In recent weeks, a certain type of stylish urbanite has been spotted traipsing around town sans chaussures: tall king Jacob Elordi shoelessly braving the L.A. streets on a coffee run, say, or the musician Mike Sabath (of Mike Sabath and the Moongirls), a.k.a. the barefoot member of Shawn Mendes’s “smoothie squad.” For spring 2023, the Italian brand Etro sent male models down its runway wearing short-shorts, caftans, and breezy blousons paired with feet as naked as the day they were born.
So we’re calling it now: 2023 will be Barefoot-Boy Summer™. And to be perfectly frank, all the signs are there. It aligns with the ongoing bohemian-hippie vibe coursing through the culture — Grateful Dead, the Elder Statesman, tie-dye, and all that. A bare foot is gorpcore taken to its purest, most natural conclusion. And the burgeoning movement is the only logical response to two footwear trends: (1) years of increasingly chunky, cumbersome, look-at-me designs (thanks Balenciaga!) and (2) the ridiculous hype cycle to which the men’s shoe market has been held hostage (the one in which, every week, some “new take” on an old favorite sneaker is released and yet also, inevitably, unavailable to the masses). Finding shoes — finding the right shoes — has become a nightmare. So why not just … forgo them altogether?
“I generally don’t wear shirts or shoes, honestly,” says Sabath. “I just feel more free.” As he remembers it, he, Mendes, and his bandmates were simply running errands (they had planned to see California’s superbloom but decided to scrap it last-minute), and he wasn’t wearing shoes in the car and decided it was fine to jump out without them for a quick smoothie run — it was Malibu, after all.
“It was literally five minutes,” says Sabath. As a friend of a famous musician, he was no stranger to being photographed by paparazzi, but this took on a life of its own: First, friends texted him the pictures, then he started getting tagged in social-media posts, and, finally, news stories began to circulate. “I was like, This is fire,” he says. “It was hilarious.” It was also fortuitous timing for a viral moment; Mike Sabath and the Moongirls were set to drop their album Being Human the next week.
But truth be told, Sabath tells me that the smoothie-squad image leaves something of a false impression — he almost never walks around barefoot in urban areas. Still, he does admit that he’s a fan of barefoot hiking (his No. 1 tip: Watch out for snakes).
Recently, I spotted a photo of Nick Hudson, a photographer who splits his time between Brooklyn and the Catskills, barefoot on the sidewalk in front of his Bed-Stuy townhouse. When I DM’d him to see if this is a common occurrence, he sent back the response “Barefoot is my preferred way to be.”
Hudson says that the barefoot-on-the-streets-of-Brooklyn moment was atypical, that he ran out for a photo and couldn’t be bothered with putting on shoes; he figured, hey, the sidewalk in front of his house is almost like an extension of the inside. However, when he’s upstate, you can usually find him without shoes — around the house, driving, heading to a local creek. “It’s not a conscious thing,” he says. “But if I can get my shoes off, I will.”
Hudson, who is Australian, admits that it can be a controversial subject (just look at the spirited comments on his wife’s TikTok post of the barefoot-in-Brooklyn image) but notes that it’s culturally more acceptable back home. He recalls friends playing rugby without shoes and his cousin going barefoot on public transportation to the beach when they were younger, explaining to Hudson that he was “getting his summer feet on.”
“You know,” he says, “getting your feet acclimated to being barefoot.”
There are certainly movements to go barefoot, the idea of “grounding” or “earthing” (putting your bare feet on the earth), which scientific studies say can have salubrious effects or engender feelings of emotional peace or well-being. Other studies say that walking around and/or exercising barefoot (or as close to barefoot as possible) is actually good for the body. The New York Times recently profiled a man who has basically gone without shoes for the better part of two decades.
The fashion world has long had a fascination with bare feet — or at least the idea of it — from Margiela’s “topless Tabi” shoes from 1996 (just soles and some duct tape) to Phoebe Philo’s trompe l’oeil barefoot pumps from her 2013 collection for Celine. My boyfriend alerted me to a passage in patron saint of California style Joan Didion’s grief memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, in which she recalls boarding a plane to Cannes in 1971 with bare feet. Recently, the disgraced rapper and “designer” Kanye West has been spotted wearing a socklike shoe — just a sole with a nylon topper, which he has reportedly trademarked under his Yeezy brand. Say what you will about him, but West has certainly been influential in terms of his style over the years.
And on a recent episode of HBO’s plutocrats-behaving-badly nighttime soap, Succession, as the eccentric Swedish tech billionaire Lukas Matsson makes his way from his idling private jet to the one belonging to his maybe-enemy, Shiv Roy, it becomes clear the gorpcore enthusiast is not wearing shoes.
“[Matsson] is an anti-business, anti-corporate industrial mogul,” says Michelle Matland, the show’s costume designer. “He wants to be seen as a casual hipster who’s freethinking and not tied to the business world at all. It may be an affectation, but to him it’s real. Not wearing shoes, wearing T-shirts and sweatpants, or anything that does not indulge in Madison Avenue or Wall Street, Bezos, Elon — all those new-style entrepreneurs.”
Alexander Skarsgård, who plays the tech entrepreneur, said the moment was unplanned, and Matland adds that the actor, like his character, “is a free spirit and a creative, and once he’s in the groove, that’s the kind of magic that happens.” She also notes that one could see in the bare feet a subtle cue from the character to entice the buttoned-up Shiv to loosen up.
The Society for Barefoot Living (yes, a real thing) tells me that it has noticed no discernible uptick in barefoot popularity of late but that it would “welcome and celebrate” any increase in awareness and practice. It, too, notes that acceptance of barefoot lifestyles can depend widely on location. “For example, in contrast to the U.S., public barefooting in Australia and New Zealand is much more common and accepted,” a spokesperson wrote in an email. “But even in the U.S., attitudes can vary depending on the area.” They pointed me and any curious readers toward the group’s website, which offers a surfeit of resources on how to embrace shoeless living.
“I think, in general, it’s good when something makes you think, What the fuck is happening?” Sabath says. “It kind of loosens up your perspective a bit. But it’s really healthy to notice that some other option exists. And oftentimes when people yell about something, it’s probably because they do it already or want to do it.”
“My thing is,” he adds about being barefoot in a world where wearing shoes is the norm, “if someone feels good about something, then they should do it.”