One writer discovers a practical upside to platform sneakers – their ability to guard against the elements
A month or two ago, I acquired two pairs of hulking, ‘90s-inspired Buffalo London x Opening Ceremony platform sneaker clogs. (No longer available, but similar styles here.) When I opened the box, I knew immediately that these shoes—one pair black, one white—were not at all what I wanted. What I’d been after, perhaps, was a celestial portal to an earlier time. It’s quite a lot to ask of footwear. In the flesh, these clodhoppers required both strength and shelf space. And yet, the trick about snagging $165 shoes for $50 is that they arrive on your doorstep final sale; no returns accepted.
Imagine my surprise when I reluctantly tied the multi-pound monstrosities on and realized that, not only are they a game-changing look, they’re positively practical. In Los Angeles, it’d been raining for weeks, shooting streams down the sidewalk; all of a sudden, instead of soaking my running shoes, I was walking on water. Well, not on water—through it. But the effect was the same; the platform sneaker’s rubber lug sole, like the indented gripper you might find on a hiking boot, doesn’t absorb water and the height puts the thick leather upper above the elements. Sure, platform sneakers would be ill-advised for the Iditarod, but they should carry you seamlessly through your commute.
The Spice Girls made platform sneakers an iconic pre-Y2K staple; models like Slick Woods and Gigi Hadid have made them new again. While the return of the platform sneaker has been widely noted, the shoe’s largely been covered as one more 90s accessory making a return visit. But unlike the silk slip dress or the crop top, platform sneakers help the wearer navigate winter and spring: mud, dampness, snow, and salted roads.
As it turns out, this was one of the platform’s founding features. For hundreds of years before pop stars dangled their platforms over couch arms on Instagram, women across the world have relied on the style to protect them from the elements. In Japan, geta—open-toed sandals with wooden platforms—help safeguard both the wearer and their outfit from dragging; better yet, a 2007 study by physical therapy researchers at the Prefectural University of Hiroshima found that geta could prevent foot disorders and falls.
It’s difficult to trace the first platform; for instance, even the ancient geta are said to have been inspired by clogs from China’s Hainan Province. Evidence of practical platforms has also been found in pre-modern Turkey, Greece, India, Spain, and elsewhere.
In Venice, the chopine or zoccoli—an oft-more-heavily-uppered shoe with a high platform—was all the rage from the 15th to 17thcenturies. This makes intuitive sense; Venice floods! And yet, the chopine could hardly be considered a weather shoe; many of the styles were so sumptuous and unwieldy that the wearer depended upon servants to navigate the streets in them.
Platforms have been around for ages, but the sneaker wasn’t invented until the late 19thcentury. While platforms and sneakers may seem an odd combination, at a certain level—let’s say three inches or less—it can be a generative match: function meets function.
Do platform sneakers have form? The mind, which abhors dissonance, can be driven to assign the object in question to one column: attractive, neutral, repellant. We might, if purely for the exercise, resist such categorization. The French have the term “jolie lade,” which translates directly to “pretty ugly,” but means more. If the platform sneaker lands somewhere, it may be close to there.
For a contemporary all-weather option, do not as I did: the platform sneaker clog in winter requires a thick sock and risks a twisted ankle. Best to find one with a full back. In the middle range, you might consider the Superga 2790, Topshop’s CHOMP Chunky Trainers, Jeffrey Campbell’s Top Peak 2 or one of Dolls Kill’s spirited offerings. (I’m partial to the Matrixx, which is Certainly A Look.) If you’re committed to the style and have money to spend, consider Stella McCartney’s all-in Eclypse or Versace’s Chain Reaction, which clocks in at a tame 1.8 inches. I couldn’t bear to wear either in the rain, but I’d smile if I saw it. Fun is part of this program.