Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
When I first moved to New York City, my first jobs were as a sales associate at the now-defunct Borders, a counter service waitress at a restaurant on the Upper West Side, and an unpaid intern at a fashion magazine (and yes, I held them all at the same time). All three were fairly physically demanding and required me to be on my feet for long periods of time.
On any given day, I’d be hauling vats of foodstuffs up and down the stairs; ringing up customers or re-shelving endless stacks of books; or schlepping heavy garment bags across the city. Even then as a nimble 21-year-old, I felt the physical (and emotional) weight of these long hours sink down into the soles of my flat feet — and into the flat insoles of my Chuck Taylors.
At the recommendation of my restaurant coworker (who was pregnant at the time, no less), I invested in a pair of Dansko Professional Clogs. She promised they were going to offer better support. They turned out to be life-changing.
The iconic Dansko Professional Clogs. You definitely know what these shoes look like: bulbous toe shape, boxy fit, swollen cuff that runs across the foot, slightly curved outsole. The Dansko silhouette, which is modeled after the wooden clogs of Scandinavia, remains incredibly faithful to the traditional clogs that have been worn for centuries by the likes of Dutch farmers. Except, well, they’re a bit funkier.
While most people opt for the black or brown leather, Dansko Professional Clogs come in many different colors and finishes, including psychedelic prints, patent leather, and metallics (this season, they even have a very on-trend embroidered version.) Ungraceful and kind of heavy, Danskos are one of the stiffest shoes on the market, with their hard rubbery heels and soles that rock forward instead of bending. I affectionately call them the “human hooves.”
To me, Danskos are the epitome of the “ugly shoe” that not even the fashion crowd — which has openly embraced other ugly shoes like Tevas and Birkenstocks and dad sneakers — are willing to accept. (Although it should be noted that Rachel Comey released a higher-heeled version, called the Almer Wedge Clog, in the fall of 2015, which is the closest Dansko-inspired style I’ve seen in the fashion world.)
But for those of us who have, or formerly had, intense on-your-feet professions (you’ll find many Dansko wearers working at restaurants or hospitals), these shoes remain a cult favorite for their phenomenal comfort and spine alignment properties.
My first fitting was a sensation in itself. With the guidance of a shoe salesman, I slipped my feet into a pair that he convinced me was my correct size. It felt too roomy inside the shoe; my toes were wiggling around all willy-nilly. He assured me that my toes were not supposed to touch the front of the clog; he also said that my heel was not supposed to touch the back of the clog. My foot was basically dangling inside a box.
When I walked around the store, my heels, unsurprisingly, popped out every time, and the rocking motion of the curved heel made me feel like I was going to trip and fall with every step. But the rubberized sole kept me planted firm. And even though the heels were only two inches high, I felt so much taller while wearing them. (Maybe that was just my posture straightening out?)
I had a great run with my Danskos during those first trying years in New York as I was figuring out a career trajectory. When food deliveries bottlenecked at the restaurant, I happily flung off my apron and volunteered to walk my Danskos down several blocks and up five flights of stairs to deliver meals myself. When I was assigned early morning 6 a.m. shifts at the bookstore, I relished in the tiny luxury of not having to agonize over what shoes to wear. On nice days (or on days I was especially broke), I was able to walk myself back home to Brooklyn, my Danskos comfortably taking me over the Williamsburg Bridge.
The only job that kept my clogs at home were on the days I’d work for the fashion magazine. My self-consciousness overruled being comfortable, even though I’d be at all-day photo shoots or hauling entire wardrobes across the city.
When my series of restaurant and retail jobs eventually gave way to office jobs, it meant that I didn’t have to wear my Danskos for utility anymore. In fact, I would have felt rather fraudulent wearing them to work when I knew I’d be in front of a computer all day, writing emails or blog posts, while the real Dansko-wearing women I’d see on the subway would be wearing them with hospital scrubs. When I got rid of my first pair of Danskos, I felt a sense of pride and good riddance, being able to shed that early phase of my adult life behind me.
But these clogs mean more to me now that I’m older. I’ve had a rollercoaster of a love-hate relationship with Danskos over the past decade where I’d buy a pair, resell them, then buy another pair, and then resell them again.
After I quit that job, I tried a bunch of different things that didn’t keep me restricted to an office — I was back on the grind, and back on my feet. I made very little money and I often regretted leaving a steady job, but even with a depleting bank account, I knew that the investment of buying another pair of Danskos was necessary.
I didn’t just miss the IDGAF-attitude of them — I missed them because these shoes are actually good for my aging body. The Dansko clogs were always onto something, and were here long before today’s fashion clogs came onto the scene.
Sure, Danskos are nowhere near as cute (or even remotely attractive) as the No.6 or Swedish Hasbeens clogs — which, it should be noted, don't carry the American Podiatric Medical Associations Seal of Acceptance like Danskos do. But when I see a woman in Danskos on the streets, I know that she probably has a hard, exhausting job. Or maybe she’s dealing with back pain and taking care of herself. Or, she simply doesn’t care about what other people think of her outfit (or hell, maybe she even likes how these shoes look and styles them so).
Those are all reasons enough for me to give kudos to the wearers of this polarizing shoe, even if the fashion world won’t.