The Stupid Future-y Shoes That People Actually Love

Sooner or later, the future will be here. But until then, all we can do is imagine what it will be like. Hollywood does that all the time — Back to the Future II imagined that we’d have hoverboards and video phone calls, Star Trek sees a future with teleportation and warp engines, and even the dystopian Minority Report has eye-scanning tech.

Most of those shows and movies, though, imagine a world where technology, if not humanity, improves. But what if it doesn’t?

The 2006 movie “Idiocracy” tries to answer that question. If you haven’t seen it, you should — it’s a fun albeit hardly Oscar-worthy comedy that is easily worth the 84-minute runtime. Written and directed by “Office Space” creator Mike Judge, the film takes place in America 500 years in the future — and everyone, other than the protagonist, is incredibly dumb. (I won’t spoil how that happened.) For example, the scene above takes place in a hospital, and the man in the front right is there because he somehow got stuck while taking off a t-shirt. People in the future, according to Idiocracy, are so stupid, they can’t even wear a t-shirt.

Creating a movie like Idiocracy was difficult for two reasons. First, Judge had to make sure that the people of the future made bad decisions, like exclusively drinking a Gatorade-like drink (instead of water) because they thought it was the healthier choice. He wanted every detail to reflect this level of idiocy, and that led to the second problem: he didn’t have a lot of money to invest in those details. The film only had a $2.4 million budget and Fox, the studio behind the film, barely supported it — they took out no ads, never released a trailer for the film, or even put together a poster. Judge needed to find cheap ways to create the sets and, of particular note for our purposes, the costumes for his awful depiction of future society. As he told Fast Company, “The wardrobe had to be something that’s not around now. It had to be created for a lot of extras, and so you know our wardrobe person was looking for ways to make the budget work.”

The shoes, they thought, would be an easy win — but he was wrong. If you look closely at the image above, you’ll note that the man on the left, seemingly passed out, is wearing Crocs, a very popular type of foam resin shoes (they’re not plastic) around today. But when Idiocracy was in production in 2004, Crocs were virtually unheard of. Here’s what Judge told Fast Company about the shoes:

Crocs were not out in the world yet. They were just a small startup at the time. We shot in 2004, so no one was wearing Crocs. And she showed me these things, and I thought, ‘Oh those are great, just stupid plastic shoes.’ And I said to her, ‘But you actually bought these, you can order these. What if by the time the movie comes out, these things are everywhere, and it doesn’t look like we’re set in the future?’ And she said, ‘Oh no, that’s never going to happen.

Judge, pardon the pun, misjudged the fashion world. As Looper observed, “Between filming in 2004 and the movie’s release in 2006, [Crocs] became a cultural sensation, so their inclusion in the comedy seemed like an additional joke on where the world was heading.” And certainly, the shoes were more popular than the movie that accidentally mocked them. When Idiocracy came out in September 2006, it earned only $495,000 at the box office. Crocs, by then, had become a smash hit — the company IPOed in February of that year, bringing in more than $200 million. As of this writing, the Crocs company is worth more than $8 billion.

Bonus fact: New pairs of shoes don’t always fit nicely right away — they need to often be broken in a bit first. (Crocs, notably, don’t suffer from this problem. Hmm.) For most of us, that can be inconvenient — if you have a pair you want to wear for a specific occasion, high fashion may come at the cost of a night of foot pain. But most of us aren’t royalty. In 2017, the Today Show reported that Queen Elizabeth II had an easy way to make sure that her new shoes were always comfortable — she had an aide wear them first to help break them in. That aide was Angela Kelly, her royal dressmaker, who told the press that “The Queen has very little time to herself and not time to wear in her own shoes, and as we share the same shoe size it makes the most sense this way.” Kelly only wore the shoes while wearing beige socks and only while walking on carpet, “to make sure the queen’s boots don’t blister.”

From the Archives: Hoofing It: Why some 1930s criminals wore shoes that looked like cow hooves.