Earlier this month, a pair of stolen shoes took the internet by storm. Designer Alexis Dougé took to her TikTok account to narrate how her Tinder date, Justin, swiped her shoes, which, she later came to know, was to give to his girlfriend. While the incredulity of the situation and its resemblance to the Sex and the City scene where Carrie Bradshaw had her Manolo Blahnik sandals stolen in broad daylight was reason enough for the video to go viral, it was the pair of shoes in question—Tabi Mary Janes—which had a hand in its popularity.
Below, we unearth the reason why the cloven-hoofed shoe has achieved a cult status, and why it continues to rule the fashion world.
What is its history?
The split-toed shoes have their origin in 15th-century Japan, where the elite used to wear split-toe socks thought to aid in physical balance with their thonged sandals and shoes, made with imported Indian cotton. As cotton routes opened to China later and rubber soles were added, the socks became jika-tabi, shoes worn by Japanese construction workers, farmers, and other blue-collar workers.
In the 1980s, when Belgian designer Martin Margiela left his assistant position at Jean Paul Gaultier to set up his own label, he travelled to Japan, where the Tabi design prompted him to create a version of his own. It was a trip to Japan that inspired Martin Margiela to create his own version of the Tabi.
Soon, in 1988, the Tabi boot was launched and it left a mark, literally. At his debut show, Margiela made his models walk down the runway wearing Tabi boots that had been stepped on red paint, so the two-toed imprint was hard to miss.
Why did it have the fashion world split in opinion?
Very few shoes in fashion history divide opinion as strongly as the iconic Margiela Tabi. Its cloven-shaped design is the reason—not many are game to spend at least ₹60,000 and upwards on a shoe that looks like a horse’s hooves. Yet, those who wear it love it for those very reasons. The weird, slightly off-putting shape makes it an expression of rebellion—almost as if you’re wearing it. You’re so cool that you don’t care about how you look or are perceived by others. It also makes Tabi-wearers feel like an insider, a part of the ‘if you know, you know’ club. Clearly, the little odd shoe isn’t for everyone, but it isn’t meant to be. And if it was, it would lose its eccentricity.
Who’s been spotted wearing it?
Everyone from singers Dua Lipa and Cardi B, to Zendaya and Sarah Jessica Parker have been seen stepping out in a pair of Tabi shoes. Its cult following is evident on-screen, too, with Lily Collins’ Emily wearing a beige pair in episode two of Emily in Paris.
Why is it trending now?
35 years since the shoe entered the fashion world; its allure has only grown, owing to the Internet. The #margielatabi hashtag has 3.4 million views and counting on TikTok, where the split-toed shoe seems to be a favourite among Gen Z fashion enthusiasts. The recognition of the cloven pair also has to do with the fact that niche, esoteric fashion is on the rise—take the Mschf larger-than-life jumbo red boots for example. The Tabi shoe, over time, has gone from being too experimental to being a must-have.
And while Tabi shoes have been steadily making space for themselves in the mainstream, they were propelled into near-virality in September due to a TikTok user narrating how her pair of Tabi Mary Janes was stolen by a Tinder date, which amassed more than 700k views, increasing the shoes’ popularity.