At the bus stop outside Top Ryde Shopping Centre, I survey my surroundings. To one side of me stands an elderly Chinese woman with a wheelie canvas shopping bag and a tight auburn perm. On the other side, a woman, perhaps a year or two younger than me, and a few decades more fashion-conscious, in a spaghetti-strap singlet and denim cut-offs. Curiously, both are wearing flat plastic pool slides.
I’d estimate the Chinese grandma’s pair at $4, maybe $5, from her nearest Sakura, Tonyon or New Yen Yen supermarket. She might even be hip enough to go to Daiso (although she probably has too much of a grudge against Japanese people to do that). The young woman’s I’d price at ten times that, perhaps more. I forget whether they were Adidas Original Adilettes or Nike Benassi slides, but they were black and white and really very plastic-looking.
I will admit I am very late to the slides party. They’ve been trending since the beginning of 2016 at least — although I hear rumours they’ve been around since 2013 — and only now has all the derision I felt for them coalesced into a solid enough opinion.
Once I start to think about the humble slide, I cannot stop. I read at least five (five!) guides to SS17 trends from such diverse outlets as Mamamia, Vogue, and InStyle. I scroll through pages of Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom online. Givenchy, Fendi, Ferragamo, Gucci. The infamous Fenty Puma fur slides. These foot-shaped pieces of foam — and, admittedly, sometimes more luxe materials — are retailing for anywhere from $50 to $1000 a pair and I think I know who they have to thank.
Now, my prerogative here is not to accuse the fashion-blog-Instagram-magazine-Twitter-machine of ‘Columbusing’ the slide. I don’t own the idea of the slide. My mum doesn’t own the idea of the slide. (In fact, I think she rather repudiates the slide as a bit cheap and tacky. My mum is very classist.) Not even the nice lady at PK Pacific in Eastwood owns the idea of the slide.
Let me explain: I have no objection to the concept of the pool slide. What’s not to love? Ease and comfort and constant retreat vibes — the appeal is clear. You can wear them here or there. You can wear them anywhere. I want to dispel this notion, though, that the little moment that slides are enjoying is somehow a product of the ‘normcore’ movement. The slide, in truth, predates us all.
Maybe this experience is less universal than I wager it to be, but the chances are that if you live in a suburb with a sizeable immigrant population, you’ll have seen these rubber-soled sandals on the feet of smoking, balding, pot-bellied uncles, skinny young men at the checkout of the local fruit shop or frenetic forty-something single mums with their two loud squishy babies in tow. They’re cheap (or they’re meant to be). They’re comfortable. They’re piled up outside every Asian household, asking you to take your shoes off, please, and put a pair of these on.
So the rise of the slide finds its genealogy in working-class migrant aesthetics and the wrinkly market men with their fucked up toenails and bunches of home-grown water spinach. The slide is edgy for a bunch of reasons: it was popular in the 90s and the 90s are cool; they’re sporty and minimal and athleisure is cool; they’re weirdly expensive, and that’s … cool, I guess. But on top of that, they’re edgy because they’ve been the staple of migrant communities for decades. The ‘ugly shoe of the summer’ is actually just the shoe of the people.
Of course, all of this works in context. It would be irresponsible to ignore the fact that different things have different significances in different instances. The context of the body — the youthful, cosmopolitan body versus the ageing, non-white, unfashionable body — means the same pair of shoes can be the crowning point of cool on one person, and remarkable only in their extreme uncoolness on another.
That woman at Top Ryde was probably wearing a pair of Nike Benassis, come to think of it. The fake pair that my grandma owns back in China are pretty neat. I’d say they’re pretty edgy. They’re white and have the letters NKIE emblazoned in a navy over the thick squarish strap, along with the unmistakeable swoosh. Subversive, unique, you know. Cool.