The evolution and rise of the ‘ugly’ sneaker.

by Afterpay
Jul 12, 2022      6 min read

Chunky. Ugly. Dad shoes. The eye-catching, bulky sneaker trend we’ve come to love or loathe in recent years didn’t start out as a revered fashion staple.

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Shock, horror. Taking inspiration from 80s Japanese snow boots, the 90s skate shoe world and our dad’s dorky kicks; the bulbus-sized designs took a while to reach cool status and become a cult favourite among the fashion elite. To celebrate the rise and staying power of sneaker maximalism, let’s look back at the timeline of the ugly sneaker’s journey from shame to fame. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you have to admit - they’re so uncool, they’re cool.

Sk8er boi origins

80s & 90s

Late 80s - we first saw chunky sneakers in parking lots around the US - worn by skater kids flexing their tricks and kicks. Some of the OG styles from the late 80s and 90s were the Etnies Natas 1, Nike’s Airwalk Prototype and a tonne of clunky releases from DC. 

1995 - As the 90s brought platform boots and chunky heels to female fashion, along came the Buffalo London sneakers - endorsed by the Spice Girls (and modern day faves of Gigi Hadid and Billie Eilish). Despite the Spice stamp of approval, it was mostly sk8er bois that sported the style in the 90s. 

Entering dorky dad territory

The aughts 

1999 - The boundaries of the skate shoe world were pushed at the turn of the millennia with the huge Globe Chet Thomas CT-IV. Then, in 2001, came the Osiris D3. Both models were almost tripping hazards! 

2003 - Chunky sneakers entered a new arena in the early noughties as 99.99% of dads sported them in every theme park and grocery aisle. You can thank the research team at Nike, which tapped into the middle aged male market and their desire for comfort over looks. Thanks guyz. 

2010 - Clunky skate shoes had begun to fade out of popularity, even within the skater crowd. Some say this is due to the much slimmer Vans being favoured by the skate scene. 

The ugly sneaker’s fashion takeover 


2013 - The arrival of the Adidas x Raf Simons Ozweego 1 threw the chunky sneaker back into the spotlight. From that moment on, global sneaker design got a whole lot more maximalist. 

2017 - Balenciaga made fashion history when its models hit the runway strutting in the new Triple S shoe. Suddenly rip offs began to pop up around the world, from New York to Milan. Even now, these iconic kicks continue to sell out.

2017 - Kanye West brought about a comeback wave of ugly sneakers - ones that didn’t make the mainstream in previous decades. After launching his Adidas Yeezy Boost 700 Wave Runner, we saw the return of dad styles like the Nike Air Monarch and the Fila Disruptor. 

2018 - Paris Fashion Week cemented the new ‘It’ sneaker as the must-have statement shoe. French fashionistas strutted clunky sneakers onto the street style scene, making them unavoidable to any style-seekers still doubting the trend. It just goes to show, whatever the French girls do, the rest of us follow. 

2022 - “Chunky dad sneakers” are now seen on every catwalk and celeb from Kendal Jenner to FKA Twigs. Plus, in recent years, luxury brands have been shaking up the decor of the style, with double and triple soled kicks coming out with curvy lines, neon colours and jewelled flourishes. Take it from Gucci’s Flashtreks, Miuccia Prada’s Cloudbust and Givenchy's Jaws.

Beyond the laces… 

Chunky sneakers have seen so much success in recent years that the trend has inspired a whole new category of ugly footwear. From Balenciaga Crocs to Bottega Veneta Puddle Boots to Christophor Kane’s crystal-studded leather sandals - it’s all pretty bold. So we’ll just let you decide if you’re game to embrace a pair of Hermès Clogs. 

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