Why Ugly Sneakers Are Back: A Theory
Collage by Edith Young. 

Sometimes a trend occurs that is so nonsensically pervasive, you have to dig deep into the mind-trenches to fathom why. Cropped bell-bottom flares, socks over heels and straitjacket-like denim jackets are all styles I’ve recently battled to comprehend before mentally discarding. Then dad sneakers happened and I had a searing moment of: What. The. Fuck?

Chunky, grubby and unflattering, they are the ultimate 80s movie nerd shoes — and yet “everyone” is wearing them. Balenciaga’s much-hyped Triple S sneaks, described on one comment forum as “an old ass pair of shoes my mum keeps in the garage,” will run you close to $800, keep selling out online and have been ripped off by Zara.

Like so many street style trends, the grotty-hued New Balance revival happened at Copenhagen Fashion Week in August. I spotted them on such style soothsayers as Caroline Brasch-Nielsen and Pernille Teisbaek. That same week I spied my new Instagram preoccupation, the Danish stylist Emili Sindlev, wearing lilac-colored Nike Air Max sneakers with striped socks and a checked dress. But why? Why suddenly, after we all agreed to put normcore to bed, have these dad sneakers come back?


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It has almost become a trope to discuss fashion’s art-like ability to offer a reprieve from weighty political and global turmoil — and yet, I believe this to be true. Fashion raises us up, but it also anchors us down and holds us firm. Could dad trainers (considered “fashion” if Balenciaga, Dior and Vetements say so) have the very literal effect of stabilizing us amid chaos?

#LeilaEmineLundsten #MilanFashionWeek #SS18 #StreetStyle #Sunglasses #Sneakers #Balenciaga #GildaAmbrosio #NoFreePhotos

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Comfortable clothing, as you’re well aware, has built momentum over the last few years. Circa 2014, newly fascinated by the acceptance of leggings and sneakers into common sartorial parlance, we anointed the trend “athleisure.” Next, athleisure went highbrow. (Think Yeezy‘s elevation of shapewear into bonafide high fashion.) All the while, I’ve remained skeptical; I don’t believe fashion should be uncomfortable, but I do believe that clothes should be beautiful.

Until now. The advent of dad sneakers proves we’ve reached a truly balanced view of fashion. We understand that the architectural and the mundane (read: comfortable) can be combined without censure, to a point where we are no longer fetishizing “the basic” in a way that feels contrived. Sure, it has become au courant to wear a suit with a pair of sneakers; and sure, Balenciaga’s sneakers are inevitably having a moment that will date. But the dad sneaker offers an insight into our centrist views toward extremism. We want to feel grounded.

The Big Apple face 🍎#NYFW Photo: @styledumonde #emilisindlev

A post shared by Emili Sindlev (@emilisindlev) on

I’m not going to say that heels are out, or that never again will women desire to be trussed up. That’s just wrong — look at the continuing success of Balmain and Saint Laurent. But there is something to be said for allowing our wardrobes to hold both the aesthetically pleasing and the doggedly unflattering.

What the dad sneaker says, is: here are my feet, flat on the ground, sheathed in a color of zero notoriety. Their nondescript-ness is honest, transparent, even. If you follow the metaphor, it might say quite a lot about finding our place in the world. And when you think about it, there’s never been anything less scary than feeling rooted.

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  • Hayley

    Dad sneakers never went out of style (at least in terms of the dads who wear them in my office). I for one, will not partake.

  • Abby

    I hate this trend, honestly. I’m very excited for it to die!

  • Bee

    I tried to like these for a second, but I just cannot. I just can’t.

  • dietcokehead


  • My dad is so uncomfortable with the idea of being “on trend” (because I think it makes him nervous that he can be judged). I showed him this trend, and he was so confused. I feel an existential crisis on the horizon…

    • Though tbh I’m kind of here for the pants….

      • Jen

        Is that Britney??? Everything about that silhouette is awful, from the bagginess of the trousers to the cuffing to the chunky shoes that anchor her firmly in the ’90s.

  • Jane

    This is one of those funny trends that you take out of a super fashionable edgy context and it’s no longer cool, or beautiful on it’s own. You need great styling to pull this off.

    I think it’s really just a continuation of a trend – comfortable footwear/tennis shoes with everything- to an extreme (as fashion does) and it looks brilliant with the right look…but is certainly not timeless.

    It’s also an interesting little part of this recent dichotomy of super super sexy collections and celebs wearing them (hadids/kardashians) and baggy, boyish, notably un-sexy clothing made and worn by the same people…illustrates a bit of how we’re dealing with our idea of the modern woman and modern feminism?


    • Kiks

      Yes, I think partly it’s a continuation of the trend — sneakers as alternative to heels has become so mainstream that the fashion crowd had to take it to a different level.

      On a personal note, last month on a trip to the city I got a blister on my heel from too much walking in non-sensible shoes, as one does…but this time, the blister got infected, which then spread to my ankle and foot. I ended up in the hospital with IV antibiotics to treat cellulitis, a soft tissue infection that can lead to necrotizing fasciitis (gangrene, basically) or sepsis (blood poisoning, organ failure, usually death) if not treated quickly.

      So….I am here for the comfy shoe trend. Until the end of time.

    • Pandora Sykes

      Interesting point. I think it depends how you define timeless? It def says a lot about modern feminism (some good stuff, tbh. People no longer forced to wear heels at work, blah blah.)

    • pops ONE

      Well said

  • Amelia Diamond

    I just went into nike this weekend because i needed new gym sneakers and on the “fashion shoes” level, two of the sales guys were pointing to a particularly dad pair of sneakers (that kind of also looked like hike leader shoes) and were like “THESE ARE SO POPULAR ALL MY FRIENDS HAVE THEM I DO NOT GET IT” and the other guy was like “ME EITHER” and I just walked by all like YOU JUST WAIT UNTIL MAN REPELLER ON MONDAY and gave them a knowing smile that probably creeped everyone out including me.

  • pops ONE

    Shocking looking trainner slaapped with a massive price tag abd then sheep think there cool .they look realy bad some of them thats not fashion thats clever sales

    • Pandora Sykes

      I’m not sure you read the piece. Balenciaga are super expensive, sure – but Nike, Hi-Tech and Saucony are regular priced sneaker brands.

      • pops ONE

        Not talking about the nike trainers only the new high priced ugly ones .nikes and high tec trainers are not new maybe new colors but.not new .high priced new ugly trainers .and thats not to say all high priced trainers are ugly just thoes ones .

        • Pandora Sykes

          Sorry to be a pedant, but actually Hi-Tech’s line is brand new (they’ve re-launched in tandem with the dad sneaker phenomenon)

          • pops ONE

            But not much has change with high tec really the look the same then and know and then

          • pops ONE

            Also high tec has probley always been a dad show even befor this new title

  • Eliza

    I just can’t get on board with this. I hated them when I was 9 BOGOing at Payless, and I hate them now!

    • Melissa Davis

      Awesome comparison.

    • Aydan


  • SAMIR Saiyed

    Really this shit happens now 🤣😂

  • Emily

    yikes. not into this

  • Edith

    I will be wearing Dad sneakers until the bitter end

    • pops ONE


  • Caroline Christianson

    Voicing my support of this because I see a lot of negative comments!!!! I followed Emili for a long time before being convinced, and now I have 6 pairs of these sneakers – most bought used for under $30! With socks and strategic colors, it is the most fun, and I will keep this flame burning because it will make me very comfortable in the hospital with med student/resident hours!!! Also, never doubt Scandinavians – as a rule.

  • Eliza

    Ever since the “Re-imagining Princess Diana’s Iconic Looks” article, it seems as if everywhere I turn, all I can see are elements of the Sloane Ranger/preppy/Trad style. My theory is that Dad Shoes are just a continuation of this trend (and perhaps just made more acceptable because of the athleisure craze). They all look like they came straight off an 80’s tennis or squash court. At this point I’m just waiting for the moment I run into someone wearing an old hand-me-down Laura Ashley dress, complete with giant collar.

    • Pandora Sykes

      Newsflash: THEY’VE ARRIVED! Ganni have a printed one with a high frilled necklace…

      • Jane

        And the whole 90s Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy look. I googled her the other day and every single image pretty much matched half of SS18 street style shots. I highly recommend the google – it’s kind of shocking as those looks would be considered so uncool 10 years ago and we’re all into it again.

  • Viivi

    I have haluxes, one of them operated (so each of my feet is different), so I so much welcomed the birkenstock and large shoes/soft shoes trend! I have my sneakers (mom style) custom made for my weird toes from a pharmacy (prescription shoes, cost me 30 USD, picture attached) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/31bc6dfa416a8f195630766afa0dbde0bc0a5e49b6625f9ffc7b5ab94824df8b.png and they are super cool and I only wonder how long will it take them to come to fashion week 🙂

    PS: please someone finally make orthopedic heels for when we weirdoes want to be elegant 🙂

    • TinySoprano

      Those shoes look like they’d feel like walking on fricking angel down. Speaking as another person with orthopedically interesting feet (like, highest pair of orthotics that podiatrist ever made kind of interesting), I hope this trend never dies.

      • Viivi

        High five orthopedically interesting sister! 🙂 now only to get those designers (orthopedically) interested.

        • Bek

          Stuart weirtzman is pretty comf!

  • Meemaw

    I think most high fashion designers are punking us with their trends.

  • zam

    Thought experiment: Do you buy same designed sneakers which is labeled “DUNLOP” ?

    YES or NO, this is a temporary answer of you.

    • E.

      This is something That I ‘ve thought of as well ( especially with clothes from brands like Chloe and Isabel Marant, wich aren’t 100% f.forward, if they would still be considered if one would swap the label for a mom-label [ : ) got -it ?!] ) . But maybe if they’re second hand Dunlops ; ).

    • Pandora Sykes

      Love Dunlops! Though I wouldn’t call them dad sneaker – more a retro gym shoe.

      • zam

        Pretty profound! I must take a course about ugly sneakers taxonomy.

        • Pandora Sykes

          Sneagustics (?)

  • Melissa Davis

    So dumb, really! Put those on Mama-June! People wouldn’t call her trendy! It’s rich girls “dressing down”…for “style”. Gimme a break! It doesn’t look good on pretty girls either. I think most people wanna upgrade…If you like them, good! Not supporting this trend.

    • Pandora Sykes

      If you get this het up over a pair of trainers, I really want to see your reaction to Harvey Weinstein (i’M NOT KIDDING. I ACTUALLY DO. I like outrage.)

      • silla

        I adore outrage – the only thing better? Being outrageous. Which means maybe I should invest in some dad sneaks!

        • Melissa Davis

          Do you.

      • Melissa Davis

        I do not support Harvey Weinstein…sorry.

        • Pandora Sykes

          Yeah,I think we’re all united on that one.

  • Tonyp

    This sites name basically says it all for this trend, “manrepeller”.

  • Fox in a Glove

    I find sneakers really uncomfortable! Too soft. Nothing beats good leather that adjusts itself to the shape of your feet. Also – let’s admit the ceasar is naked – they are ugly & unflattering! And as someone above said – require masterly styling to be pulled off (and very long, slender legs).

  • Mary Hinckley

    I think it’s funny that so many are not on board with these in the comments after all this is MANREPELLER! I love sneakers–I especially love sneakers with glitter, and velvet and ribbon–but I also love sneakers with neon, and mauve, and strange soles. I remember fondly the first paid of custom Nikes I made on their website–I picked all colors that wouldn’t go together on purpose–love them they go with nothing and also go with everything~!

  • Maria Josefina Blanco

    YES, loving it!!

  • Daniel Szilagyi

    Couldn’t care less what they’re called if they fit and feel horrible, i love sneakers and love interesting colour and texture patterns but most of the “new” sneakers are just downright ugly, feels like 10 years ago we had better designed and fitting shoes, most now are just giant lumps of foam that have your feet sliding around.
    Half the time i feel like it’s a contest of who can design the most outrageous thing and charge the most

  • elizabeth v

    This article paired with Hayley’s “How to Get Dressed When You’re in a Rut” means I’m about to see how brown & peach Nike running shoes work with all my current outfits. Creativity means stepping out in a terrible outfit, every now and then!

  • yk

    “I don’t believe fashion should be uncomfortable, but I do believe that clothes should be beautiful”. – This is a really odd thing to say since “beautiful” is a completely subjective term. Also, didn’t you write an article praising a pair of ridiculous, high-priced crocs some time ago? I’d take a pair of “ugly sneakers” over crocs any day. A little hypocritical.

    • Pandora Sykes

      You obviously didn’t read the article, given that it was an experiment to see if I could wear Crocs. And you’re right, beauty is subjective. But I’m not sure that makes me hypocritical – christ!

  • 🍎 “The Big Apple face” makes me miss Bill Cunningham.

  • Winnie Kontos

    When it comes to feeling rooted and examining what fashion can say about our place in the world, or the individual’s relationship with the world, I can’t think of any other clothing item MORE in tune than the sneaker. Sneakers are often deeper reflections of a culture and community than we give them credit for. I think they’re far from “trendy.” As a social worker in New York City, I learned more from the Huarache craze than I care to admit.

    This piece from “The Atlantic” last year illustrates some of these ideas really well. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/12/sneakers-have-always-been-political-shoes/511628/

  • Paola

    the thing is THEY’RE NOT UGLY

  • Kristin

    I saw someone wearing hideous white chunky dad sneakers this morning and cringed. But then I look at these Balenciaga shoes and I love them. Not sure if I could pull them off, but they’re cute. In a my boxer doggy is so ugly she’s cute kinda way.

  • Bee

    Nooooo! hopefully it’s a fad that will soon dissipate!

  • Tony chips Chiappetta

    Great article.

  • Bob A

    Wow…people really talk about this crap? Shallow, snobby people, get a life!

  • Leah

    I love this new emergence of “ugly” and untraditional fashion. It’s so refreshing and referential at the same time! I also love a sense of humor in fashion. Plus anything that causes the type of reaction in the comments must be interesting. Thanks for a great article.

  • I always wondered why so many new tennis shoes look so ugly. Now I know haha ;D great thoughts!

  • Rhona Uí Ríain

    For someone who lives in a teeny village with no car I can get on bored with this concept… but I still need to look ‘cool’. Like a bright colour or a bronze Nike swoosh. Something that says ‘I am not giving in to practicality, merely smooshing it with my own style’.