A decade ago, all the young dudes eschewed wearing sandals in the city, and kept their Tevas for trail hikes and flip-flops for the beach. Today, city sandals have become a whole category unto themselves. Virtually all the top designers turn out spiffed-up sandals from simple thongs and slides to more elaborate styles fit for the in-the-know mononymous crowd: Jesus, King Leonidas, Kanye, and so on. How did this happen?
Even though bespoke sandal wearers have been paying a visit (and a couple hundred bucks) to New York leatherworking legend Barbara Shaum for over 30 years, (The best money you will ever spend on footwear—words cannot express how orgasmically happy your feet will be), and even if sandals just make good, practical sense—especially when the summer heat shifts from toasty to engulfed-in-flames—most guys are still sandalphobic when it comes to wearing them for work or any special occasion.
And for good reason, too. Sandals have their place, but luxury designers are acknowledging that well-dressed men who want to give their feet some breathing room have few options. Hence the birth of the hip-flop, which is several notches above your old rubber flip-flops in terms of quality and material, while still retaining the look and ultra-casualness of their forebears. Sandals are now so acceptable that irony is creeping into some designs, like Givenchy's Birkenstock-inspired styles for spring.
Looks from 3.1 Philip Lim's Spring 2014 collection. See 20 other designers who are taking on the footwear phenom.
But even so, what's appropriate to one man is anathema to another. Steven Taffel, whose West Village shoe boutique Leffot has given men a stately, wingtipped analog to the ladies' Manolo Blahnik store, said he's less comfortable than many of this customers wearing any kind of sandal in the city.
"I'm still very old school," he says. "I'm the flip-flops at the beach kind of guy."
Up-and-coming New York men's shoe designer Noah Waxman says the opposite: come summer, he seldom wears anything else.
"I've loved sandals my whole life—I grew up wearing them," he says. "It's so weird that women can get away with showing pretty much the whole foot, but even when it's hot and disgusting men can't. I suppose that it's now become okay for guys not to wear socks under their oxfords in the summer, but I personally think that's grosser than wearing sandals. Plus, it's not good for your shoes." (His point is well taken: sweat stretches and stresses good shoe leather. If you love your shoes and want them to last, wear no-show socks.)
His solution this season was a neat, sexy version of the old fisherman sandal, a shoe-sandal hybrid with a bit of Mediterranean flair, which Waxman thought looked more pulled together than a strappy sandal would, but sales of his hotted-up oxfords have been much brisker.
But most men are like Eric Jennings, the menswear director of Saks Fifth Avenue: somewhere in between.
"I'm very ambivalent about sandals in the city," he said. "I'll wear them with shorts, but when it comes to dressing up more, I'm not so sure. You see guys in Italy wearing them with a suit, but unless you've got that sprezzatura—that kind of nonchalant style that's very carefully put together—it doesn't really work. You can't wear sandals with a pin-striped suit in super 100s wool. You have to wear them with a suit that's more casual, like a linen/silk blend."
So how to toe the line, when each man draws his own in the sand? It's not easy, but there is one sandal style that elicits consensus in the form of a resounding noooo.
"I was giving a wrap-up presentation to buyers here after the runway shows," says Jennings. "And one of the points I kind of threw out there was 'sandals with socks'—and everyone just groaned. You might see a couple guys out there doing that, but that's a pretty high-fashion look."
So if you want to get through the style equivalent of Checkpoint Charlie, the 1970s-German-tourist look is not going to do you any favors.
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