Flip-Flops, Crocs, and “Barefoot” Shoes: the Search for Comfortable Feet
We all know high-heels and dress shoes are notoriously uncomfortable sacrifices of comfort for style, but some footwear promises to free us from our feet coffins (my word for shoes) only to provide danger and discomfort themselves. From flip-flops, to crocs, to those creepy individual-toe running shoes, are they worth wearing in public?
“Thong-like sandals have been around since at least the ancient Egyptians,” Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto explained to a Washington Post reporter. She went on to explaining that the ones we wear today, however, are more inspired by traditional Japanese zori sandals that were worn with Kimonos, and that this style became popular with the rise of surfer culture in 60’s America.
With so many options for cheap footwear today, though, many take umbrage at your god-given right to fault your toes and walk around with barely any protection or comfort for your feet. In a piece that generated more hate-mail than any piece of political coverage she has ever done, Slate columnist Dana Stevens makes the case in her piece titled: Your Flip-Flops Are Grossing Me Out, sporting the even less ambiguous subhead, “They’re unsightly, unhygienic, and unfit for public display.” She goes on to defend, in comparison, the “butt-ugly” croc because at least “they permit the wearer to break into a run or take a step backward when needed.”
Hate for flip-flops is not limited to the click-happy columnist; the flimsy footwear has upset whole nations. Employees in Britain’s national health care system, the NHS, became so annoyed that flip-flop related accidents were adding up to an estimated 40 million pounds per year and reported that flip-flops ‘injure 200,000 a year,’ they began releasing advisories that encouraged even going barefoot over flip-flops. The Daily Mail released what reads as almost a public service announcement against the footwear publicizing these numbers.
They look like an… orthotic. Which is understandable, considering many claim this shoe is the single most comfortable piece of footwear they’ve ever worn. So emphatically though, did croc enthusiasts make this claim that after the crocs became increasingly popular in the mid 2000s, culture and fashion writers began to refer to their ubiquity as “an epidemic.” It seems now that the hype around crocs has faded, but aren’t going to disappear anytime soon as the footwear becomes a cheaper, niche choice for certain shoppers. Yet, even though crocs lost the war to put the world in uniformly ugly and comfortable footwear, fashion bloggers still feel the need to occasionally point out how unacceptable they find another’s footwear.
In 2016 you shouldn’t have to sacrifice style for comfort, but when it comes to crocs, we say live and let live. Although, unless you’re a nurse, pregnant, or suffering from foot pain, you can probably expect wearing crocs in public to get you the same reaction as though you were wearing slippers. Sure, you can make an argument for why it’s acceptable, but then you’re the crazy person arguing in public about their foam plastic shoes.
“Barefoot” or “minimalist” running shoes
There may be specialized situations where these shoes are just the perfect fit for you, but the fact still remains that to the rest of the civilized world, we can’t help but worry for your safety. Vibram FiveFingers were introduced in 2005 and hyped as “perfectly safe” provided you ran with barefoot-running technique, and for a while this line or rhetoric (though technically true) seemed enough of a defense for the uber-trendy against the naysayers. After all, Abebe Bikali won the gold medal running barefoot. Yet, as evidence mounts that minimalist shoes are actually dangerous, according to the NIH, Vibram was forced to settle a lawsuit with refunds of up to $94 to anyone who had purchased the product since 2009 due to exaggerations of the health benefits of the footwear, it seems increasingly apparent that there is no real science to these, albeit nifty-in-appearance shoes, and that Abebe Bikali probably won a gold medal for being a really great runner, not because he was barefoot. Simply put, in addition to increasing your risk of injury, barefoot-style shoes are the fedoras of footwear, and detractors at least have scientific evidence to criticize this dying hipster trend.