After a year-long blur of evolving restrictions coated in copious amounts of hand sanitizer and doom scrolling, one of our main takeaways from 2021 is that there’s only so much we can do to prepare for the ups and downs of life’s path. But when it comes to climbing those proverbial mountains, fashion people know that you can at least dress the part — which explains why the hiking boot trend has officially reached its peak.
Nature looked better than ever over the course of the lockdown, and a ripple effect across wardrobes and social media feeds was quick to follow. First, the nap dress hit the style scene in 2020 in all its tiered and frothy goodness, made for afternoon snoozing and forest frolicking alike. Then, as temperatures dropped with the dawn of a new year on the horizon, what became known as cottagecore morphed into cabincore, another comfort-oriented aesthetic that favored chunky knits, tartan, quilted fabrics, and the footwear to boot: durable, lug-sole shoes designed for adventure — and now, adventurous dressing.
Even as we dust off our heels and shimmy into neglected party frocks to usher in 2022, the appeal of life in the woods has not lost its luster. In fact, it’s infiltrating other parts of our wardrobes with performance footwear leading the way.
“I think the idea of hiker boots is so of-the-moment because of the casualization of fashion for the winter months ahead. People are prioritizing comfort as part of their style for the season, so the idea of looking chic in a ‘mountaineering outfit’ and pairing it with boots like these are right on trend,” says Shopbop Fashion Director Caroline Maguire. But don’t be mistaken: these are not your average backpacker’s shoes. Maguire highlights the fashion-forward upgrades that elevate these boots to statement piece status, such as the padded cuffs of Gia Borghini boots, translucent platforms by Montelliana, and the speckled laces and stitching of Larroudé’s Jordan style.
“I love to wear our Jordan boot with jeans or pair it with long, flowy dresses for a more unexpected look,” says Marina Larroudé, co-founder and chief creative officer of her namesake footwear brand. “They all come with both tonal and colorful laces so the customer can make its own.”
Paule Tenaillon, co-founder of the Parisian brand Nomasei, has a similar vision for the styling potential of her label’s Slalom shoe, which she describes on the site as “all-terrain boots” inspired by her grandmother’s glamorous ski attire in the ‘70s. The boot, with two-toned double lacing, can be worn with “a daytime dress during the week” or to complement a relaxed ensemble for a countryside getaway. There’s a nostalgic quality to the design — an homage to both Tenaillon’s grandmother and to the happy childhood moments she spent in the mountains — which quickly ended up being one of Nomasei’s top sellers after they first became available for purchase in late 2019.
Maguire agrees, saying she has noticed shoppers gravitating toward versatile performance boots that can transition from day to night. Like the chunky dad sneakers of Balenciaga fame, the hiker shoe is just the right amount of ugly to add interest to even the most pedestrian outfits, yet stylish enough to not look out of place with a dress when worn with confidence. The resulting vibe is footpath-turned-catwalk.
This year’s fall/winter ‘21 shows certainly paved the way for the rise of pragmatic footwear with a twist. Stella McCartney and Givenchy leaned into outdoorsy apparel in the form of heavier, weather-proof shoes that were styled with sleek blazers, plunging necklines, asymmetrical dresses, and knitted skirt sets. Thanks to Chloé, the Parisian streets of Saint-Germain-des-Près saw the return of the early-aughts Moon Boot, much to the delight of Y2K-loving Gen-Zers. Models at Miu Miu literally trudged through the snow in heavy-duty (designer) gear for the task, while Loewe released a film for Eye/Loewe/Nature featuring upcycled garments worn with multicolored hiking boots, all set against an ultra-urban backdrop. Next came the summer’s hybrid hiking shoe — part-sneaker, part-boot — paired with barely-there bikinis for the Paloma Elsesser x Dos Swim capsule. And then, various iterations of the trend by Jacquemus, most notably on the feet of one Kendall Jenner lounging in a hammock. The aptly titled “La Montagne” fall ‘21 collection, which translates to "The Mountain," from the French brand says it all: The outdoors are still very much in.
Follow this trail trend back a bit and you’ll find yourself face-to-face with Bryan “Bryanboy” Yambao’s daring and prescient adoption of the look in the summer of 2018 when he stepped into Paris Men’s Fashion Week looking like he came straight from the French Alps (minus the trekking poles). Wearing hiking boots and thick black socks, he successfully turned the style dial up a notch with a patterned button-down, a scattering of accessories, and cargo-esque shorts. As these things go, it was only a matter of time before the look went mainstream, with the allure of #cabincore accelerating its arrival. Four years later, mountain-ready shoes are everywhere — from Prada to Ganni and everything in between.
It’s this month’s high-profile, back-to-back drops that prove the hiking boot is here to take over as winter’s biggest shoe trend. On November 1, swanky skiwear label Moncler joined forces with cult-cool sneaker brand HOKA to release a high-performance shoe meant for mastering both mountains and modern cities. Just last week, for its first-ever foray into footwear, luxury outerwear brand Canada Goose launched its Journey Boot, a design that’s informed by the technicality of arctic and alpine boots but “with versatile features that make it equally essential for city adventures,” according to a press release. With such covetable brands on board, the hiking boot has amassed a style clout of Himalayan proportions.
For the unconvinced, let us remind you of the vice-like grip that athleisure has maintained on the fashion world. Its persistent relevance is rooted in the marriage of comfort and cool — two core elements fueling the hiking shoe’s climb to industry-wide popularity. The performance boot can make you feel like you’re in the Catskills when you’re actually returned to your old Brooklyn-Manhattan commute. But, at the very least, it’s an invitation for action after far too many months spent barefoot on the couch.
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