Welcome to Fashionating, a column about scathing fashion truths you may not be ready to hear.
The other day, I went to Manhattan for dinner at an upscale, yet relaxed restaurant. It’s winter, so, for warmth, I wore an ankle-length Rick Owens backless jersey dress, a black, oversized Dries Van Noten embroidered silk scarf, and a thick moleskin Owenscorp runway jacket with tails. I had one of the best dinners I’ve had in a long time, and then, on my walk back to the subway, a man passing by looked down at my feet and loudly, incredulously announced my footwear to all of SoHo: “Birkenstocks!” he exclaimed, as if the word alone explained the problem: I was sockless, tightless, in sandals. (The Rick Owens x Birkenstocks black, cow-fur Arizonas, to be precise.) And it was January in New York City.
I have always worn sandals “out of season” because they are, in fact, a winter shoe. I know this concept is alarming, and you may be thinking that I am dumb, but set aside your beliefs to consider the possibility that your feelings toward seasonal shoewear may be the result of cultural programming as much as it is a natural conclusion to reach about comfort. Sandals possess an inherent comfortability and a minimalism that make them universally attractive. They are opulent, gentle, and possess a chicness borne of lazy intelligence—like a sorcerer traipsing from one marble tower to another, just because. (That’s the problem with most shoes—they’re trying too hard.) Sandals are omniseasonal; the ideal shoe. It would be unfair to deny yourself them just because summer is over. People have accepted that high heels can be worn in any weather, and high heels are one of the ugliest, most impractical, and painful styles of anything yet invented. The sandal, conversely, is gorgeous without demanding effort on the wearer’s part.
I am frequently questioned by friends and strangers alike for wearing sandals in the winter: Aren’t you cold? they ask, constantly. While I have a greater appreciation for cold weather than some people, as heat is the enemy of fashion, I am by no means more tolerant of the chill—I always carry an extra layer in my purse because I don’t like being cold, whether I’m on the air-conditioned subway in late July or walking down Prince Street on New Year’s Eve. It’s just that my feet aren’t actually that sensitive. Besides, I reject such scrutiny on its face: My entire life, I have witnessed countless men walk about in the dead of winter, when the sky is the color of bone, wearing mesh shorts and a T-shirt. This is beyond any offense that sandals in January might allegedly cause, and yet, men behave this way without reprimand—instead, I am out of line, constantly subjected to the mindless bleating of sheep-like worrywarts who for reasons beyond me don’t like seeing sandals when the beaches are closed.
Of course, I have my limits. When the weather is in the 30s or below, I add socks or tights to keep my feet comfortable—you could do the same, if your feet get cold easily. But the same people who criticize me for being barefoot in sandals when it’s 40 degrees don’t alter their perspective when I add a thin layer to my feet when temperatures fall below freezing. In fact, wearing socks or tights with sandals is perhaps even more controversial—though for aesthetic rather than practical reasons. Indeed, my editor for this story balked at the notion that one could pull off a pair of tights with Birkenstocks (or any other sandal, for that matter). I pitied her in that moment—the pairing of tights with sandals is one of the more elevated style techniques a person can perform. It occurred to me, looking down at her dark-wash denim tucked into tall, black leather boots, that people are desperately lost in a style narrative that has restricted their liberty.
Birkenstocks are just one of an innumerable array of sandals for winter wear—slides and mules are also relevant to this discussion, because they embody the same concept, just with the opposite end of your foot exposed. UGG makes a lovely mule called the Coquette. It is essentially the same as their classic boot, but cut like a slipper, with a thick tread for outdoor wear. The Coquette is the shoe of the season—the perfect hybrid of sandal, slipper, and boot, enabling anyone to look sophisticated, casual, timeless, and post-weather. Reclaim agency, and don’t let nature make decisions about your life.
Another noteworthy example of the winter sandal would be the 2016 Teva x UGG collaboration, a monstrous chimera of two notoriously unattractive shoes designed for people who want to wear shearling hiking sandals on the street. They are not my favorite winter sandals—I’d just as soon wear my Margiela tabi cut-outs. But the Teva x UGGs made a statement that no one wanted to hear. There wasn’t a market for shearling, open-toed Tevas, and yet, these companies created them anyway. Their collaboration was bound to be hugely buzzed-about (if not widely purchased), and so generally helped introduce the possibility of winter sandals to the collective psyche. Thus, they remain a singularly important fashion object, pushing radical, reviled style options forward for the sake of expanding consciousness, not mass appeal.
Earlier this week, I was leaving the VICE office in Brooklyn, wearing a pair of black sweatpants and a puffy winter coat. It was particularly chilly that day, in the low 20s, so I wanted to be on the safe side; I wore my UGG Coquettes. It didn’t occur to me to wear socks with them—in such a cozy shoe, why would I? As I was leaving, a colleague gasped, pitying my poor heels and ankles, which would surely freeze. He was wearing, I was told, Uniqlo Heattech garments to protect himself, and wondered if I had checked the weather that morning. As we stepped into the dark, brittle winter evening, I looked to him, his hat on snug, his thick shoes tightly laced, socks tucked up under his pants. I decided to take a leap, and see if he might be worth saving—to convince him that there is another way, that what he’s been taught is not the whole story. But some people are just so severely brainwashed that they’ve lost the ability to produce original thought. He just shook his head, insisting I must be cold. I wasn’t.