The Current·Q&A

The pandemic fuelled a need 'to be seen' — even in Crocs, says psychologist

Carolyn Mair — a psychologist, business consultant and author of The Psychology of Fashion — helps to explain the foamy, colourful, comfy clogs' resurgence.

Gen Z has joined celebs like Justin Bieber rocking the comfy-yet-divisive clogs

Footwear is offered for sale at a Crocs retail store on July 22, 2021 in Chicago, Ill. Crocs Inc., reported in July its sales reached $640 million US in the second quarter of the year, nearly what it made in the same period of 2020. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Read Story Transcript

Crocs are back. Not the reptiles — the shoes.

The foamy, colourful, comfy clogs waltzed onto the scene in the early 2000s, then quickly fell out of style. But they've somehow returned during the pandemic, with the likes of Justin Bieber, Post Malone and Kendall Jenner being spotted wearing them.

According to BBC News, the Colorado-based Crocs Inc., announced last week they reached a record $640 million US ($799 million Cdn) of sales in the second quarter of 2021 — nearly double last year's numbers in the same period.

But time has not dulled the divisive nature of Crocs, as they continue to raise the ire of fashion-forward commentators.

The Current's guest host Robyn Bresnahan spoke with Carolyn Mair — a psychologist, business consultant and author of The Psychology of Fashion — to better understand the shoes' resurgence. Here is part of their conversation.

I think we'd better get this question out of the way early on. Do you own a pair of Crocs yourself?

No, I don't.

Oh, why not?

Because … I think they're extremely ugly. The aesthetic is absolutely not what I like in a pair of shoes, or in any object. But I can see why people do like them.

What do you make of the fact that they're back in style now?

Well, I think they answer a lot of questions that we want from our clothing and particularly from footwear. So they're comfortable, they're functional, they're light, they can be personalized and they're relatively affordable. So I think that [for] those reasons they've made the comeback, and particularly since the pandemic, when those characteristics [were] something that people were looking for.

You say that this partly comes from our need to be shocked, to embrace these products. What do you mean by that?

The way that we make sense of the world is that as we become more used to something, we stop paying attention to it. So when things become the norm, whether that's an item of fashion or an object or a person, when we become used to that, we stop paying attention to them.

So the idea of having something that's ugly or extremely beautiful at the other end — if we consider Crocs to be the other end of the spectrum — then we're going to pay attention to them. So the thing that grabs our attention is the difference about them, this shock that gets our attention.

And I think this is what people are looking for now. They want to be seen. After having … almost a year and a half of being locked away and being unseen, people are looking for fashion items that really shout out and say: "Here I am. Look at me."

Musician Questlove dons a pair of shimmering gold Crocs on the red carpet at the 93rd Annual Academy Awards, April 25, 2021, in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello/Pool/Getty Images)

So where have these appeared, where ordinarily you wouldn't see Crocs?

Well, on a runway show. So, for example, I mean, they have been shown previously prior to the pandemic. Christopher Kane had bedazzled jewellery-encrusted Crocs in 2017, actually, and his spring and summer collection in 2018. Balenciaga showed them, you know with platforms.

And then recently in the spring 2022, they showed a knee-high rain boot from Crocs. So they're diversifying in there, so they're not just making clogs anymore, but also very bright-green Crocs with a stiletto heel. So this is very unusual.

You did say high-heel Crocs, right?

Stilettos, even.

OK, all right. Hopefully they're made of something other than rubber because that's an ankle injury waiting to happen.

Definitely.

Rows of the colourful clogs at the Crocs retail store in Chicago. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

How do you think the pandemic has changed our concept of fashion?

The pandemic has changed us in ways that we could not have predicted. So normally when psychologists talk about behaviour change, we understand that is a long process, that we change one element at a time, and it's an iterative process that takes quite a long time.

However, in the pandemic, in a matter of months, people began to change their behaviours, their habits, and consequently, after a year or so, people's priorities have changed. So they have begun to understand what matters more to them. And a lot of this is around valuing being with their loved ones, for example, but also valuing freedom, and the freedom of choice and the ability to be spontaneous and the ability to be seen….

I think the pandemic has really changed behaviour in a way that the psychologists or anybody else interested in changing perceptions and changing behaviour could have predicted.

I know you don't have a pair of Crocs now, but I understand you did buy a fancy black velour jumpsuit. How's that working for you?

Well, I still love it. You know, it's not something I would have bought prior to the pandemic.


Written by Jonathan Ore. Produced by Ben Jamieson. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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