Mesh Flats Are the New Face of Impractical Footwear


Sheer shoes, from lace mules to perforated leather ballerinas, continue to trend.

This article was originally published in August 2023 and has been updated.  

Fashion loves nothing more than a shoe that raises eyebrows. Crocs are inexplicably in the midst of an ongoing renaissance. Margiela’s Tabis‘ unconventional split-toe design has become a cult favourite. Last year, Mschf’s Big Red Boots broke the internet thanks to their confusing cartoonish design and absurd dimensions. And now, a surprising new style reigns supreme in the realm of impractical shoes: mesh flats.

The closest you can get to going barefoot without entirely forgoing protection, mesh flats reveal smushed-together toes and feet that look as though they are protruding from shoes. While strategically concealing and exposing the foot, they are the immediate star of any outfit thanks to their, well, weirdness. The see-through style — which is basically just the tights-as-pants fad, but for your feet — has been dubbed an undeniably “sensual trend” because of its commitment to putting toes on display. Simply put, it takes all the polarizing aspects of the coveted ballet flat and doubles down on them. Unsupportive soles? Probably not great in the rain? A sweat-trapping hazard? Yes to all of the above.

Logistically, mesh flats make no sense. But visually, these sleek second skins are the perfect choice for today’s It shoe sentiments. These are not the Carrie Bradshaw Manolo Blahniks of yore. In an era of recession core, the ultra-thin naked flats have become a must-have footwear trend because they are decidedly under the radar about it all.

Unsurprisingly, The Row was the first to champion the unassuming coolness of the see-through style, thanks to its fan-favourite Mesh Sock Flats. Since then, brands like Sandy Liang, Khaite, Bottega Veneta, Alaïa and more have given their take on the trend, often quickly selling out and garnering even more curiosity over the shoe that’s not quite a shoe.

Throughout 2023, mesh flats took off among fashion crowds and trendsetters du jour, paired with styles of all kinds, from denim ensembles to maxi skirts. A casually dressed Jennifer Lawrence is often spotted in fishnet Mary Janes by Alaïa or invisible slip-ons by The Row. In the summer, Chrissy Teigen flaunted her mesh flats on Instagram, while Sofia Richie wore Alaïa’s bedazzled iteration to “run errands.” (Presumably the expensive kind, like getting a $23 smoothie at Erewhon.)

As the ultimate antithesis of traditional towering high heels, it’s not hard to see the appeal of mesh flats. Sure, they may not be orthopedic-friendly or stain-resistant, but there’s something decidedly enticing about them.

In all its impractical glory, the flat mesh shoe is the culmination of quiet luxury. It’s understated yet refined; effortless yet put-together. It’s the shoe that couldn’t be bothered to commit to being a shoe. It’s a way of taking the straightforward, objectively simple design of the ballet flat and infusing it with intention. Whether it’s embellished with crystals and floral appliqués or made in straightforward netting or crocheted styles, the see-through flat functions first and foremost to adorn the foot in new, nonsensical ways. And nothing says It shoe more than that.

Ready to take the first step in showing your toes? (Sorry.) Styles are selling out fast, so below, FASHION rounded up the best mesh flats on the market right now.

Jeffrey Campbell Swan-Lake flat

mesh flats effrey Campbell

Available in red and black, these Jeffrey Campbell mesh flats are subtle yet statement-making. Featuring a faux-leather upper accents with a man-made sole, they’re rounded toe accents add a classic balletcore finish.

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Loeffler Randall Leonie crystal-embellished tulle ballet flats

LOEFFLER RANDALL mesh flats

Affixed with bows and crystal detailing, these pastel flats are made of sheer tulle, reminiscent of a real ballerina. Complete with a durable wooden sole and a secure elasticated strap, they’re the ideal finishing touch to any dainty ensemble.

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Reformation Bethany ballet flats

Reformation mesh flats

Add a touch of edginess to the ballet flat design with this buckled pair. Together, the delicate sheerness combined with the hardware accents add the perfect touch of visual interest to any ensemble.

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Katy Perry The Marcy Mule

Katy Perry Mesh flats

These slide-on mesh flats are subtly bedazzled for a sultry effect. Featuring a round toe, metal mesh upper and padded sock lining, they’re a solid option for a going-out shoe without a high heel.

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Anthropologie mesh ballet flats

Anthropologie mesh flats

Available in three shades, these sock-like shoes are visually satifsying for their clean-cut rim detailing and refined simplicity. Shown in taupe here, they’re a perfect breakaway pick from the classic black shoe, with a leather insole that promises to stay intact.

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Greatonu women’s lace ballerina flats

slip-on mesh flats

With a soft leather insole and comfortable back foam support, these bring your foot more support than the average mesh flat. Adorned with floral lace detailing, they’re designed to be breathable and polished.

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