I haven’t thought about jelly shoes since the summer of 1997, when I was the proud owner of a fuchsia pair speckled with glitter. I loved them because they weren’t like regular shoes: I was allowed to get them wet. There wasn’t a park sprinkler or rain puddle I didn’t dip my toes into (literally) as a result. I preferred wearing them with nothing more than a swimsuit for maximum enjoyment, but frankly I paired them with anything my mom green-lit, including a party dress on one occasion.
Now, in the summer of 2018, I’m thinking about jelly shoes again. I started thinking about them when I first saw (and seconds later, fell in love with) these sandals from Trademark. Though not made of “jelly,” they shared a distinctly similar silhouette to the beloved shoe of my childhood. I was instantly nostalgic for the combination of a closed toe and caged upper fastened by a dainty buckle. Their price was a bit outside my budget, though, so I left it at that, until…
Edith Young, photographer extraordinaire, walked into Man Repeller’s office wearing literal, honest-to-goodness adult jelly sandals less than one month later. Hers were clear with glitter and featured a chunky heel, paired with frilly cotton socks. When I asked her about them, she replied, “I am passionate about this topic.”
I learned that she purchased her first pair of adult jelly sandals in the summer of 2015 (spurred by a self-professed “tendency to add one thing to her outfit per day that a third grader would wear.”) She ended up wearing them to her graduation from RISD, along with the requisite cap and gown.
On the day I cornered her at Man Repeller HQ, she admitted to being wary of blisters (an almost inevitable jelly shoe casualty, as any 90s kid knows) when she first donned them that morning: “I put on socks to soften the rubber’s frictional blow, which was how I thought I had outsmarted the jelly shoe. Over the course of the day, I felt spry, clomping around in oversized children’s shoes that have an almost edible allure. Flashing by a reflective surface, they almost look like a beacon of modernity, on par with lucite jewelry and Philip Johnson’s Glass House.”
Though Edith later informed me that she ended up walking from the office to a dinner in west Soho to 33rd St and blistered the bottom of her feet, my newfound jelly sandal fascination was far from deterred. In fact, it reached a fervor earlier this week when: 1) Victor Glemaud debuted a Resort 2019 collection in which every single outfit was complemented by a pair, rendered in mouthwatering shades ranging from the hottest of pinks to lime-iest of greens and 2) Nasiba Adilova posted a photo of herself in which foot jelly was very much present.
While this isn’t the first time in recent memory that jelly shoes have appeared to stage a comeback (Vogue.com cited a rumbling last spring and Bustle three summers before that), it does feel like uniquely fertile ground. Not only does Instagram have more power than ever to translate an inkling of a trend into full-on ubiquity, but the unsettling nature of our current cultural climate is also one wherein even a small sliver of nostalgic joy can act as a balm.
Oh and speaking of balm, if you’re planning to purchase a pair of jelly sandals, I highly suggest investing in this, too.
Feature image by Edith Young.