Chunky Soles: Fashion for the Fam

These sneakers are for the whole family:

The year is 2008. I am sitting on the sofa, looking unusually contemplative for a child as I watch my father vacuum the carpet. My contemplation is not aimed at my father or myself, but rather a specific component of his outfit: his shoes. 

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They are objectively hideous. As an already fabulously gay ten-year old, I know this to be true. Bulky, stark white, obtrusive footwear that emit cacophonous “clomp clomps” as his feet hit the ground. They are the epitome of function over form and comfort over style, unashamed of their infamous status in the landscape of fashion. Whichever brand suits ones fancy, they all share an identical senile charm. These shoes were made for hikes with the family, fixing the broken pipe in the basement, and lounging on the patio shirtless while grilling some steaks for Sunday dinner. This is the “dad sneaker.” 

However, the year is not 2008 any more; it is now 2019 and these sneakers are no longer solely reserved for dads. In the past couple of years, the “chunky white sole” sneakers have emerged as a popular trend in high fashion. They are worn by sultry models, influencers, and celebrities in photos that aim to specifically highlight the footwear, like Cardi B in these bizarre dad sneaker heels. 

Yet, before the current reputation of this style can be discussed, the origin of this sneaker must be examined. The dad sneaker must not be equated with any typical plain white sneakers; those are called “plain white sneakers.” The dad sneaker is defined by its unattractive girth and vibrato, with an oversized sole that provides the one benefit of this shoe: incredible support. This sneaker trend can be traced back to the Adidas Stan Smith’s, which were rolled out in 1971 and named after U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion Stan Smith. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal about the current dad sneaker hype, Smith said:

“It’s crazy, what’s taken place in the last two and a half years. As a player, I wasn’t interested in how they looked. Being a fashion shoe now, people are more interested in that.”

In an interview with Cosmopolitan, shoe historian (no, that’s not a typo; that’s her real job) Elizabeth Semmelheck gives some context for the trend. She explains that it came into existence through a preference for “normcore” fashion, which includes ditching overly branded clothing in attempts to emulate a more street friendly, relaxed, monochrome look. 

Semmelheck also answers the question about this trend that is still on most of our minds: “But why?”

“The majority of [the] people [who] are wearing them in a kind of ironic way,” she said, “They’re super themselves, super fashionable and beautiful, and then to have on these somewhat clunky shoes creates an edgy compare and contrast.”

This quote alludes that “dad sneakers” are only meant to be worn by supermodels, which is most likely not what Semmelhack intended. However, supermodels and celebrities may be the singular exclusive demographic that can afford the brand name “dad sneakers” seen in the fashion industry today. Balenciaga, the most adored manufacturer of these shoes, has their TRACK 2 sneaker listed at $895 USD on their website. Givenchy’s Jaw Mesh Leather Sneakers clock in just below at $825 USD. 

So… Yes. The rich are in fact the only people who can afford brand name “dad sneakers.” Yet, the brand name is not the concern or motivation for most “dad sneaker” enthusiasts.

Shoe historian Elizabeth Semmelheck speaks to the culture of the sneaker for the middle and lower class members of society; specifically females. Semmelheck acknowledges that streetwear sneaker culture has been a male dominated sphere of the fashion industry. In her interview with Cosmopolitan, she said:

“Women’s footwear is in a bit of an interesting moment, because the high heel is losing currency, and I do think, in part, it’s related to the #MeToo movement. It’s a kind of complicated moment in actual politics, gender politics, and the politics of footwear.”

As it turns out, the “dad sneaker” phenomena is a trend that goes far deeper than an effort to rebrand a traditional eye sore of footwear. It seems to be part of a larger cultural movement to expand the perspective of female fashion and liberate women from the constricting feminine norms that have been commonplace in the past.

This is what is intrinsically beautiful about expression through clothing. Anyone can wear an ugly pair of shoes, whether they are aware or unaware of the shoes aesthetic nature. Once that pair of shoes has a meaning, though, or an intention, it is no longer just an ugly pair of shoes. It becomes a statement about oneself and one’s place in the world; it becomes fashion. It has a purpose, which no one, not even dads, can take away.

-Jack Stewart