A decade ago, if someone asked you to picture the quintessential 'It' shoe, it probably would have been something with a stiletto heel or an uncomfortable strappy design. But things have changed quite a bit in the last few years. And now, the most trendy shoes feature large, orthopedic-looking soles or chunky designs — basically, they're what you might have once considered "ugly" (or maybe still do).
Some of the most hotly-debated shoe brands have been having their biggest years ever. Crocs reported record-breaking annual revenues last year, while search interest in Birkenstock reached an all-time high in July of 2023, according to Google Trends. Those brands, along with others like Teva and Hoka, have teamed up with high-fashion brands for limited-time collaborations and have also become a staple in the wardrobes of some of today's trendiest celebrities, proving that "ugly" styles are dominating the footwear world.
And while the rise of chunky, arguably "un-cool" shoes might have some dedicated fashion fans up in arms, we're pretty big fans of the trend. Because the thing is, instead of focusing solely on design, many of these so-called "ugly" shoes, incorporate elements like heavily cushioned soles, shock-absorbing features and elements of arch support that put your foot health first.
Take the dad sneaker trend, for example. One podiatrist previously told us that dad-style shoes tend to be pretty good for your feet. "They are wide and allow our toes to naturally bend and move. Plus, they are especially ideal if you have bunions or hammertoes,” Dr. Casey Ann Pidich, a New York City-based podiatrist and owner of DoctorGlassSlipper.com told us.
Now that we've fully embraced the trend, we're never going back. And there's a good chance we just might convince you to do the same. InStyle's Editor-in-Chief, Sally Holmes, stopped by the 3rd Hour of TODAY to reveal her top 'ugly shoe' picks that you'll want to try out for yourself. Read on for everything from platform clogs to sheer ballet flats.
Best ‘ugly’ shoes seen on 3rd hour of TODAY
You might be used to these being your dad’s go-to footwear. But Holmes suggests not sleeping on chunky sneakers. Here’s why: they’re a sneaker “that’s on trend and comfortable,” combining the best of both worlds in millennial footwear and the old school version. You’ll often find these with a boost of height or platform, along with neutral tones and pops of color. According to Holmes, InStyle saw “a ton of chunky neon sneakers on runways at NYFW for Spring 2024,” so consider getting a pair that will serve as your statement shoe.
Everything ballet core (think dainty skirts and bodysuits) is what the trends are leaning towards at the moment. However, Holmes wants to point out a specific style of the iconic trend: ballet shoes, but specifically, a sheer ballet flat. She calls it “a peekaboo moment” that’s playful and surprising. Some might be hesitant to wear this style, but Holmes suggests “getting a pedicure and own[ing] it.” You can even wear socks with the ballet flat if you’re still unsure. After all, fashion is all about exploring your taste.
Holmes says that this is one of her favorite categories because “it’s the nostalgic shoe.” You might’ve worn these, or a pair similar, when you were a teen, but Holmes believes their modern revamp is grown-up approved. Some designs you see today are more laid back for casual or outdoor use (e.g. swimming, hiking) like the Tevas, while others can be dressier. If that’s up your alley, Holmes recommends materials like leather to “dress up this wooden slip-on style or fisherman-style sandal.”
According to Holmes, InStyle is predicting “these vintage-inspired bowling shoe styles will be the next it-ugly shoe.” Besides the style spreading across the Internet, bowling shoes are becoming popular for their effortless feel. You can style them with a pair of jeans, shorts or a dress — among other options — regardless of your destination. There’s also the opportunity to play with their retro colorways and geometric shapes in your wardrobe. Consider grabbing them in a platform version, too, for a bit of height.
Here’s another “ugly shoe” to have on your radar, especially if you’re looking for a shoe that is both comfortable and practical. Although clogs are a favorite pair to have during the spring and summer, they can easily be a fall shoe, too. Just wear a cozy set of socks, and you’re set for those extra cold days. And if you want a little bit of fun, Holmes recommends the “OG ‘ugly shoe:’” platform Crocs.
Best 'ugly' shoes, according to experts and editors
Previously, we tracked down the best editor, expert and internet-loved options. See below for our top picks.
It's impossible to talk about the "ugly" shoe trend without mentioning Crocs. They're perhaps the most hotly debated shoe of the last decade, which is likely why the reviews section for these clogs is filled with haters who were turned into fans. And many people on our team have had similar experiences.
"I was a Crocs hater turned lover, and I literally wear mine every day," says SEO associate editor Kamari Stewart. "A friend bought them for me for Christmas a few years ago in a bright turquoise color and I unashamedly wear them all the time now."
Senior SEO editor Jess Bender wasn't sure about Teva's podiatrist-approved sporty sandals — that is, until she tried them for herself. "I was skeptical because I don't naturally gravitate towards the style, but I became infatuated from my first wear thanks to the adjustable, secure fit and cushy midsoles. I spent most of summer 2020 exploring, marching, strolling every inch of upper Manhattan above 96th Street, and I was wearing these Tevas the majority of that time."
Birkenstock is well aware that you might not find its shoes the most flattering. The brand created a three-part documentary series called "Ugly For A Reason," where it dives into foot health and shares the pretty good reason why its shoes look how they do (it's for your feet, duh!) — and as it turns out, an expert told us that they really do have plenty of beneficial features.
These affordable sandals from the brand are a favorite of one former Shop TODAY writer. "The sandals are designed with a toe grip, arch support and a deep heel cup that promotes stability," she wrote. "When I wear them, I feel like my foot gets a big hug from the entire shoe which provides support on long walks."
When we posted these Crocs on our Instagram, people had some strong opinions. But our staffer who tried them said that they actually had her saying "Crocs are cute." "I never thought I'd say Crocs are 'elegant' but these platform sandals have such a classic look, I've worn them with dresses to work and happy hour with friends," wrote associate editor Shannon Garlin. "Both times I've dressed them up I've gotten so many compliments on them and blurted out 'They're Crocs! Can you believe it?!' Those same friends have asked me to forward them the link because they wanted a pair, too."
When we asked our staffers to share their favorite "ugly" shoes, Bender was excited by the opportunity to "freely talk about my old man slippers!" "These have been my go-to house shoes since I got them last fall and I'll wear them out until the soles start getting holey," she added.
While you may not be totally familiar with Wörishofer, the German sandal brand behind these shoes, there's a chance that you may recognize this specific pair as being a longtime celebrity favorite. A recent discussion on our team revealed mixed opinions on these shoes, and words like "granny-inspired" and "ugly cute" were thrown around. But they do seem like they could be better for your feet than your average wedge. The base is made from cork, a material that has great shock-absorbing and moisture-reducing abilities, an expert previously told us.
New Balance started out as the quintessential "dad sneakers." But somewhere along the line, they morphed into a trendy option loved by influencers and celebrities as well as everyday comfort seekers. One podiatrist that we previously spoke to shared that this is the pair from the brand that he recommends most often. "The shoe is highly durable, it's highly flexible, it's lightweight, extremely comfortable, [has a] superior arch, has soft shock-absorbing cushioning on the footbed to relieve pain and it has a cool vintage-y classic old school look but is still modern."
While production associate Jillian Ortiz's mom might have some things to say about these bulky sneakers, she says she doesn't care. "These shoes are literally beyond comfortable and I love them so much! Someone at the gym the other day asked me what number they were and said they’ve wanted them too but they’ve been sold out for so long — I’m so happy I got them! I wore them all day (I’m talking 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.) when I went to Universal Studios and my feet didn’t hurt at all."
Birkenstocks have been my grandma's main shoe of choice for years, and growing up, my sister and I would poke fun at her obsession with the sandals (and her love for pairing them with socks). But in college, after seeing so many people wearing them, I told her I finally understood the appeal and she bought me my first pair. (Don't worry, I apologized first.) I'm on my second pair in the span of about nine years, and they're my go-to summer shoe because they're comfortable and breathable — though I have been known to take after my grandma and wear them in the winter with socks, too.
"For as long as I can remember my mom, boyfriends, etc. have called Uggs ugly, but they are 100% my comfort and security blanket shoe," says production coordinator Camryn Privette. "I will forever love them and will never ever not wear them the second it gets cold outside."
While social editorial assistant Annie Shigo says some people call these shoes "ugly," she's a "big fan." They're said to feature lightweight cushioning for ultimate comfort.
At this point, it's hard to deny the appeal of Hokas. I used to choose my running shoes based solely on looks (the sleeker, the better). But after seeing Hokas pop up everywhere, a few years ago I was convinced to make the switch from the minimally-supportive options I had been wearing to these bulkier shoes — and I've never looked back. I have a few different pairs now, but the Kawana sneakers are the ones that I find are best suited for practically any activity, from running to walks. They're ultra-cushioned and provide a responsive feel with each step.
The Clifton sneaker is one of Hoka's most popular products, and previous iterations of the shoe have come recommended to us by both podiatrists and Shop TODAY staffers. Commerce photo editor Vivian Le says she has two pairs of the Clifton 8s. "I have a pair for everyday walking and a pair for running/training!"