Just Chill

Why stylish guys like A$AP Rocky are finally embracing mule shoes

The rapper’s unreleased Vans collab continues the trend of exposed ankles.

Gotham/GC Images/Getty Images

A$AP Rocky is having himself a great summer, and it isn’t just because he keeps being spotted galavanting in style with his new girlfriend Rihanna.

The perpetually well-dressed rapper has discovered the pleasure of exposing his butt — or rather, the butt of his ankles. Along with a white T-shirt and jean shorts, Rocky was recently spotted wearing his unreleased Vans Slip-On collaboration for the first time. The classic sneaker has seen its back cut off, transforming into a mule under Rocky’s stead. This leisurely footwear choice fit in perfectly as he puffed away at a joint while holding a cup of coffee, a combination that says I’m ready to start my day, but let’s not take it too seriously.

Mules, a label that applies to any footwear with a closed toe and exposed ankle, are everywhere this summer, but the trend hasn’t come out of nowhere. Birkenstocks and Crocs were already on the rise before the pandemic rendered them and their ilk the most obvious footwear choice of isolation. Comfortable and able to slip on and off in a flash, the mule became the perfect shoe to wear at home, for a quick trip to the store, or on walks that became more cathartic than ever. And even though our radius of activity has now increased thanks to the vaccine, the benefits of a life lived in mules still endures.

Since 2019, the Instagram account @MuleBoyz has been ahead of the game by highlighting nothing but mules. MuleBoyz was created by Noah Thomas and Jian DeLeon, then editors at Highsnobiety, and what began as a shared obsession of the niche has now taken on more than 22,000 followers.

Few could have predicted mules would become so popular with men, many of whom still feel weird about showing their bare feet. Thomas, however, says he knew the trend was coming. Fashion was already becoming more leisurely before the pandemic — just look at the rise of the beach resort-loving brand Casablanca and the return of the ‘80s-style tracksuit — and a shoe that requires you to slow down is the natural accompaniment.

Men keep “discovering” what women already know.

“You can’t run in them,” says Thomas, who is now a host for the hybrid video and shopping platform NTWRK. “So you kind of have to be chillin’. I like to be relaxed, and I just always thought it was a cool type of shoe.”

Like several other menswear trends that have emerged over the past five years, from side bags to painted nails, mules were already commonplace in womenswear. Men keep “discovering” what women already know — that it’s convenient to have a bag for all your needs or that a mule is a comfortable and easy choice for your feet. It just takes some more stylish and daring guys to pave the way, and suddenly what was already obvious to women now has seen a boom among men.

“Every time I wear mules, dudes are like, ‘I might try to do it,’” Thomas says. “They make it seem like it’s such a thing, but it’s really not that deep. Get a Birk[enstock] or something.”

Marni’s shaggy calf-hair mules. Farfetch

Sandals had already taken off before mules, beginning with hip-hop’s obsession with Gucci slides throughout the last decade and now with more technical pairs accompanying fashion’s obsession with outdoor gear, otherwise known as gorp. With clear intentions for lounging poolside or going on a hike, these sandal sub-trends still aren’t as versatile as the mule. Chillin’, as Thomas puts it, can be done in a variety of settings. And whether that’s near a body of water, at a barbeque, or at an exclusive rooftop party, the right mule is fit for it all. And because only its ankle is bare, the mule is a great way for men to dip their toes into more freeing footwear without having to show them.

While Crocs and Birkenstocks still point to a dressed-down look, many luxury brands have focused on mules that wouldn’t look out of place at Diddy’s famous White Party or at a summer red carpet. JW Anderson makes a pair with a comically oversized chain link that invokes hip-hop, while Gucci has covered one with its monogram. Thom Browne shows that a mule can stand in place of a more traditional loafer, while 4S Designs, a newer brand from former Nepenthes designer Angelo Urrutia, brings in a sense of opulence through snakeskin.

“Every time I wear mules, dudes are like, ‘I might try to do it.’”

Taking a lead from Crocs, some of the other best mules on the market take gardening shoes to new heights. There’s Bottega Veneta’s irresistibly clunky rubber clog with a permanent strap still leaving room for plenty of ankle to show, and Fear of God’s foam California that quickly sold out upon its debut last week. And in a category of its own, perhaps best described as summertime Grinch, Marni has covered a pair of mules in shaggy green calf hair.

Mules are perhaps the most fun shoe out right now — and although they may be grabbing more attention than ever, the hype for them is still nowhere near that of sneakers. “Fun” is not the word most sneakerheads would describe the current landscape, in the most desirable pairs are nearly impossible to acquire. A “post-sneaker world” has become a meme among fatigued sneakerheads and disinterested menswear enthusiasts, but in it lies some truth. When everyone else is chasing a scant commodity, why not get your kicks somewhere else?

Even sneaker companies like Nike and Adidas, which have long released one-off mule versions of its popular silhouettes with little fanfare, are now paying more attention to the silhouette. Sometimes they miss, like Adidas’ garish Superstar with the back cut off, but Nike’s Offline Mule launched during the pandemic has become a runaway hit. What I’d argue was the coolest shoe of 2020 came from New Balance’s experimental Tokyo Design Studio, which whipped up a three-in-one modular shoe that transforms from a waterproof boot into a technical mule.

A common takeaway from the pandemic-induced pause on life is that we need to learn how to slow down more. Staying at home has helped many of us realize we give too much of ourselves to our jobs, and the disappearance of parties has shown that quality time with those closest to you, no matter the setting, is what’s most vital. We’ve got to find more time to relax more — and perhaps a shoe that requires a slower pace that’ll help us do it.

Throw on a mule, take a seat, drink your coffee, and just chill. A$AP Rocky wears the hell out of a suit or a fur, but the look you can most easily chase and should is as simple as some jean shorts and mules.