Flip Flops vs. Sandals: Understanding Their Place in the Shoe Category

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I can no longer recall which season, but I can still remember watching an episode of Gossip Girl in which Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester’s character ) tells someone that “sandals are NOT shoes.”

So, what do you think shoeaholics? Are flip-flops and sandals shoes or not? To anyone wondering, YES, contrary to what Blair Waldorf said, sandals ARE shoes. To be more specific, a sandal is a type of shoe.

Flip flops and sandals are considered shoesFlip flops and sandals are considered shoes (Credit: New Africa / Shutterstock)

Defining Sandals and Shoes

Some fashionistas will probably contest this, but allow me to explain it to you by first giving you the definition of ‘sandals’ in the dictionary.

In my Merriam-Webster pocket dictionary, it says:

“a shoe consisting of a sole strapped to the foot”

Also, Dictionary.com defines the sandal as:

“a shoe consisting of a sole of leather or other material fastened to the foot by thongs or straps”

“any of various low shoes or slippers”

“a light, low, rubber overshoe covering only the front part of a woman’s high-heeled shoe.”

“a band or strap that fastens a low shoe or slipper on the foot by passing over the instep or around the ankle”

With these definitions in mind, you can pretty much say sandals are indeed shoes (thong sandals included). If you look up the definition of shoes, you will also find that sandals (whether heeled or flat), much like boots (and even rubber slippers/flip-flops), are considered types of shoes.

In a way, if you think about it, these definitions do hold. Why else would stores classify all types of footwear (whether it’s heels, sneakers, flip-flops, or sandals) under the SHOES category?

So there you have it—sandals are shoes. Generally speaking, sandals leave much of the feet exposed, which is why they’re popular during summer.

While some people don’t consider them shoes, flip flops are a casual type of sandal.

What Is Considered a Flip Flop?

Flip flops consist of a flat sole held loosely on the foot by a Y-shaped strap known as a toe thong that passes between the first and second toes and around both sides of the foot.

I really wish I had invented the flip-flop. I love flip-flops. It’s the one style of shoe I would be so proud of inventing: the Havaiana. Christian Louboutin

The Cultural Journey of Flip-Flops

While they have been worn by the people of many cultures throughout the world, the modern flip-flop descends from the Japanese zōri.

I was born in platform heels. I actually always fall down when I’m wearing flip-flops. Eva Longoria

These flat and thonged Japanese sandals are made of rice straw or other plant fibers, cloth, lacquered wood, leather, rubber, or synthetic materials.

They became popular after World War II when soldiers returning to the United States brought them back.

I like being comfortable at airports, in flip-flops with no jewelry on. Bad Bunny

Legal and Cultural Restrictions on Flip-Flops

Flip flops are banned in many upscale restaurants, hotels, places of worship, and parts of Italy, such as the Cinque Terre National Park and the island of Capri.

People have crossed the Himalayas in flip-flops seeking a blessing from the Dalai Lama. Barbara Demick

Driving in flip-flops isn’t illegal but is considered reckless and can get you into trouble in case of an accident.

Finding the Right Flip Flop for You

The most popular flip flop brands are Hoka One One, Oofos, OluKai, Havaianas, Tory Burch, Rainbow Sandals, Gucci, Tkees, Crocs, Sanuk, Old Navy, Nike, Adidas, FitFlop, Reef, Birkenstock, and Vionic.

There was a story that I was in a shoe shop and that I threw a pair of flip flops at the wall, shouting, ‘I can’t believe how overpriced these are!’ I thought, ‘Gosh, if I’m gonna take a big stand on something I would hope it would be for more than flip flops!’ Rose McGowan

While many flip flops cost under $100, you can find flip-flops costing several thousand dollars.

I’m from L.A., so I’m used to seeing people in sunglasses and flip-flops. There’s something so romantic about a man in a scarf and a knitted hat. Meghan Markle

A Glimpse into the Luxury Flip-Flop Market

In 2007, footwear label Moszkito launched a pair of Snake Charmer flip-flops featuring 24 round, full-cut, high-quality diamonds (6 carats). Marketed as the world’s most expensive flip-flops, these sparkling sandals retailed for $20,000.

The world's most expensive flip-flops featuring 24 round, full-cut diamondsThe world’s most expensive flip-flops featuring 24 round, full-cut diamonds (Credit: WENN)

I had no style when I was 17! I look at teenagers now and say, ‘I wish I’d looked like them when I was that age.’ I had no style whatsoever, but style also wasn’t as prominent as it is today. I was just very laid back, usually wearing jeans and tank tops and flip flops. Candace Cameron Bure