In the course of human history, from the Snuggie to asbestos to Juicero, there have been few inventions as bad as the toe ring.
And the worst part? The impractical, ugly piece of jewelry didn't stay buried in the late 1990s, where it belonged. It's creeping back, claiming one unsuspecting foot at a time.
To be clear, I'm not talking here about bichiya, the elegant traditional toe rings of married women in India that "still [carry] tremendous social significance," in the words of a Delhi accessory vendor who spoke to the Hindustan Times. I'm talking about their unglamorous Western counterparts, which Vogue says were first introduced to mainstream American fashion in the 1970s by Marjorie Borell, "an entrepreneurial traveler [who] returned from India and began hawking the accessory at none other than Fiorucci." I'm talking, ladies and gentlemen, about these:
I, too, once thought my toe rings were "cute" and "a good idea." My first toe ring ever was bought for me by my grandmother when we were school shopping at a Claire's or Forever 21. It was my gateway ring, a $2 or $3 loop of silvery metal that was more oval than O-shaped so it fit awkwardly on my hands when I'd take it off to tinker with it. It was adjustable, too; its back didn't connect, and its pointy open arms would rub on the underside of my toe when I walked, giving me blisters that complemented those I got from a Brighton anklet I was also — this being 1999 — wearing at that time.
Then I got more rings. Toe rings with stars on them, toe rings that looked like tiny silver braids, toe rings with tacky white daisies. I'd swap them out, but sometimes had as many as two or three on at a time; any more than that and I'd start to walk funny, conscious of them cluttering my toes. Never did it cross my mind I might be making a mistake. Not when a ring snagged on the carpet and (I'm pretty sure) snapped my middle toe bone in two. Not when my toe ring got trapped behind my toe knuckle and I couldn't pry it off, inciting a minor panic attack before a parent doused it in oil. Not when a ring turned my toe an itchy weird gray-green.
I'm proud to be at a point in my life where I can admit my toe rings were ridiculous, impractical accessories. Drawing attention and closer inspection to what is undeniably our weirdest body part, they aren't flattering. They're also uncomfortable, either sliding about between toe joints if you wear it "midi," like most celebrities do, or rubbing rudely against other toes or the bottom of your shoe when you walk. And they're impossible to squeeze on — the advised method is, literally, using Windex.
I can say one nice thing about toe rings: At least they didn't last long as a fad. The pedal ornaments reached their peak popularity between about 1999 and 2001, after which we collectively agreed, as a country, to pretend like they had never been a thing and to never speak of them again. That is, until the 20 year trend cycle came back around and what was cool became cool again. Plastic chokers are back, as are crop tops and jean skirts. On Wednesday, Steve Madden even announced the return of its ankle-breaking platform thong sandals, officially opening the floodgates to all the bad fashion decisions of yore.
Toe rings, sneaky little accessories that they are, have been slinking back onto feet over the past several years, almost unnoticed except by the few of us who never let our guards down. It's as if toe rings know no one wants them here. They belong back in an era best forgotten, full of Y2K anxiety and Jenna Bush's 2001 court date, at which she famously appeared in "pink Capri pants and a toe ring" (thank you for chronicling that important moment in toe ring history, New York Post).
It was HuffPost that was the first to trumpet the toe ring's return, that lone locust before the swarm. Albeit, it was a bit premature in 2015, with the publication insisting "toe rings are cool again, and it's time you embrace them." Last summer was when enthusiasm really seemed to mount, though. In 2018, Vogue called toe rings a "fun idea" and wrote one of the most abominable clauses I've ever seen: "[T]he little piggy is on trend."
By August, Jennifer Aniston was on the cover of InStyle proudly flaunting a prominent toe ring. Then, at Paris Fashion Week last fall, French fashion house Chloé trotted out "anklets and toe rings ... for nearly every look." By January, Julia Roberts was walking the 2019 Golden Globes red carpet with two conspicuous pieces of jewelry on her feet.
If toe rings are perhaps not quite "in" yet, then they are at the very least a looming credible threat. People are clearly no longer embarrassed being caught out in them. Search "toe ring" on Instagram, for example, and you'll realize ... well, a lot of creepy things, but also that toe rings are somehow acceptable.
The weather is getting warmer. Your sad winter feet are going to look pretty pathetic in sandals these first few weeks. You might be tempted to spice things up. Who can blame you? And hey, in the grand scheme of things, you're probably going to wear a lot of things you one day regret, if the 1980s were any indication.
Just trust me and do yourself a favor: Don't make toe rings one of them.