When I first saw Crocs in a store, hanging on a rack like a cacophony of ugliness, I swore I’d never own a pair. The company launched in 2002 as a boat-shoe brand and is known for making ugly footwear. Former Project Runway star and fashion icon Tim Gunn once said they made his feet look like hooves. He’s not wrong. They’re the least flattering shoes on the planet.
For years I worked as a lifeguard and swim instructor at a summer camp in Concord, Massachusetts. Surrounded by teachers and hippie counselors who donned this cushioned footwear, I made a choice to ignore my fellow pool staffers and forego Crocs. They made perfect sense because they were waterproof and closed toe—a camp requirement—but I wore Nike Dunks or Vans instead. When it rained and I walked campers to their parents’ cars, I suffered the consequences: my socks and shoes got drenched and I’d have to drive home barefoot. My car smelled of wet sneakers for months. But I wouldn’t dare be caught in those clunkers like the rest of them.
Times have changed, though. Style icon Post Malone has done multiple collaborations with Crocs. In 2017, Christopher Kane showed them off with his summer collection. The next year, Balenciaga brought them to Paris Fashion Week. In 2019, the shoes were the 13th most popular brand in America among teenage girls. Arianna Grande and Pharrell are showing off their Crocs on Instagram. Vogue called it the spring 2020 it shoe. They haven’t gotten any less ugly, but they’re more trendy than ever and sales are going up.
My opinion softened in 2017 when my wife got a pair for working in the garden. (She chose orange so they’d be ugly enough that she wouldn’t be tempted to wear them in public.) The ability to hose them off after weeding and planting made sense—she could get them as dirty as she liked and it didn’t matter. I started putting them on to take out the garbage, to turn the water in the garden on and off, and to let the dog in. My heels hung off the back, but they were easier to slide on than sneakers and kept my feet warmer and drier than sandals. Despite my protests, she bought me a pair for Christmas.
I’m conscious of my appearance. It might not always show: my collar pops strangely, my black Vans are dirty and worn, and my pants have small stains. But I know how I’ll be perceived when I leave the house. During quarantine, though, all self-consciousness has disappeared. I’ve been wearing sweatpants to the grocery store—something I rarely did before, except for early-morning trips. But the most blatant disregard for my outward appearance has been embracing my hideous bright red Crocs as something other than gardening or household-chore shoes. I’ve made them an everyday item.
And despite how ugly they are, Crocs serve a vital purpose during these times: they’re perfect for the outdoors. They’re waterproof and easy to clean. They float. They’re cushy and bright. During quarantine I’ve slipped on my Crocs to build a chicken coop and to go on family walks. I’ve worn them while picking up dog poop in the yard and while washing the cars. I’ve even worn them to get groceries and to the hardware store. Nothing matters anymore.
In April I was supposed to go backpacking in the Green Mountains with some friends—a long weekend away from our domestic lives. The pandemic put the trip on hold. Prior to the world shutting down, I’d planned out my pack and Crocs weren’t on the list. Now, I’d rethink that. On the trail I’d wear my boots, but I’d carry my Crocs dangling from my pack, ready for me to slide on and let my feet breathe as we set up camp.
When this is over, I’ll go back to my regular routine. I won’t wear my Crocs to the store anymore and I won’t wear them to my favorite restaurant. But they’ll be there for me when I need them. I won’t be afraid of the hideous clown shoes. I’ve embraced them.