Sandals: Actually Not Terrible

August 15, 2016

Sandals: Actually Not Terrible

Sandals are tough sell in the menswear community. Along with black suits and cargo shorts (two things often worn poorly, even if they can be worn well), sandals provoke the deepest of ire among style enthusiasts. The one time Jake Gallagher wrote about them at A Continuous Lean, readers responded with: “I never want to see a man’s toes,” “girly shoes,” and a short, Hemmingway-esque “fuck this.”

To be sure, there are a lot of ugly sandals out there – the ubiquitous rubber flip-flop being the worst of them. Much like your average pair of cargo shorts, they’re worn purely out of practical considerations. Cheap and easy-to-fit, they’re a popular choice among guys who prize utility over everything else (include other people’s senses).

That said, there are good ways to wear open-toed shoes. The right pair can give a nice, casual accent to an easy-going summer look. They’re an off-duty style for when it’s blistering hot and you plan to spend most of the day lounging.

Just see above for examples. This season, Unionmade shot a really nice lookbook, which shows how you can wear sandals with loose knits, striped pants, and bold, patterned shirts. A couple of Japanese designers can also be seen wearing sandals with shorts and fatigues, while Jesse rocks a pair of huaraches with a guayabera shirt. Throw in some solid historical examples (Steve McQueen and someone with the Kennedy family) and you have some great inspiration to start.

Some options for non-awful sandals, along with suggestions on how to wear them:

  • Birkenstock Arizona: One of the easier designs to wear. Comes in the company’s traditional footbed – which slowly conforms to your foot over time – or their “soft footbed,” which is cushioned and immediately comfortable out-the-box. Team them with casual, tailored clothing (such as our friend Torsten here, who wears them with a striped button-up and some chinos) or with jeans and a work jacket for a more rugged, workwear look.
  • Strappy “Jesus Sandals”: Typically made from pure leather, these can be worn with anything you’d describe as “drapey” or “billowing.” See Lemaire’s SS14 lookbook for inspiration. Maybe less artsy-fartsy, I like these sort of sandals with the kind of relaxed clothes you’d find at Dana Lee. Some of my favorite models here are by Barbara Shaum, Juttaneumann, and Kika NY (the last two being run by women who are former Barbara Shaum apprentices). To get these to look right, consider rolling up up your pants so the hem is about ankle-length.
  • Outdoorsy Sandals: Possibly the most controversial option outside of flip-flops. These sandals have a sporty, granola-feel that makes them pair well with raw denim and outdoorsy-Americana brands such as Engineered Garments. See Tevas, Chaco, and Suicoke for options.
  • Huaraches: Maybe cheating, but I think they count if they’re open-toed. Again, can be worn with the sort of casualwear you’d find at Dana Lee; a pair of jeans and an Aloha shirt; or just loose, linen trousers and a well-fitted t-shirt. See our interview with ukata+ founder Markus Kittner for some historical background on this style.

Oh, and it goes without saying: if you’re wearing sandals, make sure you take care of your feet. That means trimming your nails, sloughing off dead skin, and getting rid of corns. Nobody wants to see ugly toes, even if they’re encased in nice sandals.