The once humble beach shoe goes haute couture suitable for all occasions.
By SUSAN ASCHOFF, Times Staff Writer
Published June 6, 2005
Their name is the sound they make slapping against the soles of the wearer's feet.
Actually, it is more of a slappa-slappa.
But the noise should be deafening. The pedestrian thong footwear, which began as a slab of rubbery foam with a V-shaped strap that passes between the toes and was once worn only in nasty locker rooms or at the beach, has today morphed into high fashion.
Flip-flops are on every foot, at every event, in every style.
"The flip-flop is the new little black dress," says Jackie Robbins, a partner in FlipFlopTrunkshow, a 5-year-old company that sells more than 100 styles on its Web site and has grown its sales 40 to 50 percent annually.
"When designers started making them," Robbins says, "they moved out of the realm of shower shoes."
Flip-flops now park under boardroom conference tables and walk down church aisles to the wedding march.
They dress up for club hopping and dress down for couch hugging.
When Pinellas County School Board members recently tightened the student dress code, they banned bedroom slippers but exempted flip-flops.
Board member Janet Clark initially thought they should be given the boot. She attended graduations at East Lake, Dixie Hollins and Northeast high schools in May and was dumbfounded by the number of honorees wearing flip-flops under their gowns.
"If you're kind of old school, and you think for graduation you should kind of dress up, that was surprising," she says. But she and other board members feared enforcement would be a nightmare. Too many variations on a theme. When she explains this later, Clark is wearing yellow Grendha flip-flops made in Brazil.
The evolution of flip-flops from geek to chic can be traced to open-toed shoes that prodded women to abandon pantyhose, coinciding with a surge in nail salons and toe rings. Who wants to hide pretty feet? Sections of shoe began disappearing on designers' drafting boards. Runway models paired the plebian flip-flop with bohemian smocks, then left on the footwear when they donned taffeta for evening.
If Americans are no longer offended by tattoos, why would we mind a naked foot?
Today's flip-flops are made of leather and velvet and raffia. They come topstitched and Western for men, and bejeweled and embroidered for women. Designer Sigerson Morrison first added a kitten heel: Who really looks good in flats? Translucent PVC versions are scented by color. Yellow smells like lemon. At www.flipfloptrunkshow.com
pick from utilitarian $12 Havaianas to $40 Juicy Couture with hearts to $145 Lady Lanells, adorned with 300 Swarovski crystals and reportedly favored by Sex and the City actor Sarah Jessica Parker.
Men buy flip-flops, too. An Arizona style in leather was marked down to $5.99 at local Memorial Day sales. A man's most unusual option could be the "Just Married" flip-flops at www.theknot.com
suggested for the honeymoon. The soles stamp the words Just left foot Married (right foot) in the sand as he walks, if he can manage to move with a ball and chain.
Brides request white flip-flops for the ceremony, and six or seven pairs in pink for the bridesmaids, Robbins says.
"I have five pairs. I have some with gold sequins I wore yesterday. I got them at Old Navy for maybe $10," says Jessica Baylous, who is visiting a friend in St. Petersburg and sipping a slushy beverage at a BayWalk patio table, her feet in flip-flops and resting on a chair rung.
Baylous lives in Columbia, Mo., where they have a season called winter. "There's days when I've worn a sweatshirt and sweatpants and thrown on flip-flops," she says. Perhaps when it snows she should opt for fleece-lined flip-flops by Scott.
Hotel heiress Nicky Hilton also appears seasonally challenged. She was photographed in sweats with the hood up (carrying a $200 Dooney & Bourke bag) wearing gym class-issue flip-flops.
Other celebrities insist on status. Newlywed Marc Anthony, the tabloids say, bought his bride, Jennifer Lopez, a one-of-a-kind pair of flip-flops bedecked with "feathers" shaved from 18-karat gold and worth $24,000.
The sandal - one stretches to call it a shoe - is ubiquitous in Third World countries because it is the cheapest possible footwear. Now its exaltation says something about our global village. Havaianas from Brazil have been around almost half a century. But it took model Gisele Bundchen and tennis champ Venus Williams to make them the "it" flip-flop. Multilingual cachet for $10.
One fashionista calls flip-flops the ultimate "look cool without really trying" accessory.
"I think a lot of it is comfort," says Wendi Brown of Tampa, drinking a slushy beverage with Baylous.
Brown, 25, works at Kirkland Russ Murphy & Tapp in Clearwater, an accounting firm whose dress code is button-down and closed-toed only. She is not working today. She is wearing flip-flops.
Although high schools have despaired at parsing mule versus thong versus slide, many Tampa Bay elementary schools mandate closed shoes, or sandals with multiple buckled straps front and back. "My daughter is in preschool and they don't let them wear flip-flops," says self-titled flip-flop guru Robbins, who lives in Southern California. School policies generally cite risk of injury from a trip caused by footwear that flips.
Still, a springtime survey by Old Navy found that almost two-thirds of adults in the United States wear flip-flops. They said flip-flops make them feel carefree. They said the sound they make while walking reminds them of the beach.
Susan Aschoff can be reached at 727 892-2293 or firstname.lastname@example.org
[Last modified June 3, 2005, 12:29:02]