The UGG boot, an icon of comfort and style, has traversed a remarkable journey from controversy to cultural acceptance. Born from modest beginnings, this unassuming sheepskin boot has become a beloved wardrobe staple for comfort seekers and fashion enthusiasts alike. Let’s embark on a journey through time to trace the intriguing history of the UGG boot.
The Early Days: Sheepskin Boots and the UGG Brand (1970s)
In the early 1970s, the UGG boot made its humble debut on the sandy beaches of Australia. Designed initially for surfers, these boots were crafted from twin-faced sheepskin, a material that provided both warmth and durability. They served a simple yet vital purpose – keeping feet snug and dry after a day of riding the waves.
The exact origin of the sheepskin boots that would later inspire the UGG brand remains shrouded in mystery. What we do know is that some version of these cozy moccasins could be found at Australia’s ocean-adjacent gas stations as far back as the 1960s. During this time, they gained popularity among surfers seeking relief from the cold and damp conditions, thanks to their exceptional warmth and moisture-wicking properties.
As the years rolled on, sheepskin boots became a staple along Australia’s beaches, particularly beloved by those seeking comfort in coastal settings. However, it wasn’t until 1978 that Brian Smith, who would soon become the founder of UGG, embarked on a mission to introduce these beloved surf accessories to the American market. At the time, he was a 28-year-old visionary with a passion for sharing the comfort and allure of sheepskin boots with a broader audience.
Big Steps in UGG’s Journey
By the mid-1980s, UGG had secured its official trademark in the U.S., marking a significant turning point for the once purely functional footwear. It was during this era that UGG boots began their gradual evolution into a genuine fashion statement. Sales were on the rise, prompting the emergence of more retailers, extensive ad campaigns, and an expanding client base.
The year 1993 marked a pivotal moment as the company was shipping over 3,000 pairs of UGG boots per day. However, the true tipping point occurred in the following year when emerging superstar Pamela Anderson graced the set of Baywatch, donning a pair of tall sheepskin boots. This iconic image not only captured the essence of casual comfort but also catapulted UGGs into the fashion spotlight.
Simultaneously, UGG boots received a high-profile endorsement when the U.S. Olympic team was outfitted with them for the opening ceremony in Norway. This widespread exposure further solidified UGGs as a symbol of comfort, style, and global recognition.
While UGGs may have initially found their footing as a utilitarian men’s shoe, the winds of change were blowing. Iconic figures like Jessica Alba, Adam Sandler, Paris Hilton, and Pamela Anderson had embraced the unmistakable UGG silhouette, signaling the untapped potential for growth. Recognizing this shift, Brian Smith decided to take an active approach. Rather than relying on chance celebrity sightings, he devised a strategic plan.
In a savvy move, Smith began offering complimentary UGGs to celebrity stylists and makeup artists, hoping to see the boots eventually gracing the feet of more famous personalities. This deliberate effort to align UGGs with the world of celebrity fashion marked a turning point in the brand’s journey.
Then, in 1995, came a significant development. Smith made the decision to sell UGG to Deckers Outdoor Corporation, an established American company known for its ownership of Teva, another practical footwear line that had its moment in the ’90s. This strategic shift opened a new chapter for UGG, placing it under the wing of a company with a deep understanding of the ever-evolving landscape of practical yet stylish footwear.
The Oprah Effect (2000)
In 2003, UGGs stepped firmly into the pop culture spotlight when Oprah Winfrey generously gifted 350 pairs of these cozy boots to her audience members during her famed “Oprah’s Favorite Things” segment. This generous gesture catapulted UGGs into the mainstream consciousness, further fueling their burgeoning popularity.
During the same year, UGG introduced fresh color options, including delicate light pink and baby blue variations alongside their classic chestnut. This expansion of the UGG color palette mirrored the evolving tastes of consumers, offering more choices to cater to individual style preferences.
UGGs were soon gracing the feet of renowned celebrities, including Paris Hilton and Sarah Jessica Parker. Parker, known for her iconic role in Sex and the City, even sported a custom pair in vibrant ruby red on the set of the show. This was an era characterized by rhinestones, mini skirts, and Juicy Couture, where fashion was as much about seeking attention as it was about seeking comfort. UGGs, with their distinctive puffy silhouette and foot-hugging features, seamlessly aligned with the bold and attention-grabbing trends of the time.
A Changing Landscape: UGG Faces Competition and Evolution
As the late 2000s unfolded, the fashion landscape witnessed a proliferation of companies attempting to emulate the success of the ubiquitous UGG boot. Notable names like Ed Hardy and Pamela Anderson, with her vegan-friendly shoe line Pammies, ventured into producing their variations of this beloved boot. These newcomers sought to capture the essence of UGG’s comfort and style, sparking a competitive environment that inspired UGG to take action.
In 2009, UGG made a significant move by collaborating with the renowned luxury brand Jimmy Choo. This collaboration birthed a highly controversial collection under the creative direction of Tamara Mellon. Mellon, driven by her belief that UGGs could be transformed from a “guilty pleasure” into a bold fashion statement, crafted a collection that reimagined the classic muk-luk-inspired UGGs. This audacious approach challenged conventional notions of luxury fashion and comfort.
A few years down the road, UGG once again demonstrated its capacity to evolve. The company introduced the “UGG Collection,” a luxury footwear line that ventured into the realm of high-end fashion with prices reaching into quadruple digits. This strategic expansion showcased UGG’s determination to cater to diverse tastes while maintaining its commitment to quality and style.
In 2010, an interesting fashion paradox emerged as D-list celebrities like Snooki from Jersey Shore embraced UGGs, often pairing them with unconventional choices like trucker hats and furry leopard shafts. This period witnessed a blend of contrasting styles.
During the same time, the Daily Mail listed UGGs alongside late-aughts trends like leggings and gladiator sandals as fashion turnoffs for straight men. This marked a moment of conflicting fashion sensibilities.
Notably, early UGG trendsetters like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie had shifted from being fashion icons to, for some, adversaries. UGGs temporarily faded from the spotlight, and their chestnut-colored sheepskin boots were no longer considered a fashion statement but rather a symbol of relaxed and outdated dressing—essentially, they became “basic.”
This intriguing phase in UGG’s history highlights the fluid nature of fashion trends and the evolving perceptions within the fashion world. It reminds us that even during moments of scrutiny, UGGs would eventually reassert their appeal, showcasing their enduring versatility in the world of style.
In 2018, the fashion world witnessed an unexpected yet captivating collaboration when Glenn Martens, the designer behind Y/Project, sent a pair of thigh-high UGGs down the runway as part of the brand’s ready-to-wear collection. This daring fusion of high fashion and UGG’s iconic comfort was an instant sensation, marking what many regard as the emergence of our present-day fascination with meme-driven fashion trends.
This groundbreaking partnership not only challenged conventional boundaries but also paved the way for a new era in fashion—one driven by viral and meme-worthy moments that transcended traditional style norms.
A few years later, the fashion landscape received another jolt of energy when the late Vogue fashion editor and fashion icon, André Leon Talley, took the reins of an UGG campaign. His endorsement added a significant boost to the company’s visibility and influence, with his co-sign resonating throughout the fashion world.
The collective efforts of visionaries like Martens and Talley inadvertently spearheaded a fresh series of sought-after UGG collaborations with cult brands, including Eckhaus Latta, Telfar, and Shayne Oliver. This was a testament to UGG’s enduring ability to bridge the gap between nostalgia and contemporary fashion, creating a unique space for itself in the ever-evolving world of style and innovation.
In 2022, Bella Hadid stepped out in UGG’s revamped Ultra Mini boot, featuring a platform sole. Suddenly, a new generation of fashion enthusiasts was clamoring for UGG boots, just as teens had nearly 20 years prior when UGGs first hit the scene. The revamped design breathed new life into the classic UGG silhouette, giving it a modern twist. TikTok played a pivotal role in fueling the trend, with users sharing Y2K references, DIY videos (cutting “outdated” ankle-height boots into “minis”), and hauls. Whether this resurgence is a symptom of Gen-Z’s desire to stay cozy or indicative of our cultural reverence for celebrity style isn’t clear. Still, like the Y2K revival, it’s evident that UGGs aren’t going anywhere.
The journey of UGG boots is a testament to the ever-changing landscape of fashion. They’ve experienced ups and downs, controversies, and resurgences, proving that comfort and style can coexist harmoniously. UGGs have proven their staying power, reminding us that true fashion icons can withstand the test of time. So, whether you’re a longtime UGG enthusiast or a newcomer to the trend, these boots have carved a unique place in the world of fashion that’s here to stay.