Surfing the Crocs wave

The first time I tried on a pair of Crocs was in a study hall. This kid named Marlin swiped them and told me I had to try them. Marlin was not known for his clothing choices. He liked to wear thick white socks with flip flops; the strap stuck in the cotton between his toes. But curiosity got the better of me, so I put on the Crocs. The sweat left by Marlin’s bare feet lubricated the plastic against my own skin, and I felt nothing but revulsion. It was a no for me. But it turns out Marlin was just ahead of his time.

Now, more than ten years after graduating from high school, I think Crocs are the coolest. I have several pairs and want more. And I am not alone in this case. These days, Crocs appear in Post Malone’s paparazzi photos and on the Balenciaga catwalks. Since the genesis of Crocs in 2001, wearers of these clunky plastic clogs have gone from clueless vacation dads to TikTok fashion babes. What was corny is cool and what is cool to people is always arbitrary. All I want right now are big, comfy shoes that look like cartoons.

I once had a friend with a Wrangler explain the “Jeep wave” to me — a two-fingered salute that Jeep drivers share when passing each other. My buddy was embarrassed by the Jeep culture and pretended he never saw the brothers gesturing through their large front windows. I found a similar camaraderie among Crocs wearers, but I’m not ashamed at all. When I wear Crocs and compliment a stranger who wears Crocs, we are simply having the time of our lives. We talk about the pairs we have, the pairs we want, the kind of innate stupidity that accompanies wearing shoes that are objectively quite ugly.

It’s funny how owning certain things fosters that sense of community. Do PT Cruiser pilots have an obscure handshake? Do Converse wearers share any secret looks? (I’ll never know — my feet are too wide for Converse.) For me, it seems like joining the Crocs club comes with a special energy. Conversations with other Crocs monsters take place in the narrow valley between being in on the joke and not joking at all.

The tiny charms that plug into the holes in the Crocs are called “Jibbitz”. We haven’t allowed an upside down “R” yet Chicago Reader charm, even if it would be cute. Credit: Megan Kirby

And if our conversation lasts long enough, I can ask them if they’ve been to the Crocs store on State Street: an assortment of options, in every color you could name. The single storefront contains enough plastic to ensure the death of our planet, and my god, I need this lime green pair in the storefront. They also offer an obscene amount of Jibbitz (which are the charms you can plug into the holes in a Crocs). Weed leaves and cans of Diet Coke and a little propeller cap where the propeller actually spins – you name it, they have a Jibbitz version of it. Every time I hear someone say “Jibbitz” out loud, I feel like I should call the police.

I’m not breaking new ground by saying that Crocs are cool. They’ve been in vogue for a while, and I’m riding that wave. But I feel inspired by their evolution, because the shoe itself has never really changed. It’s like the ugly duckling kept it simple but got a whole lot better when it came to personal branding. This reminds me of the rapid movement of trend cycles. One minute you’re at the top, and the next you’re in the gutter. Seeing the change in the public’s response to this pair of absurd plastic clogs makes me see how pointless it is to try to keep up anyway. Better to focus on your own style and pick trends when they fit.

When I was 20, I loved trying to be the coolest girl in the room. I don’t regret doing this. Sure, that might sound a little superficial, but it was a lot of fun. It was also a ton of work to keep track of what other people thought was trending and measure myself against those judgements. Now that I’m over 30, I can see that being cool doesn’t have to be a competition. Lately it’s been more like a little game I’m playing on my own. The crocs are right now. Maybe in a few years they will be away. But I no longer feel trapped by these cycles. I prefer to choose the clothes that match my body and my style, and believe that if I think they are trendy, others can be convinced.

I just bought a pair of giant, white, orthopedic New Balance shoes. They’re decidedly cheesy, but I’m at a point in my life where arch support needs to be thrown into the trend cycle. The other day, a man in his sixties got on the bus with exactly the same shoes as me. We didn’t exchange secret handshakes or secret nods, but I think we both knew: we’re just ahead of the times.

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