Slip on your Slippers

Ask a Hawaiian to show you a pair of slippers, and he'll point to the beach sandals on his feet. In most of the rest of the world, however, the term "slipper" refers to a kind of soft, laceless, backless shoe with a limited upper, easy to slip on and off in a hurry. Most people wear them only at home, hence their other common names: house slippers and house shoes. While a few people may wear slippers in public, say on the train or at the stock exchange, that sort of thing tends to be frowned upon, and is considered symptomatic of a few slipped mental cogs.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Some daring designers have recently introduced shoes that appear to be slippers, but are in fact intended to be worn out in public. These are usually given ambiguous names like Buckeroo or Clogette, and in fact do look too good to leave at home. Then, of course, there were the famous glass slippers of Cinderella, which one ugly stepsister thought were so fabulous that she cut off a toe so she could fit into one.

Slip-sliding away

While they may be slippers in name, these casual shoes do anything but let you slip -- or at least, that's true of the best of the breed. (Some slippers, like the pink bunny slippers you wore as a kid, are just meant to keep your feet warm and make you look funny.) A good pair of slippers will do more than keep you from feeling that ice-cold floor on autumn mornings. They'll have nice, flexible non-slip soles that will help you keep your footing in all situations, such as when you step on the little puddle of orange juice your five-year-old just spilt. After all, there's nothing more humiliating, or painful, than doing the splits the first thing in the morning.

As far as the history of slippers goes, that's something of a blank. They're just one of the many styles of shoes that have appeared during the course of our millennia-long experimentation with footwear. If sandals count as slippers, as Hawaiians insist they do, then they've been around a long time indeed: the earliest known sandals come from California, of all places, and are made of plant fibers woven some 9,000 years ago.

Finding the right slippers

What are you looking for in a slipper? Glass may be both chic and traditional, but it's uncomfortable and stiff, hardly the kind of shoe you want to trot around the house in. Most of us make do with the same old polyester horrors our parents and grandparents wore, but hey -- this is the 21st century. We don't have to wear artificial textiles anymore; there's something better now that they call "natural materials." In recent decades, a number of manufacturers (mostly in Australia) have begun producing clunky, super-comfortable shoes made of sheepskin and fleece, which have caught on in a big way among the non-PETA crowd. Using the same materials, they've fashioned tough, practical slippers that are like heaven for the feet. They may cost a bit more than the everyday brands of slippers (in fact, they costs a lot more), but your feet will thank you for trying them.

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