Licentiate Column 15/11/12: Ugly vs. Ugg-ly

Look guys, bridal Uggs! I think the most diplomatic way to describe these things would be to say that they’re really… something.

Finally, the moment is upon us. Ugg boots are no longer a thing. The death knell rang for me not when news came of the Australian shoe company’s 31% drop in sales, but when my youngest sister came home from college for the weekend and forgot to bring her much-punished booties back with her. They were nothing but an afterthought, relegated to the post-secondary school detritus of dirty clothes, old economics notes and blurry, printed out pictures of friends from that fifth year trip to New York.

To that I say ‘good’. And then, I say ‘good riddance’. Uggs are not for Irish people. They are not built for our weather, as rain and slush will soak and degrade natural fibres, not is it good for our little legs. Skinny jeans tucked into calf-length moon boots? This is a look that suits no-one (even Kate Moss couldn’t pull it off convincingly).

What is unusual is that, in Australia, the Ugg is not a fashion item. They’re worn as slippers and by surfers who need to warm up after a vigorous wrestle with the waves. According to the Ugg Wikipedia page (only the most reputable sources for this column), the Ugg is considered ‘daggy’ and part of the ‘bogan’ culture. I read it, nodded sagely, them immediately looked both words up – they both approximate to ‘unfashionable and scruffy’. If the Australians, who are famed for their earthiness and lack of pretension, think that the Ugg is vulgar then it really must be vulgar. Uggs are ugg-ly. To paraphrase Regina George, they’re fugg-ly.

While one ugly shoe whimpers and dies, other ugly shoes are going from strength to unfortunate strength. Jeffrey Campbell Litas, which look nothing short of what a horse might wear to a Berlin sex club, continue to be bafflingly popular with the young ‘uns. At least they are ugly in the name of fashion and not ugly in the name of bland, inoffensive comfort. They are interestingly ugly, possibly even majestically ugly. Litas are sculptural. Uggs are the visual equivalent of accidentally stepping in a large blob of mashed potato, all squashed and starchy.

It’s rather interesting, this leaning towards the ugly shoes. As recently as ten years ago, the prevailing trend was for spike or kitten heels with pointed toes, fripperies designed to be sexy – they were womens shoes made almost exclusively for men. For those who disagree, please try cramming your foot into a pointed shoe. Your feet don’t resemble triangles for a good reason.

It’s an ordeal that reminds one of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, who have no toes and force themselves into such contraptions instead of comfy, orthopedic shoes to throw unsuspecting children off the scent.

While the ugly shoe is visually offensive, I am forever thankful that the option exists to wear them. Shoes are designed to be more than aesthetically appealing (or unappealing). Because of shoes, we can walk safely, exercise without destroying our arches, gain a height advantage in tricky situations and choose whether we want to be sexy or ugly on any particular day. That’s a concrete achievement for something that only goes on your feet.