How Crocs conquered the world.

Examining culture and the arts.
July 13 2007 10:55 AM

The Croc Epidemic

How a heinous synthetic shoe conquered the world.

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Crocs may be popular, but it's the rare Croc lover who considers them fashionable. As Kim France, the editor in chief of Lucky, the shopping magazine, told me, "Uggs I can make an argument for. Jellies also had their moment of being cute and cool. Crocs are just a pox." The first time she saw a male friend in them, she recalls, she asked him, "Are you really going to make me walk down the street with you?" And so today, the company is at a crossroads. The public's affection for shoe styles is notoriously fickle. (Remember earth shoes?) In June, 50 percent of Croc's shares were sold short by short-seller investors who think that the company's stock will plummet soon. Though the company has made a series of strategic licensing deals and partnerships with subsidiaries, it is still largely dependent on its signature clogs and now flip-flops. Striving to position itself for a fall-off in demand, Crocs plans to launch new clothing and shoe lines this fall that will depart from its signature resin formula and will feature pieces costing between $70 and $100. Who knows whether this strategy will succeed, but at Paragon, one employee was waiting eagerly for the shipment of new flip-flop styles. "I hate the way the old Crocs look," he said. "But they are comfortable."

History suggests that Crocs are more likely to be a passing fad, like Dr. Scholl's, than a true innovation, like the sneaker. The very thing that has made them such a huge hit, after all—their ugly duckling distinctiveness—is also likely to make it hard for the company to go mainstream in any enduring sense. On the other hand, the trademarked Croslite material is an ace in the hole: If the traditional Croc clogs I tried on felt too confining on a summer day, the Croc flip-flops were delightfully springy. The company's sporty Sassari wedge suggests that when it comes to summerwear its designers may be developing at least some aesthetic sense.* But for now, my old platform flip-flops will do.

*Correction, July 13, 2007: This piece originally misspelled the Croc model Sassari.

Meghan O'Rourke is Slate's culture critic and an advisory editor. She was previously an editor at The New Yorker. The Long Goodbye, a memoir about her mother's death, is now out in paperback.