While it may not have a name as elegant as the D’Orsay or as descriptive as the ankle boot, the mule is having a bit of a moment in fashion right now, everywhere from the Gucci runway to your local Zara.
Now, what exactly characterizes the style is up for debate: A quick search yields photos of thick-strap sandals alongside backless boots; clunky clogs; and flat, pointed slides. For our purposes, though, let’s settle on a few restrictions: Mules must have an open back (no slingbacks sneaking in there), and while they need not be fully closed-toe, the shoe should cover most of the top of the foot.
While the style is not known for its practicality—keeping the shoes on your feet can be, well, a bit of a feat—this season’s options at least offer plenty of choice for those who don’t want to teeter around on stiletto heels all day. Brother Vellies, the It-line of handcrafted African-made footwear, may be partly to thank for ushering in a wave of babouches, the Moroccan-style soft, pointy slippers that Phoebe Philo reimagined in buckled black lambskin for Céline’s Resort 2016 collection and labels such as Opening Ceremony and 3.1 Phillip Lim riffed off of for spring.
Simple low-heeled slides have also seen a comeback—and this past September, they were even the subject of a fashion-industry feud when designer Maryam Nassir Zadeh accused the duo behind hit indie label Mansur Gavriel of ripping off her signature colorful block-heel suede mules for their debut footwear collection.
While the dispute didn’t amount to much more than some pointed words in the press, it’s now clear that was just the beginning of the zeitgeist. Today, you’ll find “inspired” styles at a fraction of the cost by brands such as Jeffrey Campbell, Mango, and Zara—all of whom no doubt saw the hubbub as a sign that we’d all be fighting for a pair, too. (If you can afford the $391 price tag, though, go for Zadeh’s OG versions in periwinkle blue or pale grass green—those you won’t find anywhere else.)
The best thing about the broad definition of mules? There’s something for everyone, and we’ve rounded up 25 of the best ones this season for every budget.