Earlier this year, among Fashion Month’s many monochrome matching sets and hygge puffer coats, were shoes of epic proportions. Tokyo-based streetwear brand Ambush put the models for its fall ‘21 collection in round, bulbous rubber boots. Hardly a streetwear person, I was surprised at how drawn to them I was. It was like seeing the Bottega Veneta Puddle Boot for the first time. Later, similarly, oversized footwear debuted at PH5, though they were clogs rather than boots, and Vivienne Westwood, in the form of patchwork Oxfords. I immediately began thinking up ways in my head to incorporate them into my wardrobe.
Since I can remember I have been drawn to what some would call “ugly” fashion. As a kid, I shopped in the boy’s department of stores because that was where my brother shopped, and I idolised him. There, I chose baggy cargo pants over fitted mini skirts and bulky sneakers as opposed to ballet flats. In primary school, I styled Nike running shorts with washed-out T-shirts instead of skinny jeans and fancy tops; in high school, while others shopped for black boots at Topshop, I wore Birkenstocks with tube socks. The particulars have continued to change over the years, but my overall penchant for fashion marked unattractive by conventional standards has remained a constant.
In recent years, this has culminated in my footwear. In 2019, while at Ganni in Stockholm, I spotted a pair of black, lug-soled sport loafers. The fact that they were chunky, heavy, and bound to give me shin splints were all part of their allure. The shoes, now sold-out, weren’t crafted out of satin, like something out of Carrie Bradshaw’s unrealistically large West Village closet, nor were they designed to make my butt look good in jeans. (In actuality, they probably made my butt look worse, not that I care.) I stomped around in them for months, wearing them to work, dinners, and bars with actual people in them. I rented a Totême blazer month after month on Rent The Runway — just to wear with my chunky shoes.
Right before the pandemic, I splurged on another pair of similarly minded shoes: platform Gucci loafers that I bought secondhand from Vestiaire Collective. Though vastly different in style, my reasoning for buying them was the same — the substantial size and shape was a far cry from the more elegant loafer offerings that the Italian brand is known for. They made my feet look big, on purpose. The effect was clown shoes, but Gucci-approved. I loved it.
Though this isn't scientific, what entices me most about shoes that take up space is their ability to add a statement to an otherwise boring look. Add a pair of bulbous shoes to an oversized, black suit, and suddenly, the once-blasé outfit becomes interesting. But it’s more than that: Big shoes, like heels, are a confidence booster. Be it a heavy platform or a skinny stiletto, you walk taller when you’re 3” to 5” inches up. In my Gucci loafers, I walk tall.
Tara Gonzalez, a style writer at InStyle, agrees. “Chunky, platform boots are my favourite because they make me more confident than any other shoe,” she tells Refinery29. According to her, it’s because they allow her to “tower over everyone.” “If I feel like my outfit needs a little extra something, a platform boot instantly adds edge,” she says.
Shelby Ying Hyde, a contributing editor at Harper’s Bazaar and The Zoe Report, says chunky shoes give her outfit “an instant lift without having to rely on high heels.” Ying Hyde used to rely on heels to streamline her outfits, but after moving to New York, and realising how hard the city can be on both your feet and your shoes, she turned to chunky loafers and boots instead. She also credits the nostalgic look of platforms for their rise in popularity: “I think it has a lot to do with the industry’s affinity for vintage style from the ‘90s and other past decades. Everyone loves a good nostalgic fashion moment.”
Instagram, too, is heaping with too-big shoes, be they from social-friendly brands like Pêche and Source Unknown or major fashion houses like Prada and Burberry. Marta Cygan, also known as Life of Boheme, paired her oversized Prada loafers with big trousers and a corset top. Lashaunae Steward’s big shoes — also Prada — were paired with a fuzzy mini dress and a matching Telfar bag. Courtney Trop of the fashion blog Always Judging chose to go a more casual route, wearing chunky sneakers from the outdoors brand Salomon, which she paired with an equally voluminous skirt from Issey Miyake and a leather vest. In all three looks, the shoes were the focus.
So why are so many people choosing to wear big and bulky shoes, to the point of discomfort at times (count the blisters)? Maybe, it’s the confidence thing. After all, a platform physically elevates you; the large silhouette takes up space. Nostalgia and edge, too, likely play their part in the appeal. Regardless, it takes putting on a pair — be it a boot, clog, loafer, or sneaker — and seeing the world from a few inches up to understand. Once you do, you’ll want every shoe to be a big shoe. If I had my way, every shoe would be.