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Flip Flops: Cool, Comfortable, and Cute
Flip flops are to shoes what jelly bracelets are to jewelry: casual, fun, inexpensive, and entirely unwelcome at the country club. Not to put too fine a point on it, but flip flops are the shoes you wear when you're more interested in comfort than in making an impression. They're ideal for wearing around the house, on the beach, and in your yard, but we wouldn't recommend wearing them while hiking or driving.
The shoes we call flip flops are generally characterized as open, backless sandals with V-shaped straps that pass across the sides of the foot, and are usually secured between the big and second toes. They're barely shoes at all; in fact, they've been called "the stripped down essence of footwear," which is why they're popular with people who'd rather go barefoot when they absolutely have to wear shoes. They're cheap and easily purchased in many venues. They're even simple to make by hand: it's not unusual to see handmade flip flops constructed from tire rubber in common use, especially in developing nations. Most commercial flip flops are also made from rubber too (foam rubber), but ideally they're in brighter colors and you don't have to worry about the cables from the steel belts stabbing you in the sole
Why flip flops?
To which the obvious answer is, why not? We've already gone over the comfort issue, but if it's the name you're after, the likely answer is that it's an example of what linguists call onomatopoeia -- that is, a word based on a sound (like buzz or fizz or plop). Walk around in a pair of flip flops with your ears open and you'll understand.
They're called other things, too, some of which are even printable. Thong sandals is one popular label (to differentiate them from, ahem, those other thongs), and in Hawaii they're usually called "slippers." The people of New Zealand call them jandals (short for "Japanese sandals"). Whatever their handle, they're obviously an offshoot of a type of sandal first made in Japan of woven or wooden materials; the Japanese call them simply "zori," a name guaranteed not to catch on in the Western world.
The Tao of flip flops
In some parts of the world, particularly the Pacific Islands (including Hawaii and New Zealand), flip flops (a.k.a. jandals) are an important part of daily wear and aren't considered out of place in most social situations. This is not, however, necessarily the case in mainland U.S.A. Until the late 1990s, flip flops were rarely seen off the beach or outside pool parties. Now they're starting to invade the fashion arena, where they're being reinvented in clear plastic, vinyl, and leather. Flip flops crossed a kind of cultural Rubicon when, in July 2005, several members of the Northwestern University female lacrosse team dared to wear flip flops to a meeting with President Bush at the White House. While the President didn't seem to mind, the fashion-blind athletes (or were they just brazenly trendy?) were roundly criticized in the media.