A year of lockdowns has spawned some questionable fashion trends. In US suburbs, fluffy bathrobes and slippers are now socially-acceptable attire for a trip to the grocery store. The pyjama suit — a mash-up between a formal collared shirt and a sweatshirt — is touted as the next big thing for working from home.
Ugly shoes are also having a moment. Crocs, the maker of plastic clogs now with a market worth of $5.3bn, had a record 2020. The distinctive shoes, with their punch hole design, have long been popular with hospital staff. During the pandemic they have become a sought-after item for those looking for something easy to wear and clean.
The company sold more than 69m pairs of shoes in 2020 and pulled in nearly $1.4bn in revenue, a 13 per cent jump from 2019. While they may not be easy on the eyes, Crocs have been attractive to investors. The share price, up 650 per cent from its pandemic low, has set repeated new highs this year.
Birkenstock, whose clunky sandals are worn by hippies and hipsters alike, is another brand riding high on the shift to a more casual lifestyle. The German group recently sold itself to a LVMH-backed group in a €4bn deal.
Neither brand’s popularity shows signs of fading. Poshmark, the second-hand clothing app, said Crocs and Birkenstock remained top trending brands on its site in March. Sales are up sharply for both compared with the year-ago period. High-profile collaborations (Justin Bieber for Crocs, women’s brand Proenza Schouler for Birkenstock) should help maintain a buzzy profile.
The same cannot be said for dress shoes, which were already falling out of fashion. Office closures and fewer special occasions such as weddings and graduations have accelerated the trend. Sales for the category plummeted 50 per cent last year, according to market researchers The NPD Group. These accounted for only 8 per cent of total fashion footwear dollar sales in 2020, compared with 17 per cent in 2017.
People will soon reach again for going-out clothes, more formal than pyjamas. But the market for dress shoes will never recover entirely. The ugly shoe movement is here to stay.
The Lex team is interested in hearing more from readers. When will the fashion chaos occasioned by WFH come to an end? And what weird new sartorial orthodoxy will emerge from the wreckage? Please tell us what you think in the comments section below