We're wearing Ugg boots... again?

Updated 5th January 2022
Credit: Getty Images
We're wearing Ugg boots... again?
Written by Leah Dolan, CNN
As the trend for Y2K-inspired fashion continues to resurface wardrobe staples from 20 years ago, it was only a matter of time before the Ugg boot made its divisive return.

Over the past year, reformed versions of the classic beige sheepskin shoes have been spotted on Hailey Bieber and Bella Hadid, as well as TikTok influencers Victoria Paris and Lauren Wolfe (who have a combined following of 1.6 million on the app). Cher has become the latest A-lister to endorse the brand, when she was recently revealed as the new face of Ugg for Spring 2022.
In a 2021 Halloween vlog titled "Ugg season," Emma Chamberlain -- a 20-year-old YouTube star who recently attended the Met Gala as a Louis Vuitton ambassador -- guiltily admitted to her 11 million subscribers that she was, in fact, "wearing leggings and Uggs boots."
"Like, I'm turning into something I never thought I'd turn into," she said, laughing. "What is happening to my identity right now?"
Love them or hate them, Uggs boots have long been something of a celebrity appendage. In the early aughts, there was no occasion too formal and no get-together too low-key for the shoe to make an appearance. Their presence seemed to permeate across time, space and dress code. In 1996, Minnie Driver donned a pair of tall, beige ones for the red carpet premiere of "Scream," while Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Roberts, Beyoncé and Kate Moss were all snapped running errands in their slightly water-stained shearling shoes.
Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie and Jessica Alba wearing Uggs in the early noughties.
Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie and Jessica Alba wearing Uggs in the early noughties. Credit: Getty Images
So prolific were Uggs that just the sight of them now conjures potent memories of the 2000s zeitgeist. Low-slung jeans, off-center fedoras and Paris Hilton seem inscribed into their very fabric.
But the story of the Ugg boot begins years before TMZ paparazzi shots, and far away from the star-studded boulevards of Los Angeles, on a sandy beach in San Diego.

Origin of the Ugg

Australian surfer and entrepreneur Brian Smith designed the first iteration of the Ugg boot in 1978 after relocating to Southern California. Tan, soft and round-toed, it was identical to the version later sported by Hollywood A-listers. Smith's invention was snubbed by the traditional shoe market at the time, but SoCal's surfing community was quick to champion Uggs for their functionality (the shearling-lined boot could be slipped on without socks after a quick towel dry).
After Uggs had accrued the cachet of surf subculture approval, Smith was able to edge his way further into the sportswear industry. The shoe's warm shearling interior was embraced by ski and snowboard enthusiasts, and in the 1980's, the boot's biggest fans were high school hockey teams in the midwest and eastern parts of the US. The brand soon spread across the student ecosystem. "The peer pressure was intense," Smith recalls in a phone interview from his home in San Diego. "If you didn't have a pair of Uggs in high school, you were just not cool."
Neil Young performs on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 1993 wearing a pair of Uggs gifted to him by founder Brian Smith.
Neil Young performs on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 1993 wearing a pair of Uggs gifted to him by founder Brian Smith. Credit: NBCUniversal
In the early 1990s, Smith wanted more exposure for his creation. While on a flight he spotted another passenger absorbed in the pages of People Magazine, and he decided, there and then, to try and break the boots into Hollywood. Smith wrote to 400 fashion stylists offering a free pair of Uggs to any celebrities that were interested. According to Smith, his offer was soon taken up by Neil Young, Brooke Shields, Tom Cruise and Kate Hudson. But it wasn't until the year 2000, five years after Smith sold the company to multi-brand footwear giant Deckers Outdoor Corporation, that things began heating up.
The Bromley Group, a New York marketing agency hired by Deckers, continued Smith's strategy of celebrity endorsement and started shipping Uggs to movie sets in the hopes stars might wear them in between takes. The goal, Bromley Group account supervisor Julie Nuernberg told PR week in 2003, was to promote this formless, functional and frankly unsexy shoe as a must-have fashion item, or "something you would wear with a mini (skirt) out shopping," she said some 20 years ago. (Soon after, a mini skirt and a pair of Uggs would become the brand's defining visual legacy thanks to Y2K luminaries Nicole Richie, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan).
Like anything born out of the fame-obsessed noughties, the fate of Uggs hinged on the brand's ability to gain a celebrity following -- which it did almost instantly. Oprah Winfrey first spotlighted Uggs on her Favorite Things list in 2000, doling out 350 pairs of Uggs to her staff and further exposing the label to her millions of loyal viewers.
Sarah Jessica Parker in a pair of the boots at the height of their popularity in 2005.
Sarah Jessica Parker in a pair of the boots at the height of their popularity in 2005. Credit: Arnaldo Magnani/Getty
"Nike had jogging take off, Reebok had aerobics take off, Zoom had the pandemic take off and for (Uggs) it was Oprah," said Smith. "Oprah was what took (Uggs) worldwide. And that's how it got into the billions."
Oprah continued championing the brand for more than two decades, including a new colorway collection that was again featured on Favorite Things in 2003 and a sequined version in 2010. Even Winfrey's most recent list features a plug for Uggs.
For the masses, Uggs perfectly entwined the off-duty-model look with the SoCal style popularized by shows like "Laguna Beach" and "The O.C." Between 2002 and 2003, sales had increased 300%. There were month-long waiting lists to purchase the boots as manufacturers ran out and store supplies dried up. The shoes were being resold on eBay for a markup of over 200%, reported New York Magazine in 2003. Out on the street, things weren't looking much better, with customers "fighting and crying to get a pair," one store owner told NYMag.
Kate Moss wears Uggs on a walk around West London, 2003.
Kate Moss wears Uggs on a walk around West London, 2003. Credit: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
But once supply caught up with demand, and a slew of counterfeits began hitting the shelves, Uggs went from aspirational accessory to generic garb. The market had become saturated with the caramel-colored boots, so much so that the shine of celebrity endorsement was dimmed by the ubiquity of Uggs out on the streets. In 2009, British newspaper the Independent dubbed Uggs "the Australian footwear that makes you look like you've got child-bearing ankles."
"Even the glossy posse of Sienna Miller and Cameron Diaz can't carry them off with any conviction," it continued.
Suddenly the boots were relegated to private use only. While their comfort was undeniable, Uggs were no longer markers of unpretentious, casual luxury but were instead shamefully slouchy.
But, a decade on, tastes have turned once more: Google searches for "Uggs" increased 90% last month. "I was in Paris recently and just couldn't believe how many Ugg boots I saw," said Smith.
Kaia Gerber wearing ultra mini Uggs earlier this year.
Kaia Gerber wearing ultra mini Uggs earlier this year. Credit: Rachpoot/MEGA/GC Images
Much like the renaissance of Crocs -- the foamy gardening shoe that has recently released sold out collaborations with musicians Post Malone and Justin Bieber -- the pandemic could be to blame for our transgressive tastes. According to Lucila Saldana, footwear and accessories strategist at trend forecasting firm WGSN, comfort was king in 2020 and 2021 -- and fashion took note.
"Two-mile-wear shoes, meaning footwear that is comfortable to be at home and functional enough to run errands, exploded as a commercial and design consideration during the pandemic," she said via email. It was the perfect storm for an Ugg revival: A cosy shoe that simultaneously conjures the heady days of the early 2000s, an era that has exerted enormous influence over fashion since 2018.

Fashionably unflattering

Today, the brand has been busy joining forces with a throng of buzzy high-fashion designers, reimagining the very essence of Uggs and ushering in a new, edgier demographic. In February 2019, bicoastal cult label Eckhaus Latta unleashed square-toed Ugg mules on the world during New York Fashion Week. The following year, Uggs set its sights on esteemed British fashion designer Molly Goddard and crafted a three-piece footwear collection of towering lime green platform slip-ons, fuzzy wool slippers and floral appliqué boots.
Feng Chen's version of the Ugg boot is both opulent and orthopedic-looking.
Feng Chen's version of the Ugg boot is both opulent and orthopedic-looking. Credit: UGG
In October, Uggs collaborated with affordable luxury brand, Telfar, to create a collection that spiked search interest by 94% in 48 hours, according to fashion website Lyst. Earlier this month, Chinese designer Feng Chen released a buckled-strap version of the Ugg boot.
While not everyone is on board with the brand's new off-beat styles (Smith admitted he sometimes "wonders who the company is chasing"), limited edition products and high-fashion partnerships keep the 43-year-old label fresh while offering an air of exclusivity -- the antidote to Uggs' cause of death over 10 years ago.
It appears to be working: Searches for Uggs on Pinterest in the US this month were up 60% compared to January 2021, and data also shows a 300% increase in use of the phrase "Ugg outfits" in the UK. "Noughties brand 'Ugg' is set to make a revival in 2022," said Jessica Payne, Pinterest's head of fashion in an email, citing the celebrity starpower of Kaia Gerber -- who often wears ultra mini Uggs with her pilates outfits -- as a driving force.
Molly Goddard's collaboration with Ugg was unveiled during London Fashion Week 2020.
Molly Goddard's collaboration with Ugg was unveiled during London Fashion Week 2020. Credit: Ben Broomfield @photobenphoto
Since Smith sold the brand in 1995 for $15 million ($27.7 million in today's money) revenue has jumped to an eye-watering $1.5 billion, the New York Times reported. So does the founder regret his decision to cash out of one fashion's most recognized labels, especially given this surprising second wind?
"No. I'm really happy," he said. "It was like walking my daughter down the aisle to get married to a new husband. I was really proud that I'd built what I had. And I knew that for it to grow and thrive, it had to get into bigger hands than mine."
Top image: Models Kaia Gerber, Emily Ratajkowski and Elsa Hosk wear reformed versions of Uggs.