How Crocs Became the Unofficial Shoe of the Pandemic

When Allie Goertz encountered Crocs for the first time as a dorky, Wayne’s World-obsessed 13-year old, she instantly despised their bulbous, stippled silhouette. “I remember thinking, ‘They’re so ugly, never in a million years would I wear Crocs,'” she says. Eighteen years later, the musician and writer was self-quarantining at home in Los Angeles due to COVID-19 and found herself unexpectedly drawn to a vivid turquoise pair.

Goertz characterizes her new Crocs are the quintessential pandemic purchase: an irrational impulse buy she likely never would have considered had the world not turned completely upside down. “They’ve become my quarantine shoes,” she says. After trying them on with a pair of & Other Stories socks, she snapped a pic and tweeted it out with the caption, “We all deal with depression differently #Crocs.”

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Once the sole province of nurses, toddlers, and a certain celebrity chef, Crocs have joined the growing pantheon of hideous footwear (see Birkenstocks and Tevas) that has undergone significant image rehabilitation. It can be traced back to 2016, when designer Christopher Kane debuted a marbleized version replete with crystal geode jibbitz at London Fashion Week. He followed them up with diamanté and high top versions. Not long thereafter, Balenciaga created a 10-inch platform version of the brand’s classic clogs for their S/S 2018 show, which retailed for $850. (Currently, Crocs sells a more subdued iteration called the Classic Bae Clog for $54.99.)

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Christopher Kane Spring 2016.

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Balenciaga Spring 2018.

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In the past year, celebrities have been increasingly paparazzi’d in the shoes. They have become a staple of Justin Bieber‘s now prescient ‘dirtcore’ aesthetic. And last fall, the brand tapped Priyanka Chopra as a 2020 global brand ambassador and star of its ‘Come As You Are’ campaign. Meanwhile, the footwear giant has embarked on successful (and sold-out) collaborations with the likes of Madewell and Liberty London. But despite fashion and fame’s embrace of the chunky, duck-footed look, it took a global pandemic for Crocs to fully cross the Rubicon from a much-reviled symbol of slovenliness to a culturally-relevant accessory.

“I completely lost the plot of what normal outfits are,” says Lauren Mitchell, an account manager from Toronto, Canada. Global fashion search platform Lyst noted that searches for Crocs have been steadily increasing since the second week of March and searches are currently up 71% over the last 3 months. In April and May, the brand doubled their monthly e-commerce sales year over year. “At this very moment, our brand momentum has never been stronger,” says Heidi Cooley, head of global marketing at Crocs.

“These are Crocs times we’re living in now, for sure,” says Kelly McClure, a writer and publicist from New Orleans, who purchased Crocs two weeks into the pandemic to replace a pair of green flip flops she wore around the house. “Had the pandemic never happened, I doubt I would have bought them, because I’d still be out and about, going to bars and shows and shops,” says McClure.

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Nanea Woods, founder of Portland’s Prose Before Bros book club, refers to her sleek white Crocs as the “ultimate quarantine house slippahs.” She bought her Crocs a month into the pandemic because she was looking for a versatile, slip-on shoe she could wear both indoors and outdoors. Though she primarily bought the Crocs for their function, Woods adds that the way they look is “a huge plus.” Tat Read, a communications executive from Toronto also purchased Crocs to serve as house slippers, but two days after the banana-printed slides arrived, she decided they were cute enough to wear outside the confines of her home. “They clash with everything and that’s really the look I’m going for,” she says.

Danielle Johnson, a data engineer from Oakland, Calif., has owned Crocs since 2016, but when the pandemic hit, she went Croc wild, acquiring three more pairs. “I have indoor Crocs, outdoor Crocs,” plus an extra pair to replace the ones her partner jacked from her closet. “I actually wore them on a hike by accident because I’m so used to putting them on,” she says.

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Of the litany of reasons Crocs are the ultimate pandemic shoe—their squishy comfort and relative affordability—perhaps the most compelling reason is that they’re easy to clean. “If I accidentally wear them outside, I just spray the bottoms with Lysol, put them on the shoe rack and that’s it,” says Johnson. Mitchell, who is described by friends as a ‘Crocfluencer’, prefers a different method of cleaning. “If they get dirty I bring a little dish soap in the shower with me and give the Crocs a little shower.”

“The longer we stay at home and are able to be in ‘non-work clothes,’ the harder it will be for us to get back into our hard pants and high heels,” explains Elizabeth Semmelhack, Senior Curator at the Bata Shoe Museum. She also points out the non-gender specific shape might be what makes them so appealing to the Zoomer demographic. “We’re in a moment of incredible political and cultural change, so it would make sense that a younger generation would want to wear shoes that don’t have that same history of being gendered.”

Though Crocs sudden and surprising burst of popularity didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, it’s difficult to say whether the moment will last. “I don’t know how much I’ll be wearing the Crocs post-quarantine,” says Goertz. “But then again, quarantine might last indefinitely.”

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