Take a good, long look at your feet. Really examine them. Because if you wear flip-flops farther than a conch’s throw from the ocean, you are presenting those bony, hairy appendages at the end of your calves to the world as accessories. What you and the rest of the grown men slip-slapping down sidewalks in rubber sandals at this very moment fail to understand is that those flesh-covered metatarsals are not suitable for public display. Nor do balmy weather and the relative social acceptability of man-pedicures give you a green light to march your naked toes into any public place that doesn’t have sandy floors or serve piña coladas in coconut shells.
In New York, when the mercury creeps past 50 degrees, gentlemen clad in jeans and flip-flops begin streaming down the street outside the natty downtown men’s shop Barker Black. It is a sight the label’s creative director, Derrick Miller, finds offensive.
“Wearing flip-flops with jackets and jeans goes against everything good taste is about,” Miller says. “I have no grasp of how guys think that looks good. If you’re going to spend that much money on your clothes, why would you wear them with rubber sandals?”
Members of the Havaianas-and-Teva brigade might tell you they shed the sneakers and oxfords because it’s hot outside. “I wear them in July and August when it’s 85 degrees out and I can’t deal,” says Aaron, a 32-year-old New York advertising copywriter.
Others will argue that they embrace the flimsy sandals because they’re comfortable. So are sarongs, but you’ve still managed to put on a pair of pants every day for the last 30 years. The truth is, what’s motivating the flip-floppers to dress like surfers from the ankles down is less prosaic. They’re doing it for the same reason women wedge already blistered feet into four-inch stilettos: They’re doing it for fashion.
“The look is supposed to say ‘I don’t give a damn,’” says Tim Gunn, chair of the fashion department at Parsons School of Design and cohost of Bravo’s Project Runway. “But these guys are wearing them with expensive clothes, so clearly they do give a damn.” The contrivance is as obvious as the faux-nonchalant sneakers-and-suit ensemble Ben Lee and his ilk beat to death a few years ago. But that affectation had its roots in rock, where self-conscious overstyling is required.
The beach-feet look has less romantic origins. Flip-flops and soccer sandals—the blue slides Nick Lachey favors—are staples in college dining halls. Tevas are de rigueur on Outward Bound trips. As for the sandals-and-suit pairing, that comes courtesy of the Continent.
“It used to be that you saw the flip-flops-with-nice-trousers look mostly in Europe,” Gunn says. “But when it crossed the Atlantic, it became Eurotrash.”
What this means is that by garnishing your carefully chosen ensemble with thongs, you are essentially declaring that your personal style icon is a frat boy, a kayaker, or a Gauloise-smoking poser. And you’re galling not only aesthetes like Miller and Gunn, but women, too.