From kitten heels and cowboy boots to Mary Janes and court shoes, 2023 has seen a resurgence of several classic styles of footwear, however, it has also witnessed the emergence of a fresh, more unexpected one called the absurdly large shoe, which is set to make its debut at this year's Paris Fashion Week.
Pre-empted by the likes of Bottega Veneta’s BV "puddle boot" and Kerwin Frost's super-stuffed Adidas Whizzes, the fashion maximalists were excited in February of this year when the US craftsmanship collective MSCHF released its attention-grabbing "big red boot".
Seeming to have leapt straight from the pages of the 1990s Japanese manga series Astro Boy, the giant, pillar-box-red boots, rendered in TPU and EVA foam, are simultaneously nostalgic, futuristic, and utterly absurd.
MSCHF declared in its press release, "If you kick someone in these boots, they go boing!" Yet, despite their silliness and inadvertent suction issues – the unisex boots were soon being sported by everyone from Doja Cat and Lil Nas X to Iggy Azalea and Janelle Monáe.
Beginning with Prada's proudly puffy nappa loafers and continuing with Loewe's comic lacquered foam pumps (apparently inspired by Minnie Mouse's oversized, slip-on high heels) and ending with Proenza Schouler's pillowy Arc platform mules, the spring/summer 2023 collections offered a more sophisticated take on the cartoon-channeling shoe.
The trend looks to be continuing in both males and womenswear, and there are no signs that it will abate.
While Marni is set to debut its 'big foot 2.0' sneakers this week at Paris Fashion Week, a more exaggerated, unmistakably comic-book take on the Italian house's 2018 platform trainer, MSCHF teamed up with Crocs to present the 'big yellow boots' in August, much like Balenciaga had done before them.
The boots were a sunflower-yellow rendition of the BRB that featured Crocs' trademark holes and heel straps.
"In one sense, it communicates a desire for non-conformity and personal expression, which aligns with contemporary values of individuality and self-confidence," Dr Carolyn Mair, a cognitive psychologist and fashion business consultant, and the author of The Psychology of Fashion, told BBC Culture.
"And at the same time, it subverts more traditional ideals of beauty in preference for novel, unconventional aesthetics."
Clowns and harlequins were frequently mentioned in the spring 2023 Paris couture shows, contributing to the "clowncore" movement.
Cultural historian Annebella Pollen agrees. "They remind me somewhat of the shoes designed by second-wave feminists in the 1970s and 1980s," she tells BBC Culture. "They viewed the trend for stiletto heels and pointy toes as a way of keeping women in their place, so they produced their own handmade, foot-shaped styles that drew on men's workwear boots, and were very much anti-fashion."
The UK shoemakers, who included all-women's collectives like Green Shoes, Orchid Shoes and Made to Last, frequently advertised in the feminist magazine Spare Rib, billing sensible shoes as a form of resistance.
"That said, they made them quite decorative, using ribbons for laces, for instance, and bright-coloured leathers like purple, pink and green," Pollen continues. "The shoes were tough and practical, but also made a big statement. They allowed women to take up space, and gave them freedom of movement."
In feminist magazine Spare Rib, the UK shoemakers—among them all-women's collectives including Green Shoes, Orchid Shoes, and Made to Last—often featured advertisements touting practical footwear as a form of resistance.
Nevertheless, they made them highly ornamental, using, for example, ribbons for laces and vibrant leathers in shades of purple, pink, and green, according to Pollen. The footwear was sturdy and functional, but it also had a strong message. They provided women the freedom to roam around and occupy space.
The cartoon shoe's raised sole and protective padding have functional similarities to previous historical examples, according to Caroline Stevenson, course director of cultural and historical studies at the London College of Fashion. "The chopine may be the earliest link," she tells BBC Culture, referring to one of the first iterations of the platform, worn by Venetian noblewomen between the late 15th and early 17th Century.
"They were built for practicality originally, to protect the wearer's feet from the streets, but then became a fashionable item in their own right, taking on this symbolic meaning about social position, because their height conveyed the status of the wearer. They were very hard to walk in, though – some were 20 inches high."
They bring back pleasant childhood memories of familiarity, warmth, and good moments spent with friends in a carefree environment.