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Can a man wear mules to work?

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While some people rushed out of the lockdown to make up for lost time, a number of men have, uh, returned to the streets. They stroll, stroll and flounder for lunches, drinks and business meetings, fueled by recklessness rather than haste.

They are at mule time. Their feet are shod in clogs, clogs, backless moccasins, crushable heeled sneakers, and various other iterations of covered toe, open-back shoes. All of them come under the mule’s umbrella and, due to their heavy shape on the front, cause slow movement.

The mule is a leisure shoe, said Noah Thomas, fashion editor and co-founder of Mule Boyz, an ironic Instagram account dedicated to the shoe. It is for standing, posing and relaxing. You can’t run, so you need to be relaxed; this is where the sense of luxury comes in.

The heels of naked and shod men have never been so visible. For while women’s mules have been popular for decades, men’s mules (thank the Mule Boyz for that term) have only recently moved from cult status to mainstream importance.

Simmering since 2015, when Gucci introduced its fur-lined Princetown mules, it took a big step forward during the pandemic, when countless guys lived in Birkenstocks Boston clogs, Crocs or real slippers. When taking out the trash was the longest trip of the day, tying shoelaces was totally out of the question. Cozy, comfortable, easy-to-slip mules held the answers.

Now, as the image of mules expands beyond associations with domestic torpor, men from Manhattan to Tokyo are wondering if they can be a shoe for every occasion.

There is a buffet of styles to choose from. The fluffy lime green Marnis hooves are reminiscent of the Grinch’s foot; ASAP Rocky designed backless vans adorned with flames; and Fear of God created an EVA foam mule as smooth as a pebble.

MEN mules Noah Thomas, fashion editor and co-founder of Mule Boyz, an ironic Instagram account dedicated to footwear, in Los Angeles. (Alex Welsh / The New York Times)

Dressier versions abound: Martine Rose sells square-toed snakeskin models; Thom Browne makes penny moccasin mules; and, with its buckled strap and grooved heel, Swedish label Our Legacy’s best-selling Truck has been compared to a cowboy boot cut in half.

The great thing about a mule right now is that it’s easy, but at the same time, you can dress it conceptually, said Jonathan Anderson, creative director of JW Anderson and Loewe. That’s exactly what he did with the JW Anderson chain moccasin mules, black leather slip-ons trimmed with a massive, sculptural gold chain that saw success in mid-2020.

Zhooshed-up designs resonate with male buyers. According to Lyst, an online platform that aggregates data from more than 17,000 brands and stores, searches for leather mules and suede mules are up 151% this year compared to 2020. At the e-merchant of luxury MatchesFashion, which records three-digit digits. Growth of men’s mules over the past 12 months, they are becoming a popular alternative to sneakers.

The sneaker has been such a dominant shoe for men, but you’ve got this guy who wants to move on but still wants a raised casual shoe, said Damien Paul, head of menswear at Matches. Occupying an ideal spot between a moccasin and a slipper, mules are the shoe that fits.

While this trend may be new, men’s relationship with mules is not. They were donned by the Romans (mule comes from mulleus calceus, the name of the red slippers of the patricians) and by the Sun King Louis XIV, who pranced in a dizzying pair, according to the book by Margo DeMello Feet and Footwear. In the 19th century, however, it became scandalous to expose one’s heel in public, writes DeMello, and mules were confined to bedrooms.

Centuries later, some still find them unsavory. A lot of people don’t want to see any part of a man’s foot, Thomas said. They’re like, Ugh, why are we promoting something that’s going to cause a man to leave his house with his heel out?

Nonetheless, the general buy-in of men’s clothing communities for mules indicates how far things have come over the past decade, said Jian DeLeon, director of menswear and editorial at Nordstrom and the other founder. by Mule Boyz. Notably, the appeal of shoes comes from flirting with the limits of good taste rather than with potential suitors. Where men’s clothing once revolved around looking better when you go out, it’s now about being in the outfit for yourself, DeLeon said.

His girlfriend, he added, hates mules on men. He has over 30 pairs.

That doesn’t mean they can’t be sexy. Because it looks like you’ve dressed the front half of your foot but forgot the back, they’re telegraphing a defeat that suggests swagger. A mule automatically makes an outfit less considered, Paul said, and one lesson we learned coming out of lockdown is that you want that effortless feel for your outfit.

As cities reopen and men find themselves with more sartorial nerve than before the pandemic, this casual look is being tested in smarter settings.

Dan Comrie, a 35-year-old Londoner, paired his suede Our Legacy Trucks with a navy suit for a wedding in the north of England, where his ensemble raised eyebrows, he said. Tokyo graphic designer Ryo Takiguchi donned blue JW Anderson mules without socks for a fairly formal business meeting.

The Mule Boyz believe that no occasion is too big for mules. I wear Birkenstocks with my tuxedo, the high-low idea is everything, Thomas said.

Best of all, mules allow you to bypass tough dress codes. Most offices have a rule against open-toed shoes, but not open-backs, DeLeon said unmoved. You feel like you got away with something.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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