If you're thinking about buying the woman in your life a pair of slippers this holiday season, listen up.
Snooki's footwear preferences aside, fluffy terrycloth models won't cut it: Fashionable moms and trendy teens are choosing slippers adorned with animal prints, sequins and faux lynx fur.
In fact, slippers have gotten so stylish that they're not just for puttering around the house: Women are taking them to the streets.
Manufacturers have taken the hint, adding indoor-outdoor soles to appeal to women on the go. Slipper booties with outdoor bottoms, for example, are hot sellers at Kmart (SHLD), particularly among teens.
"During the winter months you can travel to any mall and see young girls wearing slipper booties or slipper moccasins in lieu of boots and even casual shoes," said Erin Bomgaars, marketing director for Kmart footwear. "The fashion boot craze has sparked much of the additional sales within slipper booties. It's a less expensive option for customers for whom retail boots are cost prohibitive."
Today's slippers feature "more sexy and fashion-driven materials and colors" rather than the traditional powder blue and pink, explained Greg Tunney, CEO of R.G. Barry (DFZ), parent company of the nation's largest slipper manufacturer, Dearfoams.
Dearfoams has seen sales explode, driven by teens and also by "Hot Mamas," the company's term for women between the ages of 35 and 42 who have kids and drive a minivan but "know what is going on in fashion," Tunney said. For them, there are zebra and leopard-print styles, sequined clogs, and edgier looks such as velvet tuxedo slippers in jewel tones like jade, red and deep purple.
As a result, the company -- which also supplies slippers to discounters and department stores under the Vera Wang, Nautica (VFC) and Levi's names -- posted record sales last year and is "on the same path" for 2013, said Nancy Coons, Dearfoams president of footwear.
From Humble to High Style
The slipper is just the latest example of the highbrow makeover of a traditionally lowbrow product. Over the last decade or so, marketers have been elevating a range of basic goods. Chic home stores like Crate & Barrel have given stylish upgrades to plastic dinnerware, for example, and the humble cupcake has gone haute cuisine since Sex and the City thrust trendy Manhattan bakery Magnolia into the foodie spotlight. Even doughnuts are getting an artisanal boost.
David Wolfe, creative director of trend forecasting firm The Doneger Group, suggests that the rise of the stylish slipper reflects the "dichotomy of fashion."
Just as "painful, torturous" and "extreme shoes" are in, so is "sublime comfort," evidenced by the slipper-doubling-as-shoes trend, as well as the longstanding popularity of Ugg boots and Juicy Couture-style jogging suits. "It's couch-potato wear," he said.
Coons agreed. "People are really looking for comfortable, pretty and sexy footwear that they [can] take outdoors. And they're finding that in slippers."