The assignment: Find people who are wearing classic Uggs in the muck now bathing Boston and ask what they’re thinking in deciding to expose $160 suede and sheepskin boots to these conditions.
For those who have remained enviably ignorant of the iconic fluffy booties: The model popular around town is not waterproof, great on ice, or capable of making it down Tremont Street unscathed — apparently insignificant deficits compared with endorsements by Oprah Winfrey (in 2000 she named Uggs a “favorite thing”) and Tom Brady (who signed a multiyear deal to sell Uggs in 2010).
The yoga pants of the footwear world, Uggs are super comfortable, equally at home with pajamas and formal wear, bizarrely worn in summer and winter, ridiculously popular with high school girls and college students, no longer as hot as Canada Goose but not totally passe either.
But unless your mother is a Kardashian, they are not what a mom would consider appropriate footwear right about now — as the snow turns to brown slush and with a deluge expected by week’s end.
Even so, you’ve got to hand it to the Uggsanistas. While the rest of the populace is slogging along in practical boots, dutifully worrying about pedestrian concerns like falling and breaking a wrist, wet feet, or ruining expensive footwear, Uggs People aren’t focused on actual winter.
For them, winter is but the backdrop of a festive snowy photo shoot, the season as it exists in catalogs, not on the streets of Southie. Or winter as experienced on the shores of Southern California, where, in 1978, a young Australian surfer founded the brand.
“I feel light in them,” Melissa Golden said as she floated through icy, mushy, salty, muddy Downtown Crossing, in the soup, but somehow above it.
Uggs take more grooming than a poodle, but devotees don’t seem to care.
“I just avoid stepping in puddles,” Valeriia Syrovatska, a student at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, said cheerfully, gazing happily at her black Uggs.
Two or three times a week, Syrovatska said, she spends about 15 minutes shampooing and brushing her boots, and then applying a color-control product, like a Newbury Street hair stylist fixing another stylist’s bad dye job.
“They’re so warm,” she said.
Uggs advises customers to “never put your boots in the washing machine or take them to the dry cleaner” (and claims the newer versions of its classic boots are pretreated to resist stains and water). But even so, dry cleaners around Boston advertise cleaning services, often with gruesome, before-and-after photos of salt-stained horrors that rival the “here’s what your gums will look like if you don’t floss” pictures beloved by dentists.
At Anton’s Cleaners, dry cleaning costs around $55 a pair, a third of the cost of new boots.
Courtney Cataruzolo, a regional manager with Patron Spirits, is an Uggs enabler. Rather than wear boots that, oh, keep your feet dry, she simply adds a layer of moisture-wicking socks.
But there are those who are so devoted to their Uggs that they keep them inside when the weather turns bad, protecting winter boots from winter.
Doris Wong, a financial analyst, has a new pair of Uggs — of the pricier, waterproof variety — but even so, she left them at home Tuesday and wore an old pair of nonwaterproof Uggs.
“I want to save the new ones,” she said.
The Uggs look, by the way, is so identifiable that a reporter on an Uggs-finding mission could spot an Uggs person without even seeing her feet. By her grooming, ye shall know her.
Publicist and Uggs wearer Nicole Russo explained the strategy: When snow and grime blanket the streets and threaten pants and footwear, Uggs people understand that it’s important to spend even more time on the top half of your outfit.
“I make sure I have good blowouts and good earrings,” she said.
Uggs have enjoyed a nice, long ride as It footwear (it’s been almost two decades since Oprah’s endorsement, after all), but a footwear analyst with the Susquehanna Financial Group, Sam Poser, said Uggs’ expanded distribution — they’re now sold at mainstream retailers like Macy’s and Amazon — will begin cutting into the boots’ upscale image.
Indeed, Jessica Anderson, a real estate agent in the Back Bay who was approached by a reporter because she looked like a person who would be wearing Uggs, but who was in fact not, said she no longer uses her Uggs.
“I don’t think they’re in style anymore,” she said. “I wore them when I was 10.”
Her winter footwear tastes are so evolved she’s moved beyond boots and was walking through the snowscape in mainly white, $165 APL sneakers (a Kim Kardashian-favored brand), which she got at Lululemon.
It was pointed out that they are even more vulnerable to snow and ice than Uggs.
“It is what it is,” she said, her inner Uggs shining through.Beth Teitell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.