The Enduring Appeal of Uggs
Apparently, the boots are back in style. But here in Philly, they never really went away.
Crocs, mom jeans, windbreakers, sandals with socks: If you keep up with trends, you know it’s cool to be uncool these days. I’ve long held a theory about why ugly fashion cycles back into style: When the extremely good-looking and affluent feel the need to remind the rest of us just how special they are, they unearth the most unflattering, unpopular things they can find to wear — and then proceed to look amazing in them. Picture black crew socks, but on Gigi Hadid. Beat-up Toms, but on Idris Elba. Skin-tone bike shorts, but on Kim Kardashian.
Uggs are, perhaps, the poster child of the ugly fashion movement. The pudgy sheepskin-lined boots Americans know today were brought to the U.S. in the ’70s by an Australian guy who thought California surfers would appreciate the slip-on shoes that were popular in his home country. By the mid-2000s, sales of Uggs were booming; by 2011, they had reached saturation point and started to fall out of fashion.
Then came signs of a comeback: In 2015, they got a cautious endorsement from Vogue. In a 2018 indie-label collaboration with Y/Project, thigh-high, cartoonishly oversized versions of Uggs showed up on the runway. Rihanna pulled on a pair. And the hoi polloi came running — or, rather, clicking — back to the shoe.
So when the promotions and articles and Ugg-wearing celebs started coming into view this fall, I raised an eyebrow. Back in style? If you live in Philadelphia, they’ve never gone out of style. West Coasters may have the luxury of wearing Uggs in the name of fashion when they please (they’re so cute with mini dresses at Coachella!), but for East Coasters, the boots are de rigueur in winter, up there with four-wheel drive and heat. So what if it’s been 20 years since they were first trendy? Their utilitarian design — cozy, easy to put on, comfortable, waterproof — supersedes any un-coolness. (Or is it coolness? It’s hard to keep up.)
“I started wearing Uggs when they first came out, when I was in high school,” says Rittenhouse-based fashion and lifestyle publicist Ilana Waber. “And honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever stopped. When you have to walk around in the cold all the time, they are kind of a necessity.” Local chain Benjamin Lovell has seen years when Ugg sales have slowed, but in the city, they’ve been “steady,” says one assistant buyer.
And given the chaotic state of things, I don’t see this warm hug in the form of a shoe falling out of favor anytime soon. Ugly fashion is also about comfort. It’s no coincidence that all these loose, basic, anti-statement statements returned circa 2016, when our cultural and political civil wars came to a head. I’m sure we’ll wear tight pants and stilettos again — when we’re feeling frivolous enough to be fancy. But hey, Philadelphia? When that time rolls around, don’t throw out your Uggs. Or apologize for wearing them long after the celebs have stopped. In Philly, in winter, warm and unfussy is always in style. “There’s an ease to them that I love,” says Waber. “And as an East Coast city dweller, I feel like that’s a small joy I deserve.”
Published as “The Enduring Appeal of Uggs” in the November 2020 issue of Philadelphia magazine.