Designed for bunion sufferers, adopted by fashion followers

The clip-clop of new footwear trends usually heard marching on the high street as the autumn season approaches is being drowned out by the sturdy shuffle of a shoe designed not to turn heads but to cure bunions.

The Wörishofer, conceived more than 70 years ago by a German podiatrist, comes hot on the heels of Crocs and Uggs as the latest "ugly shoe" to develop a cult following among celebrities and catwalk-conscious shoppers.

Usually found in the wardrobes of northern European grandmothers, the Wörishofer has cosseted the feet of actress Maggie Gyllenhaal and avant-garde rapper MIA in recent weeks. Now on-trend stores such as Urban Outfitters are selling out of similar styles in the US as quickly as they can get them in.

"Our customers covet the vintage look," said Charlotte Glover, footwear buyer at the store. "Shoes that would once have been labelled with the dreaded 'sensible' tag are now some of the most-searched brands on our website."

Like Chanel's wooden clogs last season, Wörishofers, which usually come in beige with cork soles and leather or nubuck uppers, are riding high in the style stakes for autumn/winter as wedges and sensible souliers make a comeback amongst those in the know.

"It's a combination of two things," said Harriet Quick, fashion features editor at Vogue, "the current taste for previously geeky styles, like Clark's and chunky brogues, and the vaguely orthopaedic styles channelled on the catwalks right now. They're an active antidote to the fierce sky-high heels we've seen, and they're grounded in functionality; girls are fed up of crippling themselves."

Wörishofers are not yet available in Britain – although it can only be a matter of time before they make a well-supported step across the Atlantic – but have already become a common sight on the streets of Brooklyn, where hip natives pair them with chunky socks and tea-dresses.

The shoes have long been seen on Teutonic pensioners and have quite an audience among the mainly retired inhabitants of South Florida, but stockists in recent years have begun to include fashion-forward boutiques in areas largely populated by the under-forties.

It isn't the first time that chiro-chic has swapped the hospital corridor for the high street: back when hippies demanded comfort, the likes of Scholl and Birkenstock became firm footwear favourites, and continue to sell well today.

In 2007, the "clognoscenti" were horrified at the emergence of Crocs, a breed of ventilated plastic slip-on shoes that comes in myriad fluorescent shades. The Ugg, meanwhile, a sheepskin-lined suede boot from Australia popularised at festivals by the likes of Kate Moss, has become a byword for a comfy casual trend that has become slightly too ubiquitous.

But the highest end of the fashion spectrum has long been enamoured of "ugly shoes", with designers such as Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto resolutely kitting out their models in flat, clumpy brogues, brothel-creepers and so-called "peasant shoes" throughout the Eighties. In the Nineties, Miuccia Prada made her name with sensible pumps and trainers.

"Cool but comfortable is proving to be a winning combination," Ms Glover adds. Not too comfortable, mind you – if you're old enough to look like you've plumped for Wörishofers because of a back complaint, it's a fashionable irony too far.

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