Fashion

02.28.13

Have Ugg Boots Made a Tepid Return to Fashion?

When snowstorm Nemo hit New York Fashion Week, Uggs were spotted on the feet of fashion trendsetters. Now even Vogue magazine has signed on board. Misty White Sidell reports.

Fashion shows always bring out an assortment of the industry’s best dressed. At New York Fashion Week earlier this month, the streets outside every show teemed with street-style photographers capturing the passing circus: Vogue Nippon’s Anna Dello Russo blanketed in oversize furs by Prada and Fendi, and Moda Operandi’s Taylor Tomasi Hill outfitted in head-to-toe polka dots by Comme des Garçons. But when a massive blizzard blanketed the city on the second day of the week, something miraculous happened: a sizable portion of the fashion set showed up at shows not in stilettos—but in boots, including Uggs.

The hated fur boot that rose to prominence in the early aughts is slowly creeping back into favor in the fashion world. The day after fashion week concluded, iVogue.com published an article describing its editors’ affections for the Australian shearling boots titled “The Secret’s Out: Confessions of Vogue’s Ugg Addicts.” It offered readers updated ways to style the brand’s products, pairing them with modern fixings like $138 ear cuffs and bright yellow pants. By fashion’s standards the article meant one thing: Uggs are (kind of) back. “If Vogue did that, it’s sort of a seal of approval,” explained Paper magazine editorial director Mickey Boardman.

Not to say that Uggs are entirely fashionable again, but suddenly they’re hated a whole lot less. It reflects a massive shift in attitude toward the awkward-looking shoes. “I think fashion people are so twisted and sick that they love to take something that they hate and make themselves love it,” Boardman said. This season especially things seemed to turn around. French designer Isabel Marant even issued her own interpretation of the Ugg, offering a boot made of perforated suede and containing a hidden wedge heel to lengthen the leg. “There is a well-researched book that has been done about the 50 shoes that changed history. I think that the Ugg at this point should be number 51,” says Ellen Goldstein-Lynch, an accessories professor at FIT specializing in athletic and nontraditional footwear.

Ugg launched in 1978 in Australia and now operates 49 concept stores worldwide. They came onto the scene in 2004, on the feet of boho-chic English style icons Sienna Miller and Kate Moss. Before long, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie traipsed through farmlands in pastel Uggs on their reality show The Simple Life—rendering the boots synonymous with celebutantes and bad taste. Within three years, the shoes had spread across America, becoming a wardrobe staple for moms and sorority sisters alike, and were copied by brands as diverse as Jimmy Choo and Payless.  But as the Ugg ascended to mainstream popularity, they were simultaneously shunned by fashion types. “If regular people embrace things, it becomes poisonous to fashion people,” Boardman says. “We like things that no one has and are hard to get.”

Since the boot’s initial rise to mainstream culture, Ugg has branched out to offer studded, glitter, denim, crocheted, and patchwork boots, even wedding-day-edition Uggs, in addition to shearling-lined sneakers and sandals. Quite simply, the newer Ugg styles make the brand’s originals look downright plain. But the classic styles are the ones favored by Vogue contributing writer Lynn Yaeger, who’s often spotted navigating wintertime fashion shows in the shoes. An Ugg sales associate in the brand’s SoHo store confirmed that the label’s classic short boot in chestnut is still their highest-selling style.

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Lynn Yaeger, contributing editor at Vogue magazine, at Lincoln Plaza on Feb. 10 during New York Fashion Week. (John Lamparski/Getty, John Lamparski)
“Anything can be rehabilitated if John Galliano can be rehabilitated.”

But for all their ubiquity and widespread acceptance, it’s still taken years for Uggs to regain traction among the style set, who aside from Yaeger have only recently turned a new leaf on the shoes.“They’re like Vans or Crocs or Wellington boots,” explained Simon Doonan, Barneys New York’s creative ambassador-at-large. “They’re a classic shoe, every chick has a pair of Uggs, and if she says she doesn’t, she’s lying, because they’re very comfortable and they’re very warm.”

For many Ugg devotees, the shoes’ comfort is key. “Shoes have never been more challenging and insanely unwearable than they are now, so it’s natural that girls would want to go with an Ugg,” Doonan said. In the Vogue piece, the magazine’s market editor Jessica Sailer had no problem admitting her affection for Uggs. “They began as my footwear of choice for driving to and from the Hamptons,” she said. “But after I had my daughter, they got a lot more play. Now I practically have to force myself to wear other shoes.” Her colleague, creative director Grace Coddington, also noted in the article, “They’re a pretty good invention ... I wish all the It girls hadn’t discovered them years ago.”

As a French tourist inside Ugg’s SoHo store explained to The Daily Beast: “To be honest at the beginning I thought they were so ugly, but when you try them, it’s something you cannot live without. [They make me feel] at ease, and I won’t say fashionable, but I’m OK with it from a fashion point of view.”

Doonan thinks that in today’s age of infinite choices, Uggs deserve no more ridicule. “You know anybody who sits around being disdainful about Uggs is an idiot. That’s just low-hanging fruit ... I think Uggs are great.” And as Boardman put it: “Anything can be rehabilitated if John Galliano can be rehabilitated.”