Forget sandals, brogues and boots; there’s no denying that 2018 has been the year of the trainer. Not just any old trainers, but in stark contrast to last year’s elegant and minimalistic Adidas Stan Smith/Superstar trends, this year it’s all about the ugly, clunky and unsightly, and quite appropriately coined ‘dad’ or ‘grandad’ shoes.
Ironically, for many years trainers stood firmly at the bottom of the footwear hierarchy, deemed cheap, functional and never ‘high-fashion’, and thus, most well-known fashion houses steered well clear. Keds and Converse were two major brands that successfully nestled themselves within the psyches of the masses shortly after the turn of the 20th century, closely followed by giants Adidas and Nike only a few decades later, who both became pioneers in casual sportswear, pushing both performance and comfort. The popularity of basketball as a sport, particularly in the 80s and even today, of course, was one of the major catalysts in catapulting trainers from a simply functional shoe into the worlds of popular culture and streetwear. Fast-forward 20 years, and trainers are arguably some of the most important and profitable aspects of the fashion industry.
Running shoes and the act of running as their sole conceivable purpose have now been decoupled, and the lines have been blurred so that people who would never usually intend to set foot in a gym are wearing trainers day-to-day merely on the basis of fashion. Naturally, this concept has been mirrored by manufacturers, and long gone are the days when trainers were the bread and butter of sporting specialists alone. Even trend-led high-street stores such as Zara and Topshop have jumped on the bandwagon to meet the demands of their athleisure-obsessed clientele.
As demonstrated by iconic fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga, the only rule these days seems to be ‘the uglier the better’. It’s all about stepping outside your comfort zone and making a statement. But why not just sleek, conventionally aesthetically pleasing trainers? How and why did the ‘ugly’ trend emerge? My guess is that it became a rebellious reaction to increasingly bland and repetitive trends; no doubt a result of the Insta-age monotony churned out to consumers on the daily. Since trainers are now so ubiquitous and far-reaching, those who yearned to stand out from the crowd began opting for more outlandish and atypical designs, and designers themselves did the same in order to separate themselves from their contemporaries.
At first they were disregarded as just another momentary fad, destined to become a one-season obsession that were bound to die on the shelves like most other trends. While trainers in general had already established themselves as firm favourites for a good couple of years, the styles that began to emerge, primarily Raf Simons and Adidas’ Ozweego model, didn’t exactly scream ‘trendy’. But then came the release of Balenciaga’s now-renowned Triple S trainers last year, and so began the meteoric rise of the ugly trainers trend. They’re the kind of trainers your dad might wear to the supermarket paired with some jeans (think Steve Carell pre-Ryan Gosling makeover in Crazy, Stupid, Love), but at £595 a pop, they’re definitely not your everyday pair.
Without a doubt, a key aspect to the formula for success is scarcity. Typically, with demand comes supply, but I suppose with a lack of supply, comes an even more intense desire for a product that is able to make you appear unique in a world that is otherwise so accessible and easy to copy. Balenciaga, for instance, makes very small numbers of the Triple S shoe, as do other brands and designers like Supreme, Off-White and Yeezy, all of which have become some of the most coveted shoes in the fashion industry. Even with their commonly hefty price tags often reaching well into the thousands, there is absolutely no question that any new release by said designers will sell out within minutes. Puma’s Thunder Desert trainers, which only launched last month and boast a similar aesthetic, are definitely a little more budget-friendly though.
With athleisure in general having become one of the key trends to saturate the market this year, I’m convinced that a major contributor was the explosion of fashion house Gucci. Everywhere I looked, from music (Gucci gang, anyone?) to clothing (the white tee and trainers, which anyone with over 500 followers suddenly had), Gucci quickly became all the rage among millennials. This, combined with the undeniable and relentless influence of the likes of the Kardashians and their social-media-present pals, who all began sporting cycling shorts and crop tops, 90’s style sports jackets and trainers (mostly Yeezys), not to mention the jogging-trousers-and-heels combo I thought would never see the light of day, the athleisure trend blew up and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down yet.
Yes, 2018 has been all about the ‘ugly’, but we have to wonder whether the trend can really hold out much longer? It proved to be more persistent than initially predicted and definitely offered a new, eye-catching change to the arguably more boring and minimalist styles that came before. But ugly trainers are quickly losing their ability to shock us, and slinky futuristic styles from the likes of Balenciaga and Givenchy have begun making an appearance over the last year. In any case, whatever may come next, one thing’s for sure: we’ll be discussing an entirely new aesthetic next year. It’s what makes the fashion industry exhilarating and so unpredictable.