Sandals

Sandals -- Footwear with Simple Style

When you slip your feet into a sandal, you're slipping it into thousands of years of history. Basically just a stiff sole with thongs attached to hold them onto the foot, sandals are the simplest of footwear, and as such were the first shoes adopted by humans tired of bruising their feet on all those rocks and sticks. In fact, different cultures all over the world apparently invented them independently of each other. The first sandal soles were made from anything solid and light, including bark, woven leaves and grass, and wood; thongs were mostly made from animal skins and woven grasses. Ancient sandals up to 9,000 years old, made of woven grass and reeds, have been recovered from the dry caves in the American Southwest, proof that the ancient Native Americans were sandal-wearers.

In the Old World, the ancient Babylonians wore sandals as their everyday footwear, and so did the ancient Egyptians. The Romans were famous for them. Generally these early sandals included straps that wrapped around the leg and tied below the knee, but some Romans (especially soldiers) liked to decorate them with metal flanges on the front to protect their shins. Jesus, as the inhabitant of an area conquered by the Romans, doubtless wore simple Roman-style sandals. Obviously, this style of footwear has an impressive pedigree.

Back to the future

In some Oriental cultures, the popularity of sandals never decreased, and remains part of traditional dress to this day. The Japanese geta, waraji, and zori styles (an ancestor of flip-flops) are examples. In Western societies, however, sandals soon took a backseat to closed-toe shoes, which offered better foot protection in all weather. Some styles of women's sandals remained common, but until recently the only time most men would be caught wearing sandals was at poolside or at the beach, and those were the simplest sandals of all -- plain thong flip-flops, made of cheap foam rubber.

This has changed somewhat in recent years. While few men would ever wear sandals to a business meeting, they've become much more popular as casual wear both at home and about town. Most men prefer the broad, easily strapped-on nylon-and-rubber contraptions that some people call "mandals," which are just a step up from flip-flops. Others are happy with more stylish brands made of fine leather, with cork or contoured rubber footbeds. Especially popular (and pricey) are Birkenstocks, which in the last 40 years have become a footwear phenomenon in America. While they're mostly used as house slippers in their native Germany, many Americans wear them constantly, give their high comfort level.

Ladies first

Sandals have achieved their highest expression, both stylistically and altitudinally, in the women's fashion industry. It's always been more acceptable for the ladies to flash more foot-skin that the men, and so women often go from girlhood to maturity with their feet encased in sandals. (Not the same ones, obviously. Ewww.) Everything that could be done with sandals, short of making them closed-toe shoes, has been done. Materials ranging from hemp to alligator skins have graced sandal and sandal-derived footwear, and every possible color (and possibly a few impossible ones) has been tried. All manner of heels have been added, with the highest somewhat defeating the entire purpose of comfortable utilitarian footwear. Of course, that's the beauty of sandals: there are so many kinds that if you don't like what you've just tried on, you can move to the next kind in a jiffy.

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