And now for the latest in the "so ugly they're cute" category: "Toe shoes." These gloves for feet are poised to be the next big craze, following in the footsteps of FitFlops, Crocs, UGGs and Tevas, to name a few.
But if the froggy look creeps you out, fear not. Ugly isn't forever. Many performance brands have revamped their look, branching away from their all-function, no-frills origins and upping the aesthetics factor.
We may flirt with freaky footwear, but ultimately consumers want shoes that look good, not necessarily "shoes that look 'GOOD' for you," says FitFlop spokeswoman Katie Neiman. The brand, known for its chunky "Microwobbleboard" midsole (designed to challenge leg and glute muscles) this year developed slimmer midsoles for some styles, offering slick high-tops and chukkas for guys and chic riding boots for women.
The Original Dr. Scholl's also got a makeover this year. It has a new look, logo, website and name -- now Dr. Scholl's Shoes -- and while Doc still offers those clunky wooden slides, the fall line also includes suede pumps and oxfords.
Even Birkenstock and Teva, lines that helped unleash men's gnarly bare feet on an unsuspecting world, have blossomed in recent seasons.
"We believe you can have both," says Teva's Jaime Eschette. "A performance product you can count on, and one you don't want to take off when the night's just beginning."
It started with the barefoot running craze, and Vibram's FiveFingers footwear, with "individually articuable" toe portions. Then this spring Fila launched Skele-Toes, a stiffer, cheaper version for non-athletes. Fila's two-ply nylon, bungee cords and four-compartment design (two littlest toes share) allow for easy on and off. Vibram's mad, filing suit against Fila in July for patent infringement. Talk about going toe to toe. For now, both lines are available: Find Vibram -- $60 for kids; $75 to $125, adults -- at running stores and vibramfivefingers.com; and Fila's Skele-Toes -- $49.99, kids (shown); $59.99, adults -- at Modell's stores and fila.com.