Flip flops. Slippers. They are usually easy to wear, casual footwear choices that are great to slip into when you are ready for a little rest, relaxation and fun. They can also be as simple – or as fancy – as you like – one look at the average shoe store, on or offline, will show you that.
So, what is the difference between flip-flops and slippers? The biggest difference between the two types of footwear is that flip-flops are really designed for outdoor wear and slippers should really be reserved for indoor use.
But there are other important – and maybe not so important – differences as well. Let’s take a look at some of those now.
The history of flip flops
Flip flops are usually characterized by the toe post that slips between the first and second toes of the foot and the open-backed, flexible sole that, when you walk, makes the characteristic ‘flippy’ sound that gives them their name. They are some of the most lightweight footwear choices available and popular with men, women and kids alike. They are great for the beach, the pool and casual summer gatherings. They are also often some of the cheapest footwear choices out there, as, as most people know, it’s the rare dollar store that does not have shelves full of flip flops in the summer!
The flip-flop does have quite an interesting history though. The kind of ‘toe post’ they feature can be seen on footwear worn by Ancient Egyptians and the Incas. Back then they were crafted from animal hides and various leaves, but the concept was very similar. Simple shoes that were easy to take on and off and were very lightweight to both wear and carry.
The modern flip flop as we know it, however, can trace its heritage back to Japan. They are descendants of a similar shoe worn there called the Zori. Both European and US soldiers were introduced to them while fighting (and in some cases unfortunately imprisoned) in the country during World War II and brought them home with them when the war ended.
The shoes quickly became very popular. In the US it wasn’t long before they were being sold for both men and women and in a range of increasingly bright colors and patterns. Flip flops also became very much associated with the beach and quickly became the go-to footwear for beachgoers all over the world.
The history of slippers
Slippers have a long and varied history. They have been around for thousands of years in one form or another and feature in the histories of most nations, both in the East and the West.
Centuries ago slippers were often only reserved for wear by the wealthiest people and the slippers of the Middle and Renaissance ages were often hugely lavish affairs crafted from the finest silks and brocades with soft leather soles crafted from the best animal hides money could buy.
For example, surviving examples of slippers worn by Anne Boleyn, the doomed second wife of England’s Henry VIII, are embroidered with real gold thread and feature rather beautiful gemstone accents that must have been stunning when new. She had picked up a taste for these indoor shoes, somewhat unheard of before in England, when living at the King’s court in France and like many of the fashions she wore there she brought them home to England and then popularized them once she became Queen (much like Kate Middleton or Meghan Markle today)
Slippers have always almost been designed for indoor use only, one of the biggest differences between them and flip flops which can, to be fair, worn almost anywhere in the sunnier months (flip-flops in the rain and snow? Not so much) They have always been used to help protect carpets – which may explain why so many centuries old examples of Persian carpets still look so good – but they have also always been worn for comfort and to impart that feeling of ‘coziness’ that can be so welcome after a long day.
The problem with flip flops indoors
Given that they are usually lightweight and often very cheap, some people may ask why invest in more expensive slippers when you can just wear flip-flops instead? well, you certainly can if you wish, but there are a number of reasons why you might not want to.
The first is that many flip-flops just aren’t that great for your feet. Walking in them for long periods can be very hard on the feet and while they do offer protection from hazards on the floor they offer very little in terms of foot support, ankle support or even wearing comfort (those toe posts can get a little cumbersome after a while)
You can now, however, by specialist flip flops that are designed to provide extra support. These are often recommended for those who have foot problems like flat feet or plantar fasciitis as they boast things like additional arch support and shock absorption. But while they are great for the beach they are more expensive than many slippers and they also still ‘suffer’ from the other problems that flip-flops do over slippers; the nature of the soles.
Because they are designed for outdoor wear the soles of any flip-flop need to have some tread. And when walking on certain carpets those treads can damage the delicate fibers or scuff hardwood floors. So if you a serious about a ‘no outdoor shoes in the home’ rule – and most experts say you should be – soft-soled slippers are usually the better – and less damaging choice.
Health reasons for opting for slippers, not outdoor shoes, indoors
Why do experts say, by the way, that it’s best to implement a no outdoor shoes indoors rule? For a number of reasons actually, not just because it’s kinder to floors. It’s better for your health.
According to a study conducted by the departments of microbiology and environmental sciences at the University of Arizona, that studied the bacteria on the bottom of shoes, 93% of them will contain dangerous bacteria, including e coli and fecal matter (yuk) on the bottom of them after just a month of regular wear (even if you actually never knowingly tread in something nasty)
If those shoes are then worn indoors, even briefly, that bacteria is then tracked into the home. And while for most people it won’t be enough to make them very sick for small kids (who tend to spend a lot of time close to the floor) or people with compromised immune systems it can become quite a health hazard.
The study even took a special look at flip-flops. If they are worn both outdoors and indoors dirt and bacteria tends to cling especially hard to the ridges on the soles while you are walking outside but is then fairly easily dislodged by the soft fibers of a carpet.
If you do want to implement a no shoes in the house rule in your home – but don’t want to upset or inconvenience guests too much – you can try taking a leaf out of the book of many homes in Japan, where the hosts keep a stock of inexpensive ‘one size fits most’ slide slippers on hand for visitors to slip into.
Can a slipper Be a flip flop?
What if you are one of those people that love the look and feel of a flip-flop but you now realize that for the sake of your floors – and the health and comfort of your feet you should be wearing slippers indoors rather than making your favorite flip flops do double duty?
The good news is that an increasing number of shoe designers are realizing that there are indeed folks out there who prefer the look and styling of a flip-flop in a slipper and are creating just that.
Noted fashion shoe manufacturer Muk Luks – who are known for their very comfy footwear in general and were the first manufacturers to produce a durable, long-wearing slipper sock – now offer a wide range of flip-flop style slippers that feature warm and fuzzy fabric and extra arch support for both men and women and a number of other manufacturers are following suit.
These slippers should not, however, ever really be worn outside. or any slippers come to that matter. The very soft soles of most slippers are just not designed to stand up to outdoor walking. Not only do they get very dirty very quickly but if you happen to encounter a sharp stone, piece of glass or other jagged objects, the chances that it will be able to pierce the sole and injure you are pretty high.
So, there you have it. There are quite a number of differences between flip-flops and slippers, and quite a few reasons why you should opt to invest in a pair or two of both; a great pair of flip flops or summer outdoor living – and especially for the beach – and a cozy, comfortable pair of indoor-only slippers for wearing around the house all year long!