In Defense of Wearing Flip Flops in the City –Yes, Even New York

Sensible? Reckless? Call it what you will, but traversing New York City in flip flops is, to me, liberating. They’re easy to slip on, comfortable, and with new styles hitting the market each season–a colorblocked sole! diamante-encrusted thongs!–a fun way to mix up your look. Simply put, wearing flip flops in the summer is a no-brainer…even in a metropolitan city that is notorious for its grime.

Many people have a visceral reaction when they hear the words “flip flops” and “New York City” in the same sentence. They just can’t get past the supposed ick factor of walking around with their toes so close to the ground, without twisting their face in disgust. “I tried wearing Havaianas the first summer I moved to New York,” says Vogue editor Chioma Nnadi. “You’re basically sweeping the street with the soles of your feet… by the end of the day, it was just gross.”

And yet, there’s a reason why the flip-flop has maintained popularity, albeit a divisive one. “While most feet tend to favor a low heel, around 1-2”, many people feel comfortable with their feet exposed and in a position that is as close to barefoot as possible,” says New York-based podiatrist Ernest L. Isaacson. We elevate, contort, and squeeze our feet all year long, it makes sense they just want to lay flat every now and then. 

Paris Hilton–in possible disguise–in 2006.

Photo: Getty Images

Justine Skye in June.

Photo: Getty Images

Basic instincts aside, the city flip-flop is functional for those on the go. While they have been largely restricted to the beach in the States, that’s not the case globally. During Japan’s Edo period (1603–1867), the zori sandal—traditional footwear that resembles today’s modern thong and was used for “leisurely walking on hard, dry ground,” as documented by the 1919 Guide to the Japanese Textiles—experienced rapid commercialization due to its popularity and continues to be a staple commuter shoe. Fun fact, it was the zori that inspired flip-flop staple Havaianas to create its Tradi sandal in 1962.

Fast forward to the early aughts where flip flops were heavyweights in the fashion zeitgeist, becoming, dare I say, mall chic? Americans with a penchant for low rise velour and a discount were sent into a thong frenzy when Old Navy kicked off its legendary $1 sale in 2005. Turns out, 10-year-old me wasn’t the only one who marveled at the idea of owning multiple pairs in bubblegum pink, lime green, and neon yellow. TikTok influencer Kate Steinberg perfectly sums up the feeling of snagging the last size 8, which always seemed to sell out first.

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