Jeffrey Campbell’s Lita boots are ugly. Let us make that clear right off the bat. This is not a debate around the attractiveness of the shoe, which the Daily Beast once called “the Clydesdale hoof of modern footwear.”
Yes, the shoe that stole our insoles and our hearts in 2010—with its 5.25-inch heel sensibly affixed to a two-inch platform for a surprisingly comfortable lift—is a monster. It unnaturally elongates the calf in a way that is not the graceful, ballerina line of a stiletto or a pump, shoes that give an impression the wearer is sexily standing en pointe at all times, always just on the brink of a leap or twirl. Lita is a bulbous, heavy-souled tether that makes its wearer both dangerously tall yet oddly shackled, pinned to the earth by the gravitational pull of the girthy boot. But that’s not why everyone hates them.
Much uglier early 2000s trends have been given reconsideration in recent years, starting with Crocs, those god-awful rubber Petri dishes for foot swamps, or bandage dresses, quite possibly the most unforgiving way to remind the world that one has titties ever invented by a man. Even Ed Hardy is back ironically, which means it’s only a matter of time before Ed Hardy is back unironically in all its self-consciously masculine Sailor Jerry glory.
So why, 11 years after she first stomped into our lives, is Lita still canceled?
It’s because we loved her too much. Lita was possibly the ugliest shoe in our closet (unless the closet also contained Uggs or Crocs). But after 10 or so years of torturously high, pointy-toed heels, the Lita boot’s arrival on the scene felt like a fuck you to the Miranda Priestly footwear mandate of the early aughts, which demanded everyone who cared about style be on painful stilts at all times. The platform and sturdy heel that make Lita so bulky are also what make the boot a workaround for those who feel obligated to wear a precipitously tall shoe but also despise pesky hairline stress fractures: Lita is supportive! Lita is comfortable! What Lita lacks in daintiness or subtlety she more than makes up for in practicality. The Lita boot cheats a system that says footwear must add height, never mind the potential for suffering, by giving her wearers the option to wear extremely high heels painlessly, if not daintily.
If the Lita boot had remained relegated to the select few who enjoy an ugly, 70s-esque shoe as well as being tall, mention of her wouldn’t inspire such outsized vitriol from those who generally save their internet outrage for railing against pizza toppings. But no, Lita became a lifestyle for those whose lifestyles were supposed to be aspirational, which is how we came to loathe her.
Named by former Jeffery Campbell employee Sharon Blackburn for The Runaways’ Lita Ford, at the outset the Lita boot seemed designed especially for the kind of person who does not give a fuck what you think of her footwear. “Who cares what feels attractive to the feminity police?” the boots originally seemed to declare. “My inflamed-looking hoofs and I are enjoying our comfy strut.”
But then the influencers came for Lita. As the Daily Beast noted in its 2013 polemic against the shoe:
“Unfortunately, this may have something to do with Instagram. Click on the app’s Most Popular tab at any time of day and you’re likely to find a selfie of an unknown-but-influential Internet girl in her #OOTD (Outfit of the Day) filled with exaggerated fashions—which often include Litas. They’re probably Instagram’s favorite shoe (tagged over 47,000 times on the app), but that doesn’t mean they’re attractive in real life.”
At the time, we hadn’t yet come up with the full definition of “influencer,” but the genre, thousands of beautiful people pretending their beauty was effortless as they competed for compliments on Instagram, had hit most of us hard. And the Lita boot—before the felt hat, avocado toast, or latte art that would come to mark the tediousness of all these meticulously styled attention-grabs—became one of the original signifiers of self-conscious influencer quirkiness. The boot’s ugliness makes it incredibly versatile. Since it goes with nothing, it simply does not matter what one pairs with Lita: Skinny jeans? Sure. Button-front corduroy A-line skirt? Why not. Ripped Daisy Dukes with knee-length American Apparel socks? Rock on. No matter who you were pretending to be online, there was a Lita boot for that: simple black leather, feminine floral, metal spikes. Lita would be anything a wearer wanted and anyone could have her. I think I got the dark brown leather pair I had on sale for $80 and used them to complete the dark academic, blazer with a man’s Hanes tee-shirt thing I was doing back then.
Just like everyone else, I abandoned my Litas when it was clear that too many people were wearing them, specifically the kind of Instagram people whose lives were photographed beautifully enough to invite ridicule, and once those people abandoned them, the boots now bear the brunt of our contempt for the birth of the #OOTD fashion blogger. But what did Lita boots ever do beyond bring comfy height to the masses in a variety of individualized patterns and color options? Be ugly? Lots of beautiful things are ugly, including the cosmos of Doc Martens I acquired in the years following Lita’s fall from grace in order to satisfy my need for clumsy, shit-kicking footwear that feels great and looks substantial. If I were a brave person who gave no fucks about other’s opinions, like the only fashion people I care about are, I would be wearing Litas to this day, towering over wrong people in their newly-trendy-again Birkenstocks and Crocs, feeling embarrassed for everyone not me and Lady Gaga, who has, bravely, never truly let go of her affinity for Lita’s mother, Natacha Marro’s Dungeon boot. But instead, I’m a coward, begging for Lita’s reconsideration in my rubber Birks, hoping someone cool enough to make them cool again will stomp in front of a paparazzi outside Craig’s wrapped snugly in Hervé Legér, feet absolutely swallowed to the ankle by the gaping maw of Jeffery Campbell’s beautifully ugly monster, leaving me free to plunge my own into the mouth of comfy, foolish fashion once again.