If you, like me, have been aimlessly looking for new spring shoes for the last few days (this despite the fact that we've been under the constant threat of snow in New York City even though it's April), you probably have noticed a trend: almost every shoe is backless.
Much like the divisive cold-shoulder top—which first started to gain traction in late-2015, before reaching its peak in Fall 2017, and achieving the ultimate backlash in the form of Kara Brown's Jezebel piece "I Hate These Goddamn Tops" in March 2017—the backless shoe has been on the scene for some time now, just laying in wait for its real breakout moment, aka now.
In a narrative ripped straight from Miranda Priestly's mouth, this trend started on the runway in the form of the now-ubiquitous Gucci Provincetown mule, which can be seen—rain or snow or shine—on the feet of every third person who is climbing the stairs in front of me at the Broadway-Lafayette subway station in SoHo. And the trickle-down effect has been enormous. When shopping online for shoes, there are now entirely new categories encompassing "mules and slides," where once there were… not. (No, really, most sites just had, like, "flats" and "heels" and "boots." But that's all changed.)
And it was while perusing Madewell's shoe selection recently that I realized we have reached the apex of the backless shoe trend: the Sophia fold-down flat. While Madewell has more than its fair share of backless shoe options in general, the Sophia stands out because, much like the high-end Gucci fold-down loafer (the Brixton) it's emulating, it's designed to look like its wearer so desperately needed to show the world her bare heels that she, um, crushed the backs of the shoes herself.
Madewell is not the first mid-range brand to do this (see: Jeffrey Campbell's Triumph loafer), but there's something about Madewell's entry into the extreme backless shoe fold that feels like a turning point. Probably it's Madewell's aggressive inoffensiveness. Nobody likes Madewell because they're interested in complicated fashion. So, while someone might be seeking out the Pierre Hardy version of a fold-over shoe—called 'The Secret Mule,' it's been recommended on Goop, and retails for $595—because they're trying to look unique and to stand out, that's not what anyone goes to Madewell for. Instead, they turn to Madewell to look like everyone else, and, in so doing, to look the most like themselves.
All of that is well and good, but the real question with any fashion trend ought to be: Is it easy to wear? In the case of the backless shoe, it seems like it shouldn't be. It exposes a part of the body that often gets neglected, meaning that, if you want to start wearing backless shoes on an everyday basis, you might want to start paying more attention to moisturizing your heels. And, in the same way wearing a cold-shoulder top makes it difficult to wear a bra, you can't really wear socks with your backless shoes—and feet, as we all know, can get pretty stinky. (Although, actually, if you take your backless shoe inspiration from the perfect Instagram account @thecloglife, you'll see that it's totally possible, even encouraged, to wear chunky socks with a distinctively chunky backless shoe.)
And anyway: Those issues are merely cosmetic; the pleasure of a backless shoe actually relies upon how easy they are to wear. There are no laces, no constrictions. Wearing them is like wearing your slippers out into the street, only you'll have multiple people stopping you asking where you got them. And while the backless shoe can be seen in spike-heeled incarnations, far more frequently it's found in flats or block-heeled mules or barely teetering kitten heels, making it even more the embodiment of the kind of effortlessness that most of us, consciously or not, think is the epitome of style. They're inherently casual, while also having an intentionality that's often lacking in similarly comfortable shoes. They make a statement without making you work too hard, and who doesn't want that kind of sartorial shortcut once in a while?
Now that even Target offers a blatant Gucci Provincetown rip-off (the Kona slip-on from A New Day), will there be a backlash to all this backless-ness? Will there soon be an "I Hate These Goddamn Shoes" blog post? Maybe, but, as can also be seen with the backlash to the cold-shoulder trend, that doesn't mean much for what will surely be a long and lingering tail of backless shoes, as the ubiquitousness of the style on social media breeds a familiarity so complete that soon we won't remember a time before Madewell and the like even had a "mules" tab on its site.
All of which is to say, maybe it's time to try the Baby Foot Peel you've also been hearing about since roughly about the time that the Provincetown first started appearing on everyone's feet. Hard to say for sure, unless you believe, like I do, that there are no coincidences in late-stage capitalism.