There will always be a special place in my heart for an extremely impractical yet high-fashion winter shoe. I consider stiletto-heeled croc-print boots as much of a below-freezing essential as I do a wool coat or a chunky knit. That said, the industry has seen some turnover when it comes to which cold-weather footwear is “in,” and time spent at home over the last two years has certainly shifted our tendencies towards flatter, cozier, more utilitarian styles, like this season’s puffer clog trend. The styles out there are essentially slippers — but make it fashion, if you will.
Dropping temperatures usually give way to a bevy of hard-shelled shoes, from combat boots to rigid loafers — and I thought we reached peak levels of comfiness last year, when the market was flooded with block-heeled boots and supportive lug sole stompers (see the Prada Monolith and the Ganni’s Cleated Chelsea Boots). But this season, the top silhouette is no more than a glorified slipper with traction, perhaps a delayed result of our fidelity to the house shoes we lived in throughout the pandemic. And while it may not feel “fashion” at first, the utilitarian staple has been given a luxury upgrade, courtesy of styles like the Prada Rush Quilted Nylon Slipper Mules.
In some ways, the exaggerated slide silhouette makes sense. Statement clogs have been trending since last year, with Simon Miller’s Bubble Clog serving as the It Shoe that inspired a thousand dupes. Typically, clog styles die down as chillier forecasts hit — right about the time we start reaching for our go-to black puffer coats. From a trend forecasting perspective, the shoe version of our beloved outerwear feels like a natural evolution.
Consider this season’s options the lovechild of your favorite puffer coat and the emotional support slippers you slide into the minute you get home. Still, the puffer clog’s roots are more utilitarian than fashion-forward, which is why so many of the top styles available now are from lifestyle brands like Teva, Hunter, The North Face, and UGG. According to Jess Bensley, senior product line manager at Teva, fashion wasn’t exactly the main focus when designing the ReEMBER Terrain, an updated version of the brand’s puffy ReEMBER shoes.
“Due to our outdoor heritage, we always look to function first, even when it comes to cozy/comfort footwear,” Bensley tells TZR. But while the refreshed iteration, which incorporates a mule silhouette and a durable traction outsole, was made with functionality in mind, it also happens to look pretty perfect with an outdoorsy-chic outfit.
Over at Hunter, a similar concept was the genesis of the In/Out Slipper, says the company’s Global Design Director, Sandra Romboli. “This shoe allows for the cozy feel of a slipper while being durable enough to experience the world outside,” she tells TZR. And while Romboli admits she might have had the style set in mind when designing the silhouette, she imagined it more as an off-duty option — not the next street style staple. “We designed this style for the fashion consumer when they are not wearing ‘fashion,’” she shares.
Meanwhile, some brands saw the silhouette’s fashion potential in advance: take The North Face, which collaborated with Paraboot to debut a special iteration of its Thermoball Traction V Mule in collaboration with Paraboot. With only 30 pairs made, the shoe featured the Thermoball mule’s puffy top in a high-shine finish, complemented by a stylish and sturdy Paraboot rubber sole.
But given the rise in ugly-core footwear, it’s no surprise trendsetters are leaning into the look. Kendall Becker, a fashion and beauty editor at fashion retail analytics platform Trendalytics, has some thoughts on how the design will work in our wardrobes for the season ahead.
“Arguably, the puffer clog can be seen as Fall/Winter’s swap for sneaker, as it falls at the cornerstone of cool and comfortable,” says Becker. “As our wardrobes continue to evolve post-COVID, designers are finding creative ways to meld comfort with fashion, and the puffer clog is the perfect example of this.”
“The quilted look evokes the streetwear-beloved puffer jacket, in conjunction with the (often deemed unfashionable) clog,” says Becker. “This spin feels fresh and adds an unlikely cool factor.”
While the squishy style can certainly be dressed down, some are pushing the look further by pairing the casual shoe with suiting and elevated staples. The same way sneakers made the shift from a sports-only option to something for any occasion, puffer clogs are moving into the mainstream. So why not throw a pair on for an unexpected touch with suiting or jeans?
The brand SUBU, known for puffer clogs they’ve trademarked as Unexpected Winter Sandals, makes the style in a bevy of patterns and prints, proving the pillowy design can be super special. It’s a particularly striking finish to something more polished, like a flowing long dress or skirt — and so long as you pick pieces with the same easy, free-spirited feel as the footwear, the unlikely mix should work. (Read: relaxed silk shifts are a better bet than tight and short LBDs.)
Still, house shoes and gowns are not for everyone. So if the high contrast, slightly camp route is a no-go, feel free to go the actual camp route — think quilted jackets, stretchy pants, and waffle knit layers. After all, with aesthetics like cabincore and gorpcore on the rise, the puffer clog works well for its intended non-fashion utilitarian purpose, and still looks pretty cute in the process.
Below, shop a few of TZR’s favorite pairs of fashion-friendly puffer clogs from the aforementioned brands and more.
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