Is it conceivable that we have been judging Uggs incorrectly the entire time?
“Ugg” is perhaps the only shoe brand with a name that evokes the average person’s response to the product. If the founders of the company had spelled it “Ugh,” it would have been just fine. “Ugh” is the universal sign of disappointment, a guttural belch that signals the speaker’s fervent wish that the world was somehow different. It sounds harsh, but it looks harsher. With its defiant, self-important all-caps “UGG,” the brand practically screams “BE COMFORTABLE.”
All fashion is about staples, the items that never leave your rotation and can be paired with just about anything. The leather jacket, the dad hat, a crisp white T-shirt. The Ugg boot slots easily into that category for its target audience. It’s not something you put on to experience the greatest moment of your life. It is the shoe you wear to a last-minute grocery store trip, to pick up stamps or to walk your dog at 10 PM. It’s the dad hat of shoes. What to wear when you’re not expecting. But in Los Angeles, sometimes the most magical things can happen when you’re not prepared.
Imagine walking your dog and meeting the person of your dreams. Do you want to do that in Uggs? Well, sometimes you don’t have a choice, because you didn’t plan to fall in love that exact second. What if you get into a fender bender? Would you rather exchange insurance information with someone in toe-exposing flip-flops or Uggs? These boots are certainly not high fashion, but they are superior to the alternative. They’re sturdy, thanks to the rubber bottoms. The soft sheepskin construction makes them a pleasant, easy-going wear. And they’re finding appreciators on the cutting edge of modern aesthetics.
Thanks to TikTok and celebrity endorsements from names like Kylie Jenner and Gigi Hadid, the Ugg “Classic Ultra Mini” — as opposed to the “Ultra Mini Classic,” “Mini Classic Ultra,” or “Ultra Classic Mini,” which I assume are all real shoes and not something I made up — has become a soaring trend. The Classic Ultra Mini, with its low ankle profile all the better for showing off leg definition in a pair of leggings, is so popular that people started cutting their old Uggs to match the popular aesthetic.
But fiddling with Uggs is not just for amateurs. It’s for the pros too. Take Ugg’s relationship with the brilliant fashion designer Telfar Clemens, who has created an empire out of appealing directly to Black customers without pandering or dumbing down his work. Clemens has made his career out of approachable, androgynous athleticwear that puts branding above all else. Telfar logos are designed into the boot, reminding the customer of their allegiance to the cult of Mr. Clemens.
Combining his talents with the Ugg brand feels natural in so many ways. The Ugg-Telfar collaborations don’t shy away from either version of the Ugg story — the chicly disheveled white celebrity and the regular person just trying to catch the subway. Uggs can be downmarket. They can be affordable. But they can also retain the Southern California charm that made them popular in the first place.
In Los Angeles, surfers are often blissfully content with walking around barefoot. The whole surfer aesthetic here might be summed up as: “I am simply too cool to care that my feet are on fire.” When the Ugg brand was launched in L.A., it offered Angelenos the perfect mixture of comfort and durability. It also connected Australian culture to L.A.’s beach-centric lifestyle. Sure, we’re not all close to the beach, or in my case, we don’t want to be. But there’s a certain amount of gravity that pulls us west, to the cool breeze and lackadaisical existence that coastal vibes promise us. Perhaps that’s why the Ugg boot has been repurposed from a surfer’s accessory to the shoe of choice for life’s most mundane tasks.
Uggs thrive whenever studied indifference is primary in the zeitgeist. You don’t wear Uggs if you want to seem put together or highly effective. Uggs make you look like you don’t really care that much. In that way, they’re sort of a cultural cousin to the iconic Vans slip-on. Both shoes forgo laces and can immediately render any outfit more approachable and less fussy. In the last 20 years, Ugg boots have become synonymous with celebrities hoping to appear more grounded.
Uggs ended up on Oprah’s Favorite Things list in 2000, which rocketed the brand to massive popularity. The years following saw famous celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton rocking Uggs to Starbucks runs or outdoor lunches. Uggs were a staple of faux-candid paparazzi photos that were most people’s only glimpse of what they perceived to be Hollywood high society. The size and proportion of the boots are audacious, eye-catching, and unmistakable. Perfect gristle for the celebrity industrial complex’s hunger for attention. Uggs are comfortable, but they’re not subtle.
It’s often impossible to divest ourselves of these cultural associations. When our broadest methods of communication are increasingly becoming a series of references, callbacks, and paeans to nostalgia, it’s hard to accept a thing at face value. Celebrity associations pigeonholed Uggs into an aesthetic segregation of the tossed off, cobbled together chaos of female tabloid icons — the woman who simply can’t be bothered. Uggs were always intended to be a unisex shoe but were weirdly gendered by the mid to late 2000s. They were for the so-called “hot mess,” usually a very wealthy white woman who hoped to conjure up images of reckless fame.
It could be that Uggs fell out of favor when Los Angeles itself fell out of favor. After a decade of prominence thanks to shows like “The OC” and the nonstop coverage of places like the Chateau Marmont (where Lindsay Lohan infamously racked up an unpaid bill of $46,000), culture and fashion shifted to “Mad Men”-esque paeans to buttoned-down ‘50s look and prep aesthetics as typified by Scott Sternberg’s Band of Outsiders label. The backlash to early aughts debauchery meant the rise of the manic pixie dream girl, odes to French New Wave cinema, and most important, shoes that made you look like you were actually trying. The “girlboss” fad required ambition, attention to detail, and a wardrobe that meant business. Obviously, not everyone adhered to the trends that were brought down from the mountain of the New York media gods. This is Los Angeles, after all. Thanks to how ubiquitous and accessible they were, Uggs began to be associated with consumers who wore them to decidedly unsexy locations like the DMV. One could not be grown and sexy in floppy sheepskin boots. But the overriding perception of the boot was one of luxurious nonchalance.
When I think of Uggs, I think of Kate Moss approximating a bohemian ideal in boots that look like they’ve been chewed on by a wet dog. It’s a look that feels dated and unapproachable for anyone who doesn’t look like Kate Moss. But the revival of Uggs is very much a movement fronted by people of color on a mission to claim a discarded trend for themselves. Jennifer Lopez has long been a devotee of the brand, dating back to its heyday, but when she started getting photographed in them again back in 2020, it started a rediscovery of the joys of looking a bit messy. Casual looks came back thanks to pandemic-era comfort fetishizing. The idea of being effortlessly casual became glamorous again, as routine errands found a new level of importance thanks to quarantine and social distancing. Probably the most crucial element of Ugg’s revival is plain, simple nostalgia.
The 2000s feel like unmined sartorial territory. For so long, that era has been maligned as grotesque, tacky and lacking in self-awareness. Our current moment is one where ideas, public figures and fashion trends are being reassessed. Low-rise jeans are, tragically, roaring back with young consumers. I’ve even seen one or two trucker hats in the wild. Surely, an Ed Hardy revival is regrettably on the horizon. But it’s not just clothes that are being reconsidered.
Monica Lewinsky has turned from Gen-X pariah to millennial hero thanks to a collective desire to use hindsight to address our blind spots and prejudices. FX’s miniseries “American Crime Story: Impeachment” didn’t hurt the cause of her newfound celebration as a resilient, strong woman who survived years of omnipresent abuse. Paris Hilton’s documentary “This Is Paris” revealed its subject to be far more complex than the persona that was slut-shamed in the 2000s. It feels right to look back at our collective mistakes, to consider maybe we misjudged some things. Maybe Paris Hilton and Uggs aren’t so bad after all.
But they’re still ugly. They still elicit groans from passersby. Sometimes it feels powerful to be ugly. It’s a defiance in the face of the unrelenting grind of needing to be successful, which so many Angelenos feel. Slipping on a pair of Uggs can put one at ease. They have the power to disarm in a city where our guards are always up.