Erin Westaway '05 felt a secret kinship with a mystery man last year. She didn't know his name?only that he also owned a pair of the same squishy, brightly colored shoes she wore every day to class. "I would occasionally see him in the dining hall," she said, "and I felt like I should talk to him."

Other students noticed, too. "I'd say at least once a week people would come up to me," Erin recalled, "and [say], 'I've seen someone else with your shoes.'"

Erin still hasn't met Andrew Combs '06, the proud owner of the yellow pair she saw around campus, but as of this fall, she has more company. It seems that in ever-increasing numbers, Polar Bears are purchasing Crocs, the featherweight resin clogs full of holes that were once Erin and Andrew's sole domain; a quick glance around Smith Union reveals several pairs in royal blue, fluorescent pink, and bright yellow.

In interviews, many Bowdoin Crocs owners disclosed that they made their purchase at JL Coombs, a shoe outlet in Freeport that sells pairs for $30. According to JL Coombs buyer Casey Andriski, Crocs' popularity is soaring?the store has seen a 750 percent increase in sales of the shoes in the past year.

"They're comfortable, I guess," Andriski explained. "They look different. In footwear, it's very difficult to make a shoe that looks different from everyone else's."

Many Croc converts at Bowdoin say that the shoes' different look inspired their purchase. Sarah Walcott '05, who bought her pair in August, is proud to own a pair in bright yellow. "I figured they were goofy looking shoes to begin with," she said, "and you may as well get the most obnoxious, loud color you can."

Gwennan Hollingworth '06, who also bought hers this summer, said she believes the shoes appeal to students because they're easy to wear. "They're the perfect college student shoes," she said. "They're not a lot of work. You don't even have to tie them."

The unusual appearance didn't deter Katie Eshelman '06 from buying them this summer, either. "I love them, but they're really sort of ugly. They look like they're rubber," she said. The shoes are better worn in Maine, she said, where fashion is more functional. "I'm from Philly and I've worn them at home and they're not really acceptable there. People will just stare at you and look really confused about why you're wearing boats on your feet."

They may be comfortable, unique-looking, and cheap, but isn't the whole point of shoes to keep out the elements? No, said Sarah Begin '05, who got her red pair as a gift last December. "You can wear them in the rain. They dry quickly. They do not hold odor," she gushed. "Did you know that the Olympic Rowing Team wears them because, well, not only are they waterproof but they also float? So you could wear them in the tub."

Eshelman concurs. The glory of Crocs, she said, is that water can seep in between your toes. "Rain is great because you can jump in puddles and it just flows in and out. They're really fun that way," she said.

Walcott said she predicts Crocs will be stuffed in students' closets for the winter, but cold weather will never force the shoes off Erin Westaway's feet. "I wear them every day. I wore them all winter last [year]," said Westaway. "If it's snowy enough, the paths get packed down; the snow doesn't get in them because you're walking on hard surfaces."

Begin intends to wear her shoes with pride despite other students' critiques of their garish appearance. "I was persecuted for wearing them," she said triumphantly, "but I knew one day that everyone would realize the beauty, comfort, and style of the Croc."