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Alannah hols a pair of purple sparkly crocs covered in charms to her face and looks surprised and delighted
Photograph: Alannah Maher

Crocnation: How the humble Croc became a street fashion statement

From Fashion Week runways to major queer events, these rubbery shoes have surpassed irony into status symbol. But how? Let’s investigate

Alannah Le Cross
Written by
Alannah Le Cross

I’ve got a confession to make – my name is Alannah, and I’m addicted to wearing Crocs. I became a full-time ‘Crocs girly’ so suddenly that even I’m astounded. The receipt of a Christmas gag gift got so out of hand that my shoe rack has been overtaken by a parade of comically perforated rubbery shoes plugged up with adorable decorations (or Jibbitz™), and I’ve lost track of whether this obsession is ironic or not.

I’m a far cry now from the tween who was so mortified by my parents’ affinity for Crocs – those “ugly” shoes that they proclaimed as perfect for walks on the beach and jaunts to the supermarket – that I flat out refused to be seen in public near them. 

But I’m not the only one who has seen the light. Crocs are fashionable now, baby, and clomping about in a pair of these ergonomic bad boys can earn you some serious street cred. Especially among Sydney’s creative scene and queer communities (a Venn diagram that’s almost a circle, to be fair).

Sure, you can’t roll a turd in glitter – but you can yassify the humble Croc, and that’s camp.

At the recent Australian Fashion Week, there were head-turning Crocs everywhere you turned. From amongst the selfie-ready hordes of journos and influencers in the crowd, to the runway. One of the most celebrated and divisive runway presentations was that of Melbourne-based designer Erik Yvon. The designer’s bold style is a dynamic combination of colours, prints, shapes and textures – and, naturally, Crocs was the shoe sponsor. Fashion Week’s most diverse encampment of models strutted and vogued down the runway in Crocs adorned in metal spikes and custom decorations, appearing to have more fun than anyone else all week.

So when did Crocs become farrrshun? Megan Welch, SVP and general manager, Asia Pacific at Crocs, has some thoughts. “Since appearing on the runway in Christopher Kane’s show in 2017, we have worked with Justin Bieber, Post Malone, Balenciaga and MCM [and G Flip] to name but a few, which has definitely contributed to the positioning of Crocs as a fashion statement. We never had an awareness problem, but before 2017, we had a relevance problem.”

Welch also says that the brand continues to evolve its design language and launched new silhouettes that tap into current consumer trends. An example is the sought after Echo Clog, which is giving alien exoskeleton realness. Fuelled by strong consumer demand globally, Welch adds that the brand remains “on track to reach $5 billion in revenues by 2026.” Blimey, those are some fat stacks of Crocbucks!

Model wears CrocsPhotograph: Supplied/Crocs

I have my own theories about what may have contributed to the domination of Crocs. Coming out of the pandemic, stigma around ‘comfort dressing’ all but dissipated, with designer trakky dacks even coming into vogue. Comfy, fuss-free footwear is a natural extension of this trend. In 2022, the term ‘dopamine dressing’ started gaining buzz, a trend that emphasises dressing in vibrant colours and patterns in an effort to boost one’s mood. And you can’t tell me there’s any item of clothing more happiness-inducing than a bright, sparkly pair of platform Crocs encrusted with silly little miss-matched decorative Jibbitz. 

Add to this the emerging trend of hyperrealism, or the ‘cartoonisation’ of fashion. A trend for the post-AI era, "Hyperreality", as defined by the French sociologist Jean Baudrillard, is the inability to distinguish reality from representations of it. In fashion, this means clothes that look like they could have been ripped straight from the Metaverse. An iconic example of this is the aptly named ‘Big Red Boot’ from Brooklyn-based experimental fashion brand MSCHF, which became the statement item to be seen wearing at New York Fashion Week. With Crocs’s footwear morphing into ever-more chunky and ultra-real designs, they’re ready-made (and more affordable) contenders for the shoe whose press release states, “If you kick someone in these boots, they go boing!” Just check out Crocs’ ridiculous Crush Boot.

Multidisciplinary queer artist and performer Jonny Hawkins (also known as Aunty Jonny or DJ Terry Toweling) is a fellow Crocs convert. Speaking of their own Crocsession, they told me: “For less than $100 you can have an all-terrain, all-weather shoe. I can go to the club in them. I could climb Everest in them (maybe). There’s a thousand colourways. I’ve got a serious case of Crocholm syndrome.” 

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There is something inherently queer about Crocs as a fashion statement. Hear me out – the Croc started out with a good soul (or sole) yet was discarded, disregarded as uncool, unworthy. Yet through sheer determination, the Croc found its true form, dressed up in a smattering of colour and bold accessories, and levelled up into something enviable (with a sturdiness that would make any practical, lanyard-wearing lesbian nod in approval). Drag, an inherently queer artform, was considered “the arsehole end of the entertainment industry” before it was skyrocketed into the stratosphere of cultural influence by the influence of RuPaul. And now look, much like drag, Crocs have found new fans amongst previous adversaries. Sure, you can’t roll a turd in glitter – but you can yassify the humble Croc, and that’s camp. 

Crocs were arguably the fashion statement dominating Sydney’s historic WorldPride festivities earlier this year – from drag queens clip-clopping around Mardi Gras Fair Day in glittery clogs, to party-goers dancing into the wee hours in Crocs of all sorts adorned in flashing Jibbitz. At the more recent Drag Expo Sydney, drag queens and punters were sporting Crocs that provide comfort while complementing colourful outfits. Bella, the ‘daddy of accessories and operations’ behind queer jewellery brand Harlem Starlet spent many weeks perfecting the creation of custom metallic Croc charms to sell at the expo and markets around the country.. 

“Our superstar clients originally asked for something customizable for their Crocs because they felt that a lot of the charms out there are very generic,” Bella told me. “Carla from Bankstown is our Croc queen. We’ve done a cute collaboration on some Croc charms with Carla recently, and are working on a couple of other secret collabs with clients too.”

Model wears CrocsPhotograph: Supplied/Crocs x Carla From Bankstown

The process of making an accessory fit for a Croc? Not as straightforward as one might think: “The trial and error process was long – it was a lot of wearing Crocs and doing odd things like jumping in mud and puddles to make sure that they withstood the elements. While they look cute, they are also functional.”

I’m told that Crocification is popping up outside of my natural habitats, too. In female football teams, Crocs are starting to replace classic slides as the preferred off-field shoe of choice. 

“Some people think we are an ugly shoe and some think that we are the best thing that has ever happened,” says Welch. “Crocs is a polarising brand, we know we’re not for everyone, and that’s OK! Importantly, we are a brand that is one-of-a-kind. We recognise that this is exactly what resonates with so many of our brand fans – they too see themselves as one-of-a-kind and have embraced the notion of coming as they are in Crocs shoes.” 

Lower your standards and you too can be happy

There’s something in that murky place between irony, comfort and customisation that makes the Croc a fashion fixture. In the endlessly relevant 2006 dystopian comedy movie Idiocracy, the production designer dressed everyone living in “the future” in Crocs. A limited budget meant that sourcing these shoes from Crocs, a small start-up at the time, was a cost-effective option for a movie where the human race has been overrun with “idiots”. The team also thought “You'd have to be an idiot to wear these!' By the time the movie came out, everyone was wearing them. Sometimes, stupid and cute is enough.

As we’re settling into the cooler months in the southern hemisphere, the Crocs aren’t packing away. On the contrary, the “socks and Crocs” style is a year-round fashion phenomenon (or fashion affront, depending on who you talk to) and Crocs has also dropped a ‘Cozy’ range with soft, fuzzy lining. The cooler months also don’t seem to deter sales, with fashionable streetwear chain stores like Platypus and General Pants selling out of popular sizes as soon as they hit the shelves (I would know, I’ve had no luck tracking down a particular colourway for an upcoming special event! In store, or online!)

So are you a Crocs convert, or are you still staunchly protesting against giving yourself over to the absolute pleasure of Croslite technology? I leave you with the words of Aunty Jonny: “Lower your standards and you too can be happy.”

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