are dad trainers over?
And are we all bored of ugly fashion now?
Ugliness has been the thing in fashion for a couple of years now. Fashion’s most dominant aesthetic edge has privileged bad taste and a determined anti-aestheticism, boldly bad proportions and a relentless more and more.
It started as a reaction to bland, easy-to-access good taste in a flattened Insta-age. It was a trolling provocation to boring normies. It was fashion as a fantasy and theatre, fashion refracted through a funhouse mirror. Monstrous sculptural appendages that flopped and flailed around the body. Fashion studded and spiked through in an image of teenage emo-angst. Everything was just too big or just too shrunken, enveloping and exposing. It was a weird mix of the sincere and the ironic.
Ugly fashion wound its way down the body and ugly fashion’s final resting became the feet, our ugliest appendances. So we’ve had Ugg Boots piled up in towering layers that envelop the thighs at Y/Project. We’ve had a pair of Louis Vuitton trainers with a wild, exaggerated high arch, which seems to veer off in multiple directions. We’ve had Rick Owens’s chunky spage-age-gothic weirdnesses, trainers that seemed to be emboldened to expand and freak out.
And yet are we now moving beyond ugly? Has it jumped the shark? As an aesthetic mode it feels too pervasive and because of that it’s losing its ability to shock.
And of course there has been the ubiquity of Balenciaga Triple-S and Raf Simons’s Ozweego, which mutated the cosy ugliness of your dad’s training shoes into stacked grotesque beautiful monstrosities. Between the two of them, Demna Gvasalia and Raf Simons, they’ve marked out the compass points of the aesthetic. Demna for the shock value and the brutalising of the quotidien, Raf for the proportional plays and youthful subcultural recontextualisations.
And yet are we now moving beyond ugly? Has it jumped the shark? As an aesthetic mode it feels too pervasive, and because of that it’s losing its ability to shock. The plays pioneered by all the aforementioned designers have been co-opted, dumbed down, sanitised, resold. As just one example, if you type “dad trainer” into Google’s shopping search, you get this, from a brand called Ego. An incredible Triple-S rip off, emblazoned with NEW FASHION in place of Balenciaga’s logo. Which is frankly, a wonderful, satirical touch. “We can’t get enough of the dad sneaker trend,” Ego say, possibly quoting Depeche Mode. “Bloggers can’t get enough of these trainers and neither can we. We're taking style advice from our fav blogger girls and pairing ours with skinny jeans and bomber jacket.” Ugly fashion has been bloggerified and prettified and now what even is it? Ugly fashion has, like Rachel Leigh Cook in She’s All That taking off her glasses before prom night, transformed into something beautiful.
“We need it! We need a new outline. I know I was part of it myself, but too many hoodies with prints! You know, something needs to shift,” Raf Simons said after his spring/summer 19 show, with which he marked his return to Paris. He moved away from the oversized silhouettes and subcultural music and underground art influences of recent seasons towards something more purely fashion; duchesse satin and tailoring. Demna Gvasalia hinted at it at Balenciaga hinted at it, too, with the Track Trainer, which is like a slimmed down, refined, pared back version version of Triple-S.
Fashion exists now on our screens, primarily, and shares the same image ecosystem as everything else in the world. So how can you make it stand out?
And yet is it going to go away? Raf’s show featured big OTT platformed boots. The Track Trainer is not minimalist. And at Balenciaga Demna is still pushing the limits of silhouettes, although countered with a transgressive take on bourgeois primness. At Vetements he is still attacking what’s deemed acceptable in luxury fashion.
Yet the success of ugly fashion, and every trainer that shamelessly followed in the wake of the Triple-S, spoke to a broader development in fashion, which would be its meme-ification. Fashion exists now on our screens, primarily, and shares the same image ecosystem as everything else in the world; your selfies, memes, catwalk images from fashion weeks, your friend’s cute new kitten, vintage magazine editorials, your friend’s ex on holiday with their new boyfriend, thirst traps, that photographer’s new editorial, that artist’s latest work in progress, the outfit that stylist is wearing today. How does anything stand out in this fast moving mess? Let alone explain itself?
So fashion now leans on concepts that can be reduced to buzzy phrases -- Normcore! Pastelwave! Warcore! Healthgoth! Uglycore! -- that can be spread and be understood instantly. Or instead delivers its fashions propositions within a visual gimmick -- Giant Uggs! Detached Heads! Jewelled Crocs! -- designed to go viral and spread the message.
But it has diminishing returns, the next thing must be bigger to stand out, it obliterates subtly, and you’re left without anything to compare to for scale. Which maybe is why the Balenciaga Track Trainer pares back the excess of the Triple-S, why Normcore keeps on hanging around, why tailoring was the dominant menswear trend of the spring/summer 19 shows.
The dad trainer was a cool fashion meme. Funny for those who understood it, were in the know. And then it was everywhere. And then it wasn’t cool anymore. And that’s the circle of fashion.