When most of us think of flip flops, we think of warm, sunny, summer days, going to the beach, and maybe even showing off a fresh pedicure.
And again, if you’re like most people, you probably picture the most generic, two-dollar pair of drug store flip flops when you hear the world.
However, there are many different types of flip flops out there. Many designers and brand have tackled this famous footwear by adding in their touches of comfort and style. At the same time, we also need to recognize that there’s a big difference between a flip flop and a sandal.
There is more than meets the eye when it comes to these super popular shoes, so let’s dive in and learn more about the types of flip flops and their many convenient uses.
What Defines a Flip Flop?
As we mentioned above, a flip flop is not quite the same thing as a sandal. One might classify it under the “types of sandals” heading, but a sandal is not a flip flop.
While both sandals and flip flops are known for being summery, outdoorsy kinds of footwear – given that they expose the majority of your feet to the elements – only flip flops are named for the sound they make while you are wearing them.
We all know what I’m talking about: the distinct flip and flop of your shoe hitting the underside of your foot as you walk.
This sound happens because of the main difference between a flip flop and a sandal. Flip flops do not secure at the back of your foot. They boast a Y-shaped strap that sits snug between your big toe and the second toe on your foot. And that’s it!
Flip flops are very minimal in material and design and are made to slip on and off quickly. They are certainly not designed to be secure or protective of your feet, which is why common sense tells us not to wear them snowboarding or on a long hike up a mountain.
Many sandals range from basically just more secure hold to your foot to better support and more coverage. Your sandals will, at the very least, have a strap that holds around your ankle and most likely your instep as well. Sandals are also more diverse in the fashion world because you can use different fabrics, patterns, and even add a heel to them.
While your flip flops are likely made of rubber and plastic, a sandal can be constructed of rubber, leather, wood, rope, and much more.
A Brief History
When you hear the word flip flop, I highly doubt that the first thing that comes to mind is a rich history. However, you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking so. Flip flops, though they didn’t receive their official name until about the 1960s, have been a popular type of footwear for centuries.
Murals found in Egypt dating back to 4,000 B.C. display images of people wearing flip flops. The pictures are indisputable, showcasing the classic Y-shaped strap between the two first toes on their feet.
Back in these days, the shoes were likely made with things like papyrus and reeds.
Later on, in early Africa, people were making the same shoes out of animal hides, and even later in India, they were constructed from wood. Finally, in China, history shows the people wearing flip flops made of rice straw.
Of course, certain cultures took liberties on the best way to make flip flops, and even the best ways to wear them. While we are accustomed to the comfortable position of the strap between the first and second toe, statues and images show us that the Romans and Mesopotamians wore their flip flops – and their sandals – with that same strap between the second and third toes.
To us, that seems extremely uncomfortable. Thankfully, the ancient Greeks decided on the first and second toe method, giving us the comfortable fit that we use today.
It wasn’t until after World War II that flip flops topped the charts in the United States, though. After the war, soldiers came home from deployments in Japan, and many of them brought souvenirs with them – including those Japanese flip flops made from rice straw. The Japanese called them zori.
The shoes soon took off, and the United States manufacturers took the liberty of replacing the rice straw with more durable and longer-lasting rubber. They also used our technology to create various colors and styles, appealing to trends and taste for profit.
By the 1950s and 60s, flip flops were widely common and very popular, and they have stayed that way today. Styles may come and go, but flip flops are classic shoes that have never dipped in popularity.
They are so popular that we have even seen U.S. presidents rock them on casual outings or gatherings. Today, the industry is generating around $2.5 billion every year. Flip flops hold the spot as the best-selling sandal in the country.
Comfort, Not Health
While many of us reach for our flip flops with the idea that we will be more comfortable and have an easier time walking around, medical research has shown us that they may not be the best choice for our overall health.
Some health professionals say that flip flops have caused more problems with people’s feet in the last few years than any other type of shoe.
Because of the design of flip flops, individuals are unknowingly forced to use tendons and muscles of the foot to hold onto them. Their lack of straps doesn’t attach the shoe to the foot, meaning that we have to put in more effort to keep it from flying off as we walk – even if we don’t realize it.
Various foot and ankle experts, doctors, and surgeons have stated that long-term use of flip flops has led to increased heal pain and discomfort in the foot. This kind of pain is even more common among people ages 15 to 25 years old.
In addition to the extra muscle that goes into wearing flip flops, most brands and designs also offer very little arch support. Health experts say that flat-soled shoes and even walking barefoot can cause pain and issues due to the lack of support in the arch. Many flip flops offer little to no support and cushion.
Basically, in most cases, wearing unsecured sandals like flip flops forces a change in a person’s natural stride and can lead to unusual stresses that don’t appear when wearing any other shoe. An older individual is less likely to be seen wearing flip flops because of the extra effort it takes to walk in them.
However, not many formal studies have been performed on the impacts of flip flops. There is likely still much to be discovered in this area.
Uses for Flip Flops
We all know that flip flops thrive in the summertime, but there are several instances and occasions where flip flops are not only convenient and comfortable, but they make the most sense.
For example, I was a lifeguard for several summers throughout high school and college. Sure, many guards like to walk around the pool area in the swimsuit barefoot, like the folks there using the pool, but sometimes those sidewalks get far too hot. I always got myself a pair of new but cheap flip flops for the summer season to wear while on duty.
That being said, flip flops are excellent for days at the pool, a trip to the water park, or some time at the beach. Many of these situations require some kind of shoe for traveling but don’t need shoes for the activity itself. Flip flops are super easy to slip on and off, and it’s okay to get them wet.
Flip flops are also great for college students. If you have ever lived in a dorm, then you have suffered through the notion of a communal shower. Only the brave and bold go into a shared shower with no shoes – the rest of us benefited from the idea of the shower shoe.
Flip flops and slides are the most common shoes used for the shower. They are easy to slip on and off, and since they are made from rubber or plastic, the water won’t ruin them as it does with other shoes. You can quite literally wear your shoes in the shower for the duration, protecting yourself from coming into contact with germs and bacteria lurking on the shower floor.
Then, when you’re finished showering and have to walk through the restroom and hallway to get back to your room, you already have a pair of shoes on; there’s no need to go barefoot.
Flips flops are also used commonly among athletes. Whether traveling to an away game or even walking to practice, many athletes don’t like to wear their respective footwear until it’s time to get into the game. This is especially true for sports like baseball and football that require cleats.
Many times, athletes will get themselves a pair of slides or flip flops to wear on their way to a game or practice. When they arrive, they can slip off their travel shoes and put on their sneakers or cleats. Or, if you’re a swimmer, you can kick off the flip flops and hop in the pool.
Another excellent use for flip flops is when you’re cleaning. Depending on the type of cleaning you’re doing, you may not want to go barefoot. Dirty floors leave you with muddy feet, and the thought of cleaning a bathroom barefoot just does not appeal.
Flip flops are fantastic for work around the house because you can slide them on and go, but they are also super easy to clean themselves. It doesn’t matter what you get on them because you can stick them under the faucet and rinse them off.
At the same time, flip flops are super inexpensive, so it’s not a huge deal to ruin a pair. This makes them a great alternative to wearing a pair of your sneakers, which probably cost a lot more and will retain more smells and stains due to their materials.
Finally, flip flops are great for any quick task or errand. I can’t tell you how many times I threw on my flip flops in an instant to run outside and help my husband with something. I’ve also used them for quick trips to the drug store or grocery store. I keep a pair by the front door, so I can slide them on quickly to go outside and grab a package or the mail.
When you’re in a hurry and don’t have the time to sit down and tie your sneakers or it’s inconvenient to rock a pair of heels, flip flops are there as an easy solution.
Types of Flip Flops
There are so many different styles, brands, and designs of flip flop on the market today. With innovative growing and growing, people are finding ways to transform your classic rubber flip flop into stylish and functional footwear.
Let’s take a look at several different types of flip flops.
Rubber Flip Flops
Rubber flip flops are your average, run of the mill flip flops that you can find in any department store for less than five dollars. These flip flops are by far the most common and most popular kind of sandal and can be seen on almost every foot during the summer months.
Their classic Y-shaped design is simple, basic, and functional with no frills or extras. You can find them in every color of the rainbow with various prints and strap colors, too. They are excellent for the beach, chores, or a day at the pool.
Not all flip flops are designed to be worn for convenience – some are made for style. The leather strap design is great as a casual outdoor sandal. Whether real or synthetic, leather strap flip flops let you get away with the comfort of a standard flip flop while still showing some style and taste.
You can easily get away with wearing this “nicer” version of the flip flop with a skirt or a dress or even some stylish shorts.
Straw-Lined Flip Flop
If you’re looking for a different look but still want the comfort and cost of a rubber flip flop, go with the straw-lined design. This shoe looks adorable with its base made from straw, but it maintains the general Y-shaped look of a flip flop. It turns any event into a beachy feel and makes a sundress or bathing suit cover-up look fabulous.
Suede Flip Flop
The suede flip flop look is one that is most often seen on men. Suede gives the flip flop a nice smooth finish, greatly distinguishing it from the classic type. Suede is a great alternative to leather because although it looks nice, it’s not as expensive, and you can certainly get away with wearing them to an event or party.
Wedge Heel Flip Flop
The status of whether this shoe is still fashionable or not seems to always be in question, but the wedge heel flip flop is definitely still around. It’s basically a regular rubber flip flop, except it has a wedge heel extending its height made from the same material. These shoes are very inexpensive and can be a fun way to liven up a cute summer outfit.
There’s a debate as to whether or not slides are truly considered flip flops, but we’re going to include them anyway. Slides are the same in that they lack a back end strap to secure the shoe to your ankle or heel, but rather than a Y-shaped strap, they have one wide band that goes over the top of your foot.
They are very common for athletes to wear and come in many different materials ranging from 100% rubber to fabric with cushioned soles.
Birkenstock Flip Flop
Birkenstocks also fall under the grey area of the flip flop definition, but they come in enough different styles that we feel we can include them.
Birkenstock is a German brand that uses cork for the sole of the shoe. Their hard bottoms are accompanied by straps on top or a fully covered top with an open back. Because they do have the open back design, they have the same feel and effect of a flip flop.
Heeled Flip Flop
Similar to the wedge flip flops, some women’s styles feature a heel at the back of the shoe. These heels can be tall or short and come in a wide range of thick or thin. But they all have the same Y-shaped straps with nothing on the back.
Toe Hole Flip Flop
Contrary to the popular Y-shaped design of the classic flip flop, some shoes use a crossover design for their straps instead that form a hole for the big toe to slide through. The rest of the strap is generally the same as the Y-strap, but instead of a piece of plastic between the first two toes, your big toe is sort of secured into one hole.
Slipper Flip Flop
Finally, if you haven’t yet heard, they do make slipper flip flops. Someone had the brilliant idea to combine the world’s two more comfortable types of footwear to make the ultimate comfort shoe.
Slipper flip flops look exactly like standard rubber flops, but they are completely covered in fuzzy, soft goodness that you can wear around the house on your lazy days off.
And there you have it. The above are the most common types of flip flops that you will find at your local shoe store. Many things will come and go in the world of fashion, but flip flops have stayed strong for thousands of years, and I don’t see them going anywhere anytime soon.