindness. The marketplaces we trust support precisely what intimidates us, and that causes us to buy in further until eventually — finally — the trends reach fever pitch and now the marketplaces that we trade in (different from the ones we trust) make it possible to participate. So the lions roar as I stand in front of my mirror, you in front of yours, wondering different things about what we’ll wear and what that might say, and as the lions become lambs, and you look how you do and I look how I do, we get distracted by our differences that are, in fact, similarities and don’t recognize that really, we’re the same.

If you look hard enough, you will find that the trends that repel us most demand that in our disagreement, we discover compassion and empathy and the sparkling differences we carry that serve as a reminder of our baseline sameness.

Today I found the human spirit. It was hiding under a rubber sole that looks like a pterodactyl.

Collages by Louisiana Mei Gelpi. 

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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