The Next Ugly Shoe Trend

You know those creepy running shoes that look like fluorescent feet? They're going mainstream.

You know those creepy running shoes that look like fluorescent feet? They’re going mainstream.

CNBC (“Brace Yourself, It’s the Next Ugly Shoe Trend“):

There’s a new ugly shoe trend, and if you haven’t seen it yet, chances are you will soon.

Buoyed up by the popularity of barefoot running, running shoes that provide the foot with minimal support to allow for more “natural” running have gained a cult following. But now it appears that these shoes, which include brands such as Vibram’s FiveFingers shoes, are being worn by consumers who aren’t hardcore barefoot runners. They’re being spotted in larger numbers at the gym, in yoga classes, at the supermarket, and even on line at Walt Disney World. And Vibram plans to bring additional styles to market this fall that aren’t designed with exercise in mind, but instead for other situations such as going to office.

Sure, there have been other ugly shoe crazes in the past. Think about Ugg boots and Crocs, not to mention Birkenstocks and FitFlops. But Vibram makes a claim the others don’t—its FiveFingers shoes can help the wearer get back to more “natural” running and walking. Some who have worn the shoes claim they have helped alleviate back pain and other injuries.

“Vibram’s product fundamentally changes how consumers think about shoes, and for that reason it’s not some kind of sideshow act in the mold of Crocs classic and Sketchers  Shape-Ups,” said Brian Sozzi, an analyst at Wall Street Strategies.

The idea is that once you get hooked on a shoe that promotes more “natural” walking, why would you want to put your feet back into more conventional shoes?

The shoes have their critics, who say the shoes make their wearers look like frogs or aliens, or are somehow “feetier than feet.” Others say it’s easy to get injured in the shoes if you don’t take the time to condition your body.

But FiveFingers’ extraordinary sales growth shows there is demand. From 2006 to 2010, Vibram has tripled sales of its FiveFingers shoes nearly every year. Last year, sales grew even more. So much so that this year, the company expects its sales will be 10-times what they were in 2009, according to company spokeswoman Georgia Shaw. (As a private company, Vibram declined to provide more specific sales data.) “There was a time when we could not keep up with demand,” Shaw said, explaining that the company never anticipated the scale of the surging interest.


“They’re the kind of funny-looking shoes that make you smile,” said Danny Wasserman, president and owner of TipTop Shoes in New York City. Tip Top was one of the first retailers to carry the Vibram shoes. People love to gawk at displays with the shoes, he said.

Skele-toes is the only brand that comes close to the “hobbit” look of Vibram’s, except Fila has four toe compartments (the last two toes slide in together). Notably, Fila also doesn’t promote running in their shoes, which supports the notion that more consumers would like to go “barefoot” in their everyday lives.

The piece is extremely anecdotal, although I’ve certainly seen people wearing these shoes in odd places, like airports. This may be the clearest sign yet that our civilization is doomed.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Just 'nuthuh ig'rant cracker says:

    No, not doomed, just that what H.L. Mencken said all those years ago is true–“Nobody ever wen’t broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public,” The GOP seems to be counting on its truth these days, too.

  2. Scott P says:

    The Vibrams are actually pretty great. I can run better in them than normal running shoes. They force you to run a better and more efficient way, because your feet will slap the ground too hard otherwise. At least, that’s my theory about why I can run further with them. I do agree though, that it’s weird to see people walking around with them when they’re not working out. I admit to doing it once or twice when all my socks were dirty… hah!

  3. john personna says:

    I think clothes tribalism is really amazing, though I sometimes set myself too much as an ousider.

    Funny though how khaki shorts with a black t-shirt is so much better received this year than with a gray t-shirt.

    Anyway, I wish I’d been early-in on the five-fingers trend. The first time I saw some in a restaurant I really did lol. I wish it had been me. Now, it almost seems too late, even though I think they would be good for my feet.

    That said, I do have my Injinji 😉

  4. 11B40 says:


    I went to high school in the Bronx during the first half of the ’60s. Back then, there was a men’s footwear style that encompassed raised “Cuban” heels and very pointy toeboxes that some referred to as “Beatle Boots” after the musical quartet. One day, our basketball coach spotted mine and said, “If you don’t buy shoes that look like your feet, you’ll soon have feet that look like your shoes.” Good advice, well-taken, and subsequently implemented. Bye-bye Beatle Boots; Hello Clark’s Desert Boots.

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