Stop Pretending Wedge Sneakers Never Happened

A walk to remember in fashion’s most controversial shoe, the wedge sneaker

02.01.17

Isabel Marant’s commercial Willow Sneaker rose to popularity in 2012 — all high topped and puffy tongued, like a basketball/skater shoe hybrid with a child’s developmental building block jammed underneath. In March of that same year, fashion journalist Hayley Phelan cited the trend for Fashionista and recalled a time the 2017s have now completely forgotten, writing, “a few seasons ago it would have been unthinkable to wear your running shoes around during fashion week… But this season, every editor and fashion industry insider is running around wearing *gasp* sneakers.”

I did gasp. They were very expensive and ugly. I don’t say that often or lightly but I have a distinct memory of Leandra coming over to my apartment in a pair — I asked her to please leave.

Photo via Man Repeller

Photo via Man Repeller

“The first time I saw them was in 2011,” Leandra told me in an interview over our interoffice communication system. “I thought they looked a bit like shoes you might find inside a Nintendo game and laughed them off. But then I couldn’t stop thinking about them and that annoying thing happened (which happens every time a trend creeps into the zeitgeist): I began to put on outfits and think, ‘You know what would make this look better? Nintendo sneakers.'”

She, like everyone I spoke with, regardless of aesthetic preference, brought up the wedge sneaker’s magic formula: heel height plus comfort. That was what Isabel Marant intended. The French designer’s inspiration for The Willow and The Bobby (a more subdued version) came from her own teenage years. In September 2012, Marant told Fashionista that she would put pieces of cork into her sneakers to look taller. “Sneakers are so comfortable but at the same time it’s not very elegant. To have a little heel in it makes a difference, it gives you legs.”

Well. Apparently some people hate legs.

The sneaker wedge — a portmanteau missed opportunity if I’ve ever seen one (the snedge) — was among ET Online’s “5 Trends to Stop Wearing Now” in 2015. Men were confused. Moms were indignant and so were educators. “This is a big problem and it needs to be stopped,” said an L.A. principal.

Isabel Wilkinson, T Magazine‘s Senior Online Editor, deemed sneaker wedges summer 2012’s ugliest trend: “I had been told that sneaker wedges were elongating on the leg; with the right skinny jeans, flattering even,” she wrote. “But as I spun in front of the mirror, it was decided: I looked like Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather on his way into the ring. They cut off my calves in the worst possible place and made me look about a foot shorter than I am, despite the internal lift.”

That’s the power of trends, though: they bypass haters on the feet of dedicated fans. Especially when celebrities step in.

Beyoncé wore them. So did Gisele Bündchen. Ciara and Nicki Minaj wore Giuseppe Zanotti “Lorenz” wedge sneakers in their 2013 music video “I’m Out,” and Alicia Keys launched her own wedge sneaker collection with Reebok. Then there were the fashion bloggers who adopted them as new appendages and turned them into content, like Rumi Neely and Chiara Ferragni.

They truly were “everywhere.”

Chiara Ferragni via Fab Fashion Fix

Chiara Ferragni via Fab Fashion Fix

Which means that by 2014, for the fickle industry insiders who catch trends well before the sneeze, the sneaker wedge was out. The New York Times‘s Susan Joy said they’d lost their cool. Isabel Marant wore them less. Of course, you likely know as well as I do that Isabel Marant still sells The Willow and plenty of people still wear them — originals, knockoffs, interpretations or otherwise. In New York City, my eyes average about two pairs a day.

“Five years later, and they appear to be alive and well, especially within New York’s workout community,” Isabel Wilkinson, aforementioned snedge critic, told me over email. “I guess I can understand their appeal if you are otherwise wearing head-to-toe athleisure.” (She has still never worn a pair in her life.)

When I emailed Laura Brown, Editor in Chief of InStyle Magazine, for a comment, she wrote back, “I’M WEARING THEM ON A PLANE BACK FROM PARIS RIGHT NOW.”

“The narrower black Isabel Marant ones,” she clarified. “Not the steroidal ones that everyone ripped off. I wear them to SoulCycle (so, annually), for weekend errands, I even marched in them in D.C. I’d like to delude myself that I am 5 foot 10 even when I’m ‘casual.'”

Whether “out” or “in,” for shoes, that the sneaker wedge could return in full force remains a polarizing suggestion.

Selby Drummond, Vogue’s Accessories Director, refused to acknowledge sneaker wedges as legitimate the first time around and doesn’t see how they could return. “It could be because I entered sixth grade at my fully grown height of 6 foot and haven’t look down since, but in fairness, that particular condition has never stopped me from embracing other height-emphasizing footwear.  There is something conceptually off-putting about the way a sneaker wedge undermines the very act of reaching for a sneaker to finish a look.

My colleague Allie recently wore a pair to an ‘OMG-I-Can’t-Believe-You’re-Wearing-That’ party. I think that says it all.”

New York Magazine Style Director, Rebecca Ramsey, said that if she’s going to wear a sneaker, she wears a sneaker.

Photo by Josiah Kamau for BuzzFoto/FilmMagic via Getty Images.

Photo by Josiah Kamau for BuzzFoto/FilmMagic via Getty Images

Danielle Prescod, BET’s Lifestyle Editor who wore the Isabel Marant Willow in its heyday and once went on a wild chase for a popular Marc By Marc pair, stopped liking wedge sneakers because of their ubiquity. “The only time I’ve used my sneakers again is for a sexy Brukwine dance class, but I think that is the only arena where they are useful at this point.”

“I loved them because I am short. I am always in a heel,” said Cosmopolitan Senior Fashion Market Editor Tiffany Reid, who first wore them in 2011 as a fashion assistant. “They seemed like a good way to wear heels with a sporty outfit. Then I realized they were the least-sexiest shoes you could possibly wear, and that’s not really my look. They worked in the moment, but that’s it.”

Fashion journalist Pandora Sykes is unsure if they will come back. They remind her too much of the time she went to visit her now-husband in Switzerland a few weeks after they met. “I thought totally appropriate ski resort garb was a snow jacket, butt-skimming cut-off Levi’s shorts, opaque tights and wedge trainers. I shudder (and shiver) thinking about myself waiting at that airport.”

“We would put a client in high-heeled Crocs before we used a sneaker wedge,” said celebrity stylists Jill Lincoln and Jordan Johnson, who see the shoe often in L.A. “They are like popcorn Jelly Beans…just a terrible, gross idea; two things that should have never been conjoined!”

I quite like popcorn Jelly Beans. Having learned to identify them by color alone, I will fish them out of bowls with my index finger if ever presented with a selection. I’m always surprised when someone hates the combination, which I guess is how sneaker wedge fans feel about sneaker wedge naysayers. And isn’t that the best part about fashion? If everyone agreed with everyone else about which shoes were cool — if everyone “got it” at once — then what the hell would we have to talk about?

Feature photo by Krista Anna Lewis. Isabel Marant sneakers via The RealReal. Research assistance by Lauren Myers.

Speaking of Crocs, we once styled them in place of the white sneaker.

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  • soniadelvalle

    Tbh, the original Willow still holds a bit of appeal to me, but the knockoffs all look terrible and sorta sad. My knockoff pair have long since left my closet and now live in a nice farm with other snedges.

  • Oh, man. They are soooo ugly imo. I’m glad I never gave in to that trend. But maybe one day in the future they will change my mind. So far my reaction remains one giant NOPE

  • I’m a popcorn jelly bean fan as well! Sneaker wedges, not so much. I’m traumatized from my days selling shoes at Lord & Taylor.

  • Caitlin Crow

    oh boy. i succumbed to this trend big time…i had steve madden knock-offs in both matte red and patent black (those were my “dress” snedges that i wore for orchestra concerts). i very quickly began to feel dumb in them–see aforementioned Floyd Mayweather description–and they found their way to a donation bag shortly thereafter.

  • Molly D

    I feel like they look like cankles, only somehow below the feet.

  • dana

    Honestly I think they are hideous BUT last year I found these super subtle black and white Skechers with a small wedge and they have been HANDS DOWN the comfiest travel shoes I have ever worn in my life. Like walking on clouds, plus they are chic travel shoes. And they make me taller.

  • Alexis Thomolaris

    I too love the popcorn Jelly Beans!! And I’m not afraid to admit that the Bobby version of the “snedge” are kinda cute to me.

  • Alex

    I def wore the knock off version of the Isabel Marants in college… my friends would always call them my ‘ballin’ sneaks’. (queue eye roll) Can’t say they were the most flattering on me and would probably never, never wear them again BUT they were fun. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/09cb87d654c880070f4f82c28d5b776ff3acff4d0ad30b44de01f55b4ff1d57a.png

  • Leilani

    I would love to see this same kind of retrospective on another terrible, once-everywhere shoe: the Lita.

    • muireann

      Yes to this!! “An oral history of” maybe? Those awful clodhoppers were everywhere too. Also Buffalo boots?

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cc6813182e77493bfb500b57edb1786662cf08f5225bbe798a19b5e4a9f32883.jpg

    • Alex

      OMG I saw someone walking around NYC the other day in a pair and I got sweaty flashbacks. They were EVERYWHERE

      • Anni

        Buffalos are back in now…if you are a teen, they are a huge part of the late late 90s / early 0000s revival.

    • Kattigans

      OMG the Lita!! I was in college when that was the trendy shoe to wear. I hated that shoe. Every girl I knew wore them out and oh god, clodhoppers is right.

  • fatou diaw

    they literally everhttps://closettostreet.com/ything!

  • VeeBee

    I love them and will never stop wearing them! Lo sentio. You may cover your eyes. Form, function, and it’s an excuse to sometimes not hem my jeans.

  • ReadER451

    Do you think we will feel this way in 5 years about the Gucci fur loafers?

    • Lilli

      100%. My mom thinks they look like dead cats

  • Natalie

    Just this weekend I was looking at my all-tan version I haven’t worn in forever, and decided it was time to send them to a consignment store. Fingers crossed someone is still into them.

  • Court E. Thompson

    I feel super behind since I didn’t discover them until 2014, but I love them and you can pry them off my cold, dead feet. But for real, they’re great for the post-workout brunch look. What else would I wear with my overpriced leggings and strategically cut-out tops?

  • Autumn

    I JUST got rid of a black & white pair from Aldo. Now I’m torn between being glad I did and wishing I had kept them for posterity’s sake.

  • Irene Laura

    OMG yes!! They were so UGLY! Yet i had a pair too 😀 lol

    http://www.ontomywardrobe.com/

  • They remind me of Marty McFly shoes as they all sorta have an 80s Reebok vibe to them… which is another reason why I like them. Style with caution, though.

  • Catherine Menzel

    I love that MR just posted this! Because I just wore mine last week after hiding them in my closet for…a long time. And man, I got a lot of compliments! At first I hated them too though, than I saw some girl wearing them and she made them look so cool and effortless. Shortly after buying them I sprained my ankle (unrelated) and they were perfect for wearing with the huge boot my doctor gave me.

  • Amy

    I got the original version very early on and wore them tons….until the knockoffs came out. I want to get them back out, but even still with all of the knockoffs out there, its hard for me to put them back on without feeling slightly cheesy. Love Leandra’s colorful pair…that helps the look. I got all black.

  • I donated mine last year. I actually quite liked them because I’m short, and they were comfy for ‘heels’. But now I care more about shoe comfort than creating the false illusion of height, so I’d rather wear classic sneakers.

  • Thrift shopping, I saw a couple of pairs of what we used to call elevator shoes for men; essentially this wedge sneaker, only styled as a boot. And that is why this is such a dorky shoe.

    Also: Barbie sneaker.

  • pennyjenny

    YUCK YUCK YUCK YUCK no no no no no. (Can you tell have I strong feelings on this matter?!?)

  • Giulia

    Noooooooooooooooo I don’t even need to read the article- the title alone alone is terrifying!

  • loulee

    This is so timely for me. I didn’t hop on this trend the first time around; I found them repulsive. Yet, two weeks ago, while lurking around ebay, I came across a pair of olive suede Nike Sky High Dunks and something strange happened. I consulted a friend, who unenthusiastically replied “Maybe? If you think you’ll wear them.”, and hoped that they would somehow come back in style while hitting the “make an offer” button. Y’know what? I adore them. I wear them at least twice a week. I style them with cuffed boyfriend jeans, never skinny, which is my way of saying “No, not like the ones from 4 years ago.”. Converted.

    • Calli

      I just sent my olive Sky High Dunks off to Goodwill last week – don’t tell me what you paid for yours on eBay.

  • Alexandra Pynes

    I totally expected this to be more a humorous or sarcastic retrospective…but as I read I became more and more intrigued! I would love to see other once raging trends deconstructed like this!

  • Sara

    I still like them. The chunky look gives an optical illusion and makes my legs look thinner. IMO sneaker heels are grosser.

  • I’m praying for the return of the snedge – they are the ONLY shoes I wear on a plane, my constant companion. Long live the snedge ✌🏻

  • TheHautemommie

    “lol I literally threw mine on the other day saying, “wow I haven’t worn these in a minute..” I still love mine.

    Leslie / @hautemommie / http://www.thehautemommie.com

  • Oh my I forgot about these! I never owned a pair, but I think that was partly because my heart still belonged to (/I was scarred my photos of) the platform trainer – another way to be comfortable and tall, but also look like the Spice Girls…Maybe they will come back?

  • Loved this. A little fashion time capsule with all the faves 🙂

  • Miss J

    I considered myself an open-minded person until the wedge sneaker. This is one thing that I could never accept. I find them offensive- there’s something very vulgar about them. So vulgar, that I’d rather wear PVC boots from a sex shop than a wedge sneaker. I vaguely remember wedge sneakers from the 90s, although the current ones seem like a 2.0 version of the ones I’m talking about. Maybe it’s the fact that everything from that period had a wedge or a platform. Having said that, Leandra, you’re the only person who can pull them off- perfect legs can make a sh** shoe look good. And speaking of the 90s, remember jellies and jelly heels?

  • BarbieBush

    “Stop trying to make wedge sneakers happen. It’s not going to happen!”

  • YT

    i wore my bobbys recently on Halloween as part of my Star Wars “Rey” costume. they worked quite well for that purpose and have since been “out” and in “rotation” since, although admittedly, worn probably only once since 10/31.

  • Vera Ivanova

    It’s funny, seeing them paired with certain outfits makes me cringe a bit. I think the slimmer wedge heels paired with a legging actually looks quite chic, or a skinny jean that ends at that perfect spot right at the ankle. But seeing the above photo of Chiara Ferragni with her jean shoved into that fat wedge sneaker is just unappealing to me.

  • Kattigans

    Oh boy, sneaker wedges! I hate to admit it but I had a pair of Bobby’s. I worked at a boutique that sold them and they were the ***it*** thing to have. Every girl I worked with wore them. Luckily I got mine for not $650 – sidenote: that’s a ridiculous price to pay! My good friend was so confused by them. Every time I wore them she said I looked like a basketball wife. Haha, I had to give them up and decided to consign them to a second hand shop. That was in fall 2015, the shoes never sold and I never went back to pick them up.

  • Joana

    This is my first, and long due, mr comment, as I prefer my usual role of comment section spectator. I guess the urge to get some atonement on this matter was greater than I could bear. Let’s face it, no one ever enters willingly into the snedge bandwagon. That is until, enter exhibits:

    a) Wedged Converse
    b) Wedged Keds
    c) Wedged B&W (Huge in Europe in the 2000s. Lucky you. )
    d) Wedged Marant/marant-likes

    Do non wedge also scores as sneaker heel shame? If so:

    e) Flatforms
    f) PUMA’s (love you riri)

    Together with the other great ones already mentioned at this thread.

    Back to the part where I tackle my atonement: I still own a pair of most of the above exhibits, and even though I haven’t worn them for years, I just can’t seem to let them go. Maybe as a reminder to oneself not to buy yet another pair of heeled sneakers ever again, but then again ‘Those are different’.

    Help! Do I suffer from snegeholm syndrome?

    • Saskia

      I have no idea how to insert the blessed hands emoji but I would like to learn it just to appreciate the brilliance that is “snegeholm syndrome”.
      becauce I too suffer. When asked randomly I strongly dislike them, as soon as I am confronted with more than 5 pictures of stylish women wearing them I kinda want them

  • rachel

    I never had any, but I have to be honest with you guys: I don’t think they’re so bad. And I would totally wear look 14 (though I would like it better with regular black sneakers so idk if that’s relevant here).

  • Natty

    i am so glad this issue has been raised. the wedge sneaker makes me so hostile. I HATE IT. which therefore kind of makes me want to wear it.

  • Leslie Hitchcock

    I’ve been thinking about this post ever since I read it. I, too, was seduced by wedge sneakers, but when they were at their zenith I could only dream of the Willow or Bobby, and my pay check afforded the Ash (in chartreuse, natch). Why I think the wedge sneaker is important is it ushered in sneakers being acceptable footwear for those of us who were used to wearing heels at all costs, at all times. The wedge sneaker was the forebearer of the now-ubiquitous Stan Smith and its ilk simply because we were suddenly allowed to pair a sneaker with our looks. We owe a debt of gratitude to the wedge sneaker, no matter if it experiences a resurgence or not. However, I will say that I get targeted by Avenue 32 ads for the Bobby on a daily basis. I wonder what that says about my social tendencies!

  • Reece Andavolgyi

    omg I 100000% support this. giddy in every way!
    https://blackberriesandsparkles.com

  • please irony

    Thank God poverty avoids me from falling into every trend. THANKING DONALD now FOR THE FUTURE ME TOO

  • Jessica

    whatever. i like them. i wear them.

  • allday_alc

    I secretly held onto my black snedges for years. They sat lurking in the darkest corner of my closet, serving as a trophy of boldness and unwavering bravery in the face of humiliation from my closest friends.

  • thekatalyst

    It has to be fate that I was in my attic earlier and saw my pair, now here we are 😳 I had a moment where I wanted to break them out again!!!

  • Ariri

    NO!
    I looove these shoes, I have 4 different pairs (all Puma, because they are really comfy and had collabo designs) and never stopped wearing them. I was really sad when Puma stopped making them and seriously, still just last week a friend asked me where I got them and why they were not available anymore (“man, I remember you wearing them to work all the time and it looked so cool”).
    I’m not interested in fads, I’m interested in design and how I can put an outfit together and feel like “this is me”. These shoes are good for me because:
    1- No matter what you say, they look good if paired with proper clothes (I like to wear them with over-the-knee dresses, but that’s my thing)
    2- Not everyone can wear regular heels (as in: I don’t own a car and I walk hellova lot in a day)
    3- They make me feel powerful and strong
    4- They’re quite a statement

    So don’t shame the sneaker wedge!!!