On a recent Saturday morning, while waiting in line for a croissant at a trendy bakery in downtown Manhattan, I spotted a pair of coffee-colored, rather gelatinous-looking, slip-on shoes. The wearer paired them with white tube socks, obviously, and a preppy, Emma Chamberlain-inspired ensemble.
I started noticing this particular footwear everywhere. Later, I’d learn from an Instagram ad that they are French gardening clogs made with 100% recyclable plastic and hemp. Completely waterproof, they’re designed to be worn for harvesting vegetables, cooking, and, evidently, going on pastry runs. Adjustable Shoe Stretcher
We could attribute this trend to early aughts gorpcore fashion, or the necessity for comfort in a post-pandemic world, but there’s no denying the footwear’s roots in the culinary industry. Restaurant workers have always relied on waterproof, slip-resistant clogs to get them through long hours spent at the back of the house. And when chefs (aka Carmy from The Bear) become the new cool, so too do their kitchen-safe shoes.
This is not the first time I’ve seen rubber shoes romping around New York City. Crocs have been reveling in their comeback for quite some time now. On the streetwear spectrum, Merrel’s otherworldly Hydro Mocs have been making a scene, as have Aime Leon Doré’s Garden Mule. Prada even has its own $625 version. And of the more mainstream varieties, there’s Hunter’s Play Clogs, Ugg’s Tasman X, and Birkenstock’s Super-Birki.
The classic Dansko clog has been a favorite among chefs—as well as cool aunts—for decades, praised for the “anti-fatigue rocker bottom” that provides the kind of lower-back support you need while standing on your feet all day. But chefs are now starting to see even more options appear before their eyes. “I wore a lot of Crocs, and then I discovered all these other, well-designed, thoughtful rubber clogs that I now wear, either in the kitchen or in my daily life,” says Woldy Reyes, the chef behind boutique catering company and roving popup, Woldy Kusina.
Before founding Woldy Kusina, Reyes spent six years working in the fashion industry. Today, he continues to work with brands like J. Crew and Stella McCartney, through which he now showcases artful presentations of modern Filipino food.
For both cooking and shooting fashion campaigns, Reyes is a fan of Gardenheir’s emerald green Italian garden clogs, as well as the aforementioned recycled hemp clogs, which he now sees “a lot of New Yorkers wearing.” They’re utilitarian, yet chic. “The way that they’re cut out, and the way that they sit on your foot, is just so different from the other kitchen shoes out there,” he says.
"The way that they sit on your foot is just so different from the other kitchen shoes out there."
Shows like The Bear and Bon Appetit’s Test Kitchen are turning the otherwise utilitarian chef uniform into something aspirational (see: the aestheticization of the deli container). Cristina Spiridakis and Courtney Wheeler, the costume designers behind The Bear, struck a balance between honoring the outfit choices typical of Chicago chefs and injecting personality into each character’s wardrobe. The result? Everyone wanted Carmy’s basic white T-shirt. Similarly, brands like Tilit and Hedley & Bennett have been modernizing workwear with sleek chef coats and aprons.
“I think people are starting to see chefs being more thoughtful about their sartorial choices,” Reyes says. He cites a new wave of front-facing chefs—Sophia Roe, Danny Bowien, and Marcus Samuelsson, to name a few—who are channeling the expressive energy of their dishes with more creative fashion choices and then showcasing that style on social media. “I feel like the definition of a chef has sort of evolved in the last 10 years,” he says. “We’re starting to see chefs not just in restaurants, but on social media.”
In turn, consumers and larger fashion houses—whether it’s the chicken or the egg, it’s tough to say—are emulating the style of that trendy culinarian, elevating all things functional. “I think it's super cool that brands are taking notice of what chefs are wearing, and now chefs are sort of like muses,” Reyes says.
Some might argue that the rise of the kitchen clog, and its associations with chef-core, is part of our generation’s tendency—to quote Kim Kardashian—to bask in the fun without doing any of the hard work: to want to be a cook, to want to dress like a cook, but to not actually be a cook. Or, maybe we’re just really good at playing dress-up.
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