Sneakers — oh, the irony
Earlier this week, I had a nightmare that I lived in a colourless dystopia run by militant soldiers. I woke up, unsettled, to a text from a colleague who’d dreamt I showed up at work in Louis Vuitton’s limited-edition ‘Archlight’ sneakers. Visualising all
$1600 worth of comically proportioned, aggressively designed, spacey, sporty street-style bait, a new wave of horror washed over me. Suddenly, dystopia didn’t seem so bad.
On this I stand alone in my 12cm stilettoed ankle boots that make me a liability to anyone needing to get anywhere with me in a hurry, not to mention more than a little bit unfashionable at a time when sky-high heels are decreasing in popularity as fast as the collective female capacity to tolerate pay inequality and unwanted sexual advances. Flying off the shelves in the days following their February 2018 release, the Archlights, their designer contemporaries and their high-street equivalents have dominated fashion front rows, style pages and Google searches for some time now.
Blame the evolution of normcore, a fashion movement that gained popularity a few years ago for combatting ostentation and contrived authenticity by celebrating sameness, and which was mainly manifest in the revival of ‘sneans’ (sneakers and jeans). Painfully earnest in its irony, normcore has since had its sense of humour drawn out by the likes of Demna Gvasalia, creative director at Balenciaga and founder of Vetements. Expensive and at their core unexceptional, Gvasalia’s street-luxe designs are as ironic as they come. But thanks to some extra quirky additions (a smiley face emoji here, a bit of well-placed fake dirt there), the idea is that they — and those who wear them — don’t take themselves too seriously.
You might, of course, argue that anyone who spends more than $200 on a pair of sports shoes is a serious follower of fashion indeed. I’m inclined to think so, anyway. But then, in my imaginary life where my imaginary level of wealth allows me to filter prices from high to low on Net-a-Porter, I wouldn’t think twice about spending that amount of money on a pair of embellished Aquazzura party heels, so it’s kind of a moot point.
Then again, it’s not, because the lesson here is to wear whatever makes you happy. Christian Louboutin once talked about a high heel as the source of a woman’s power, which resonated with me in a big way. But if yours is in a chunky, springy, triple-layered rubber sole, more power to you. You wouldn’t be the first. Let’s cast our minds back 20 years to the last time a chunky sneaker was associated with (girl) power. Inspired by ’80s rave-wear, the Spice Girls’ footwear of choice was many a millennial’s first encounter with the ugly sneaker; the nostalgia factor alone explains the item’s appeal to today’s generation.
Also on its side is its surprising versatility. As the Spice Girls proved, the ugly sneaker does not discriminate. No matter your stature or style personality, there’s a way for you to wear it. Whether yours is a Mel C-inspired update on the Adidas tracksuit, an animal-print ensemble that would make Mel B proud, or a metallic mini dress that could’ve once caused a catfight between Emma Bunton and Geri Halliwell, it’s the accent that will take your look from costume territory to cool. Just ask Bella Hadid — seemingly on a crusade to prove that there’s no outfit the ugly sneaker can’t complete. With enough style personalities to form her own girl group, Bella’s love for sneakers and suiting begs the question whether there’s an opening for a ‘Business Spice’ in any rumoured reunion tour.
She may want to keep her schedule clear, because like a pre-Beckham Posh Spice tottering around the edges of the Spice World boot camp in body-con camo while the rest of the band crawls through the mud, there will always be some who simply cannot get on board — and that’s okay. Again, fashion should be fun, and if you’re not feeling a trend, faking your love for it is a waste of energy, not to mention a wardrobe of clothes that turn you into the best version of yourself.
In other words, own your look. And if, like me and Vicky B, the ugly sneaker isn’t it, just hold tight. Sooner or later, people will start wearing stilettos ironically, and then we’ll be away laughing.