INTRO Fashion editor Paul McLauchlan wears Birkenstocks to campus for a week revealing how people respond to polarising footwear and how longevity is more fashionable than hype
Welcome to A Week in My Wardrobe, a monthly column in which I wear a certain item or outfit to college for a week. The purpose of the column is to look at the ways people interact with and respond to fashion that mightn’t be as convenient as the ease of our traditional jeans and t-shirts or simplicity of comfortable tracksuits. The overarching idea is to look at fashion movements and their relevancy in a larger cultural conversation in hopes that you, the reader, will engage with it in new ways.
Ugly shoes have become sexy. Birkenstocks in all their orthopaedic glory and style agnostic culture have become fashionable options for the style-conscious. I, for one, love them.
I wore my black pair to college for Freshers Week to see how people respond to the divisive pair of shoes. The responses were intriguing but not as eye-opening as you might think.
As I said, ugly shoes have become sexy shoes. In the span of a few short years, I’ve noticed chunky, 90s-inspired dad shoes, socks, and sandals, and flip-flop high heels have won the favour of young people around the globe. From the firsthand experience of seeing Corkonians and tourists on the streets to the global reach of Instagram, it’s evident that simplicity is out the window – replaced with something stylistically abstract.
Perhaps it was the Balenciaga Triple S shoe, designed by Georgian man Demna Gvasalia. Priced at over €800, evoking the design of a chunky layer cake, the shoes sparked a movement of luxury labels like Gucci and Prada producing iterations. Perhaps it was the Fila Disruptor, a lug-heeled, endlessly-memed trainer which skyrocketed to social media fame.
But nothing tops the Birkenstock.
The Birkenstock brand traces its roots to Johann Adam Birkenstock, a company which in 1774 was known as ‘vassal and shoemaker.’ Now, they’re a summer essential, the shoe that Oscar winner Frances McDormand wore to accept her Best Actress Award for her turn in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and my favourite source of comfort for an active lifestyle.
Produced in Görlitz, Germany, by the Polish border, 70,000 pairs are made daily. In terms of sales, growth has increased by over 150 per cent since 2014.
What Birkenstock prove with their business model is that hype can’t stand to compete with the power of longevity. Where will the current hero shoes be in a few short years? Maybe on a 70% discount in the sale section. In a fashion industry built on the temporality of trends, Birkenstock stands tall and proud. Here to stay, here to comfort.
Klaus Baumann, Birkenstock’s chief sales officer, commented on Supreme, the much-loved streetwear brand’s approach to the world of hypebeasts and buzzy product drops, in the Financial Times: ‘It was never about function for them, just logos. These were not product people. If I put a bouncer outside our doors on Saturday and regulate letting people in, I too could have a queue outside.’
To me, it’s what made the reactions to me wearing them unsurprising.
‘Ah, comfort I guess,’ I presumed most people thought when they took a slightly-longer-than-usual look at my outfit. To be fair, I dressed them with black woolly socks and wore the same outfits I usually would. A simple mix of tailored jackets and t-shirts and jeans. Nothing too wild, just slightly unconventional. Just comfortable clothes perfect for long college days. There was no sniggering; no, ‘oh my God, did you see him wearing sandals.’ People didn’t care because, for one, nobody really cares what anyone else wears, and secondly, because comfort is practical and what judgement is there to be passed if that’s the mentality.
With jeans and a jacket, and of course the all-important socks (it’s getting colder, after all), they’re transported from their beach connotations to a viable streetwise choice. They provide the same level of comfort as runners and they’re less expensive.
Get your sandals out. There’s nothing sexier than comfort.