- Walking shoes have become popular among millennials and Gen Z for their comfort, The WSJ reported.
- Millennials have redefined footwear as a status symbol by favoring function over appearance.
- The walking shoe is the latest evolution of the “ugly-fashion” movement, but this time with a WFH twist.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Walking shoes are getting new life in the soles of millennial and Gen Z men.
From Keen’s Uneek sandal to the Merrell Jungle Moc, these 20- and 30-somethings will don any footwear “that you could pilfer from a retirement-home denizen,” The Wall Street Journal’s Jacob Gallagher wrote.
The trend is born out of the desire for comfort over aesthetic during the work from home life, Gallagher said. “People just want to be a little bit more cozy,” Stefano Gugliotta,the 29-year-old behind the Obscure Sneakers Instagram account, told Gallagher. “I think that practicality is what people are gravitating toward right now.”
Footwear is just the latest retail sector that the work-from-home economy has transformed, having already fueled the comeback of tie-dye apparel, the rise of the day gown, and a renaissance of the lingerie category. In December, both UBS and Bank of America noted the uptick in sales for footwear retailer Nike during the pandemic. Its web traffic was up by 36% for its first quarter, and then up to 40% for the next three months, per Bank of America.
Nike said on its December earnings call that it was seeing permanent shifts toward digital, athletic wear, and health and wellness amid the pandemic, and Bank of America said these trends aligned with its thesis on the dominance of solitary leisure during the pandemic.
But some young adults who are no less into sneakers want something less mainstream. The walking shoe, with roots in normcore, the “average” fashion trend that rejects other fashion trends, is also appealing for being relatively uncommon among younger cohorts amid the now oversaturated sneaker market, Gallagher wrote. It, helps, too that they can be more affordable than expensive sneakers. Air Jordans can cost as much as $235, compared to the Merrell Jungle Moc that averages $85.
It’s not the first time millennials have redefined footwear as a status symbol.
The coolness of comfortable, ‘ugly’ shoes
Footwear has long been used as a status symbol, but its symbolism has evolved as millennials and Gen Z have come to prioritize function over appearance. Both generations fueled the “ugly fashion movement,” which favors more comfortable, practical clothing, and dressing ugly as irony.
“Uncool companies are ideal for millennials and Gen Z to love, discover, and sport because they represent exactly what the younger generation craves: being different without looking like you’re trying,” Jason Dorsey, millennial and Gen Z-expert of the Center for Generational Kinetics, told Insider back in 2015.
“It’s easy to wear whatever the hot thing is that is all over social media for the one month it’s new, but it’s a lot harder to go on a different path and find the brands that are unexpected for you to be seen wearing,” he added.
Halfway through the last decade, Birkenstocks and LL Bean boots had garnered a youthful street appeal, considered cool for their practicality. By 2019, the same could be said of the No. 6 clogs favored by Brooklyn moms pushing a stroller down Flatbush Avenue, touted as an “ugly-chic shoe obsession” by the likes of Vogue.
The comfort over aesthetic is exactly what propelled much of sport leisure footwear that year, driven largely by Gen Z and millennials. Beth Goldstein, fashion footwear and accessories analyst at The NPD Group, told Insider in 2019, that the trend was largely a reflection of how the younger generation was working and living.
“A casual and comfortable lifestyle has become the norm, and we see this reflected in consumers’ footwear and apparel choices,” she said. “And, in some cases, sneakers are the new status items.”
Such demand drove up the prices of sneakers over time. Luxury kicks came to replace professional wardrobes as symbols of power, nonchalance, and creativity in pre-pandemic workplaces in Silicon Valley and the fashion industry. At the time, a tech CEO might have preferred a pair of $564 Lanvin low-tops, while for a fashionista, a pair of $900 Balenciaga Triple S sneakers, yet another staple of the ugly-fashion trend.
But popularity is the downfall of any status symbol, giving rise to the new. In a pandemic era, that’s the walking shoe.