It was only nine years ago when flip-flops reached peak outrage — whilst gracing the feet of Northwestern University’s women’s lacrosse team on a congratulatory visit to the White House.
The style has since been considered a shoe pariah by the fashion-conscious, but that could soon change. This fashion week season has seen flip-flops featured on the runways of designers including Lanvin, Dries Van Noten, Alexander Wang, Versace and others.
It could perhaps be the runoff effect of an early Aughts aesthetic renaissance, or the continued movement toward elevating humble shoes for novel kicks (Crocs, Birkenstocks, house slippers, et al). But regardless of inception, the lowly thong sandal is back — and it comes at a cost, sometimes nearly $1,000.
In line with the aforementioned Birkenstock and Crocs revises, spring’s flip-flop styles are amped up with silken cord, embroidery and crystal details. Alexander Wang accompanied his version (to be priced between $495 and $595) with a wide ankle strap reminiscent of a house arrest monitor. Dries Van Noten’s platform, embroidered take — to approximately retail between $700 and $1,000 — accompanied by louche city shorts, pressed pants and ecru denim.
At Bouchra Jarrar’s first collection for Lanvin, modernist romantic clothes were accompanied by sandals that embellished on flip-flops’ rudimentary skeleton. The sculptural shoes — which intertwine suede, leather and chain straps — have yet to be priced.
Le Bon Marché fashion director Jennifer Cuvillier said she plans to stock Dries Van Noten’s flip-flops in store and is considering the Lanvin styles, too. “Everyone is looking for something very comfortable. Designers started with the sneaker and, now for summer, the next thing is with the sandal but almost a swimming pool sandal. It’s the evolution of the sneaker, more casual streetwear but with an elegant touch that designers can bring,” she said. “It’s much more of what people are actually looking for right now, everyone wants to wear pieces that are much more comfortable but still very elegant.”
Said consultant and former Barneys New York fashion director Julie Gilhart: “It seems like for a while there we couldn’t get enough sneakers, and then everyone wanted a slip-on or a Birkenstock, and that sort of morphed into this slide thing — overall I feel like it’s just the way fashion moves and I think designers are having a lot of fun with it. There is something very sexy about it, too, and I don’t think a Birkenstock is a very sexy shoe.”
Mary-Kate Olsen, a proverbial indicator of style winds, has already been spotted in the style — quelling any further doubts that flip-flops have made a return.
The Row designer received an outpouring of blog adoration when paparazzi snapped her outside The Row’s studio shortly before fashion week — taking drags from a cigarette while dressed in sailor pants, a crisp T-shirt, and what appeared to be a pair of black Havaiana sandals. “Mary-Kate Olsen just made flip-flops look chic,” declared one style blog. “Did the Olsen twins just make this no-go a trend?” pondered another.
Flip-flops have reentered the non-fashion lexicon, too, with the Columbia Journalism Review curiously publishing a piece this summer titled, “Everything You Never Knew About Thongs,” tracing the shoe’s history.
Though its origins extend as far back as ancient Egypt, the shoe has yet to be marketed in an overtly luxury context. While Chanel and Dior under John Galliano sold flip-flops as resort items, they have not emerged as a mainstay of cool-hunters.
So will they sell? Said Cuvillier: “I think you don’t’ think of it as a price for a flip-flop, you just think of it as a price for a fashion shoe. Just like two years ago we could have said ‘OK, that’s too expensive for a sneaker,’ but when Dior did a sneaker shoe, you didn’t think of it as the price of a sneaker, you considered it the price for a designer shoe.”
Added Gilhart: “There is a customer that doesn’t have a budget, they just buy what they want.”