Growing up, there were always some unspoken fashion rules in my house. First, never leave the house without un par de aretes. Second, always wear a dab of lipstick. And lastly, do not– under any circumstance– walk out the front door wearing your Crocs.
One day, as a preteen headed to my local Claire’s, my mom pointed toward my feet as we crossed the mall threshold. On cue, I let out a cry. I’d forgotten to change out of my neon pink and orange Crocs before leaving the house. Mortified, I convinced myself for the rest of the trip that every mall goer was staring directly at my feet. These foam clogs were too ugly to be worn out in public.
So, it was much to my surprise that I found myself clicking purchase on a new white pair last October. “Should I get the banana Jibbitz or a Toy Story one,” I asked my partner, as I made my order– the words foreign in my mouth. When they arrived a few days later, I went for walks around the block. I even wore them for my weekly outing to the grocery store. My feet occasionally squeaking through the aisles, asking for the world (or just my neighbors) to see.
I’m not the only one who’s come around on their distaste for the objectively ugly shoe during the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns. Although footwear sales are down 20 percent from last year, Crocs are up by 48 percent, according to the New York Times. The shoe has steadily gained popularity over the years, eventually cementing its street cred among Gen-Z. But this year, it seems to have hit its peak cultural clout with the help of a few celebrity collaborations. In September, Bad Bunny’s limited edition pair sold out in just 16 minutes (I would know, I tried to buy a pair). Crocs, against all odds, have become a status symbol.
Crocs first launched in 2002 as a boating shoe– comfortable, no-slip, and water resistant. They soon became popular in dining and health care spaces for their cushioned comfort. In 2006, the company went public on the stock market with the most successful initial public offering in footwear history. By then, my first pair had already made it into my hands. As an elementary schooler with a slew of foot problems, my orthopedic doctor suggested my mom purchase a pair to help support my feet. I found myself tortured by the fact that I had to wear these rubber clogs, offered only in navy blue, black, and white, while my friends strutted in their light-up sneakers.
But soon they were all the pre-teen rage, with Jibbitz– decorative charms– now widely available to customize your pair. Just as quickly as the company rose, they had a downfall, reporting major losses in the late 2000s, even teetering on financial ruin in 2009.
During those years, I too was learning a thing or two about my style. I tried on all the different looks that didn’t fit: wedging my feet into skyhigh red and black stilettos at 15; staying away from statement earrings because I convinced myself they made my already round face look more full; smudging my waterline with harsh lines of black eyeliner, accompanied by swaths of teal eyeshadow. Crocs were somehow always there though, after a long night of high-heeled pain or on a Sunday morning walk to the kitchen.
In 2016, a turn began for the company. Models wore the shoes on a London Fashion Week runway that year. In 2017, Balenciaga created platform Crocs worth hundreds of dollars. Since then, the company has collabed with artists everywhere, from Post Malone and Justin Bieber to Drew Barrymore and Bad Bunny. By the time 2020 rolled around, and a global pandemic completely shattered our realities, sitting in a virtual line to buy Bad Bunny-themed Crocs was by far one of the most normal things I’ve found myself doing this year.
On the surface, 2020 being the culmination of Crocs’s burgeoning success makes sense. Lockdowns forced many people to stay home, forcing many of us to accommodate working from home. Loungewear is the buzzword of the year. Crocs tagline is literally Come as You Are, and who has the energy right now to show up as anything else?
Crocs can be seen simply as a symptom of a desire for comfort as fashion. We are allowing ourselves to redefine what we consider “ugly,” or even embrace its unconventional look, if it makes us feel good.
In a time where I have little control over the world around me, the way I present myself to others, and to myself, is still uniquely mine. The items I’ve been wearing all along in the privacy of my own space are the pieces that fit the best. Embracing this rubber shoe I once saw as hideous—manly even—is a way to declare independence from arbitrary restrictions.
I got dressed to go to the grocery store recently. In between a pair of biker shorts, a colorful sweater, long socks, my bright orange mask and my new, second pair of tye dye crocs, I was 12-year-old me’s worst nightmare. Walking down the store aisles I happened to glance down at my squeaky, clunky shoes easily spotted from a mile away, and laughed to myself—who would’ve thought?