Letting the Dogs Out - A Look at the Return of Sandals in Fashion

For decades — centuries even — men have been strapping sandals to their feet, from Roman-style leather slip-ons and designer “mandals” to Birkenstocks and Tevas. You may have worn a pair yourself at some point; that is, until you were told that you shouldn’t. And so you switched to something more “sartorial” for the warm season — espadrilles perhaps, or plimsolls. But if you’ve been thinking about dusting them off for summer — especially with the mercury rising the way that it is — you’re in luck. Not only have sandals been cropping up from a host of footwear labels, but they’re also showing up on fashion runways and in collaborations with your favorite brands. In short, they’re back in a big way.

Not that they ever really left. The oldest sandals date back thousands of years, the most ancient specimens of which were found in Fort Rock Cave, Oregon made of sagebrush bark. The Greeks, famously, had their own versions woven from leaves, twigs or fibers, along with higher-cut cothurnus. The ancient Egyptians made theirs from papyrus or palm leaves, and the Japanese have been wearing geta — a wooden thong style — or zori for ages. Add gladiator-style Roman designs and Mexican huaraches to the mix and you get the bigger picture — sandals are as venerable and universal as any footwear known to man.

But every few years, the much-maligned style seems to fall out of favor and then experiences a renaissance of sorts. Birkenstocks, for instance, have been appearing in designer looks everywhere from Givenchy‘s pre-Spring 2014 collection to Agi & Sam‘s outfits this season. J.Crew just debuted a duo of exclusive Birkenstock Arizonas and menswear bible, GQ, ran a post on their return at the end of May. Birkenstocks are nothing new; the German company has been making high-quality, cork footbed sandals and shoes since 1774, and they’ve been a staple for poetry readings, stylish Japanese men, and the comfort-obsessed for years. Yet it seems we’re about to see an explosion of Birkenstocks in men’s fashion over the next few seasons, along with versions from some very prominent brands. Case in point — A Bathing Ape‘s CAMO SANDAL, which updates Birkenstock’s Zurich style with PU leather and an embossed camouflage print.

Birkenstock isn’t the only sandal specialist having a moment. Teva, the originator of the world’s first sport sandal, has also been experiencing something of a revival. Its nylon-strapped, watersports-ready designs — despite experiencing a heyday in the mid ’80s — have long been the brunt of jokes by stylish guys, but that has been changing. Only this month, the brand released a collaboration with SeaVees, along with fashion-forward versions with CASH CA and Japanese label Hombre Nino. Patrik Ervell, meanwhile, mimicked Teva’s outdoorsy looks for his Spring/Summer 2013 collection footwear, Louis Vuitton almost concurrently presented a luxury version in camo, and Chaco teamed with Stussy for an athletic-style sandal consisting of polyester straps and a Vibram sole.

“Not only have sandals been cropping up from a host of footwear labels, but they’re also showing up on fashion runways and in collaborations with your favorite brands.”

You’d be hard-pressed to ignore the high-end designer “mandals,” too. Do a quick scan of the Spring/Summer 2014 shows in London, Milan, and Paris and you’ll find refined gladiators, studded sandals, snakeskin slip-ons, luxe leather designs and — in Christopher Shannon‘s case — sandals over shoes. If waiting until next spring is asking too much, you’ll find more current offerings from retailers like MR PORTER, oki-ni or Tres Bien. Working sandals into one’s summer rotation, it seems, has never been easier — or more “fashionable.”

Which brings us to the main point of contention: one’s feet. While it’s hard to deny the advantages of wearing sandals — breathability, beach-readiness, comfort and, in some cases, a certain kind of masculinity — going open-toed isn’t without its share of detractors. It’s not hard to see why. They’re not office-appropriate, obviously, nor the best choice of footwear for a first date or formal event, but we’re guessing the real issue with the practical footwear has more to do with blisters, overgrown toenails and cracked soles than the sandals themselves. Let’s face it, you still struggle with working cleansers and moisturizers into your morning routine and news of Tom Ford’s “makeup” products for men freaked you out, so it’s unlikely that your feet are the epitome of male beauty. But while we don’t particularly endorse a visit to your local pedicurist — or pairing socks with sandals for that matter — if you’re planning on wearing them out this summer, do keep the nails trimmed and moisturizer handy and no one should question you for letting the dogs out this season.

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