Welcome to Fashionating, a column with scathing fashion truths you may not be ready to hear.
My name is Diana and I am a woman in my late 20s, but I used to live as a man. I haven’t prepared a meal in a decade, my hair is long and I dye it black, and I am passionate about two things: writing and clothes. Despite the judgements we may have about fashion—the industry, the frivolity, whatever—we’re still fascinated by it, even when that fascination is colored by resentment. Welcome to Fashionating, my new column about clothing.
Everything is so uncertain: finances, friendships, the future. It’s unnerving. I’ve come to notice the things that last—the few things in this world I know I can depend on. I can depend on poorly written essays that no one ever reads written by midwestern transplants about why they’re leaving New York City being published online. I can depend on people going to overly priced brunch spots every Saturday to have mediocre eggs and mashed avocado after waiting an hour and a half in a queue. And I can depend on people publicly complaining about flip-flops.
Flip-flops are possibly the most mindlessly reviled fashion object. Just now, I typed “flip flops” into Twitter, and naturally I found someone pointlessly attacking them: “You know what sound I hate? Flip-flops, slapping against people’s feet.” Here is another: “flip flops are so ugly lmfao.” Another: “When i’m elected to office my first order of business will be to make flip flops illegal in all 50 states.”
One would be forgiven for thinking these were quotes about something actually despicable—say, a Band-Aid in a swimming pool. The subject at hand, though? Sandals that have existed for thousands of years, popular in cultures around the globe. An article I found on AOL, a company which still exists in 2018, says that flip-flops have been around since 4000 B.C., present in Ancient Egypt, Japan, and China, where they were made out of papyrus, straw, or wood. What could be so upsetting about footwear with such a rich history, something so beloved by our species that it has lasted for thousands of years?
According to AOL, which was once just good for instant messaging, the flip-flop entered the U.S. following World War II, when American soldiers returned with zōri, a traditional Japanese thong sandal made of a straw, and later, rubber footbed with a thong that holds it on the foot. Though thong sandals existed elsewhere in the world outside of Japan, it would be hard to argue that they are more characteristic of another culture—thong sandals proliferated in Japan for hundreds of years, and it was the early 20th century version of the zōri that entered an international market. The flip-flop as we know it today is also closely linked to Havaianas, a Brazilian company, that broke onto the scene in the 1960s with a sandal based on the Japanese zōri.
Now, Americans wear foam versions of this ancient shoe, and plenty of us think they’re disgusting for no reason. I will admit that there is a significant stylistic difference between the elegant thong sandals worn throughout history and the “Minions” flip-flops that Havaianas sells today. Flip-flops seem like something only basic people wear, because so many mundane Americans outfit their families in these cheap shoes that expose their unattractive feet for the world to see. But disliking basicness or feet is different than hating the shoe itself, so I don’t buy the idea that flip-flops are easy to hate for either of those reasons.
Children aren’t born with hate. They learn it.
Maybe we just don’t like flip-flops because we don’t remember where they came from. On one hand, people have appropriated this footwear (In New Zealand, they are called Jandals, as in Japanese sandals.) and on the other, we detest them. So we have, essentially, an ancient shoe that was taken from Japanese culture, popularized in other nations around the world, stripped of its heritage, and today both bastardized with Minions imprints as well as by losers who mindlessly call the entire genre of shoe disgusting because, at some point in their pitiful lives, they heard someone else call them disgusting, and they just repeated it. Children aren’t born with hate. They learn it.
Hating flip-flops, or being ignorant to their origin, is a failure to celebrate multiculturalism, but it is also a rejection of ourselves as human beings. The flip-flop is sleek, utilitarian, comfortable, and in alignment with the human form. They add nothing that we don’t need—unlike, say, high heels, body-modifying constructions that everyone loves, despite the fact they cause our bodies pain. We are so desperate to cover up the parts of ourselves that society says are unflattering that we cannot appreciate the beautiful simplicity of a sandal that, without fanfare, works so well with and for our bodies.
I care about shoes. But I don’t like having too many—whereas I could never imagine having too many hoodies. As such, the one pair of flip-flops in my collection are a deconstructed pair of leather Maison Martin Margiela men’s split-toe thong sandals that I bought on sale—the last pair in my size. (Never buy anything at full-cost retail pricing.) They’re different than Havaianas—but they’re not that different. If you hated one pair, you’d probably hate the other. That’s fine with me—I’m into both.
I’ve been thinking about getting some more traditional, American-trash style flip-flops. Why should I hate Minions Havaianas? In all the classic simplicity of their design, paired with their peculiar, modern American imagery, those thin thong sandals say so much about my society—and the history of my world.