If you tried to buy a fashion-forward loved one the hottest winter footwear for Christmas this year, you know just how hard it is to find a pair of Ugg “Ultra Mini Platform” booties. The shoes—an elevated ankle-height version of the brand’s classic boot—are the latest flavor of the ugly shoe trend that ramped up in the last years of the 2010s and is still going strong.
This particular variety of Uggs seems to do away with the only defensible characteristics of the typical Ugg boot: practical comfort and warmth. The Ultra Mini Platforms are less warm, due to the lack of calf coverage, and marginally less comfortable, due to the platform sole. But thanks to a popularity boost from models and influencers like Kylie Jenner and the Hadid sisters, they have been selling out across the country. One Nordstrom executive told the Wall Street Journal that, despite the fact that the Nordstrom does not carry Ugg Ultra Mini Platforms, desperate customers unable to find the trendy shoes have been clearing the shelves of similar Ugg styles. The demand, she said, has been “out of control.”
Before the rush on Ultra Mini Platforms, the Birkenstock Boston clog was the sold-out ugly shoe of 2022. One of the most-purchased fashion items of the year, the clog became a hit on TikTok and, after retailers exhausted their supplies, began selling for $100 or more over retail price on resale websites.
These two situations are the perfect embodiment of a pair of driving forces in contemporary fashion. First, due to the hypervisibility of celebrity social-media influencers and the algorithmic reach of Instagram and TikTok content, hot clothing items do not merely become fads or trends. They go viral. Styles no longer linger in coastal urban centers for months or years before making their way to further-flung locales. They spread online within weeks and translate directly into shopping patterns—which have been homogenized and de-localized by online shopping—until you are seeing the same shoes all over your social media feeds and on every street corner, like a meme people wear to every grocery store.
Second, these viral garments and accessories are reaching a young population of consumers already accustomed to the lightning-quick trend pivots of fast fashion (and the self-presentation demands of constant social media appearances). But then scarcity comes in: Heritage brands like Ugg and Birkenstock cannot meet the sudden surge of demand for a particular style with the ease of, say, Shein. Their products are more expensive—both the clogs and the platform booties retail for more than $120. But consumers feel the same desire to jump on these fads as they do for broader trends that are easier and more affordable to participate in—like, for instance, crocheted garments, which can be found at a multitude of price points and levels of quality from a wide variety of brands. So the Uggs and the Birks sell out, shoe scalpers profit on Poshmark, and knockoff manufacturers thrive.
The great Ugg resurgence of 2022 should also remind us of a vital eternal truth, the cardinal rule of fashion: Today’s sartorial punchline will be tomorrow’s major trend. Crocs, cargo pants, bucket hats, JNCO pants, fanny packs (I’m sorry, belt bags), mom jeans, Uggs, clogs named for Boston of all places—the past few years have brought comebacks for a slew of styles that some of us were still specifically mocking by name within the past decade.
Styles always come back around, of course. Two macro denim trend cycles ago, before skinny jeans came into favor in the aughts, “tapered jeans” was a slur. Then, for years, tapered jeans were the only thing people would wear, and “flare pants” became shorthand for poor taste. Now, the pendulum has swung again, and even as the world of denim has become a pluralistic hotbed of experimentation, entire news cycles have been devoted to the death of the skinny pant. No denim death is everlasting; fashion thrives on necromancy.
But there’s something about the re-embrace of the Ugg bootie that feels particularly humbling, to me, as a marker of the subjectivity and impermanence of taste. Things that repulse us this week will charm us two years from now—and I mean us not just as a culture in thrall to fluctuating trends and addicted to purchasing new things, but as a collection of specific people whose individual preferences will change, to varying degrees, with the times. We do not know now what we will want forever. Beauty does not solely live within the eye of the beholder, because it does not exist in a vacuum.
Are we being little obedient cogs in the machinery of consumerism when our negative opinions of Uggs dissipate in direct proportion to the number of Hadids we see wearing them? Yes. Are we destroying the climate, and thus human life as we know it, with fast fashion and these intense, short-lived trends that sustain the demand for it? Also yes. But putting all that aside … isn’t it nice to know that our minds can change? That we can see the same image with our same eyes, years apart, and interpret it in a totally new way? Uggs’ resurgence makes me feel like an insignificant speck on this beautiful planet at this moment in geologic time—only here for a split second, with no permanent attachments or immutable inclinations, all of us drifting from one instant of fleeting pleasure to the next, until we shuffle off this mortal coil in our cozy booties. I still hate those Uggs—but I love watching the world fall back in love with them.