Difference Between Flip Flops, Sliders and Sandals

What is the difference between flip flops, sliders and sandals - 1

When the weather is warm, and you don’t have to be too dressed up, it’s natural for most of us to reach for a pair of light, airy summer shoes. And why not? No one wants to spend the day with hot, sweaty feet do they? But what do you call those summer shoes when you retrieve them from the closet?

Actually, it often seems that we all have different names for them. What is the difference between flip flops, sliders and sandals? Is there really a difference at all, as these are terms that seem to be practically interchangeable these days. However, the fact is that yes, these are three distinct types of footwear that boast different features and are even primarily designed for different uses.

Wondering what those might be? Let’s take a closer look.

What are sandals?

The dictionary definition of a sandal is “a light shoe with either an openwork upper or straps attaching the sole to the foot.” That is somewhat vague, but in the opinion of most people for a shoe to be called a sandal it does need to boast definable straps.

Who invented sandals?

Going back into the depths of ancient history while they did not invent them, the Ancient Greeks certainly perfected and popularized the sandal. In fact they turned sandalmaking into such an art that one could tell how important – or wealthy – a person was by the sandals they wore.

The basic design of the Ancient Greek sandal was a stiff leather sole to which leather straps were attached. These straps usually went between the wearer’s big toe and second toe and around the back of the ankle to hold the sole of the foot in place. How that design was then interpreted depended upon a person’s class and status. The very wealthy wore leather sandals that were often gilded with real gold while those in the middle classes tended to have their sandals dyed in different colors.

Workers and commoners tended to wear what, in modern fashion terminology are referred to as gladiator sandals, sandals that boast strapping up the leg, often right to the knee. This was not so much a fashion statement as a form of protection for the legs. And actors of the time – and some politicians, wore a type of sandal called a ‘buskin’ that featured an inches high cork sole.

As you can now see, many of the most popular sandal styles actually have some rather ancient roots, since as the centuries went on the idea was adopted all over the world, until the sandal became the most popular form of summer footwear in the Western world.

What are flip flops?

Flip flops are characterized by a lack of the straps that sandals have and the fact that they are ‘secured’ to the foot via a single toe post that slots between the big toe and the pointer toe.

Who invented flip flops?

The flip flop has a complicated history. The name is derived from the sound that the shoe makes as the wearer walks, a ‘flip, flop, flip, flop’ sound that many of us almost immediately associate with summer.

The first example of a shoe in the basic style of a flip flop can be seen today in the British Museum and it is crafted from papyrus. It was uncovered by architects in Egypt and has been dated to around 4000 BC. Oddly enough though it would not look to out of place in modern shoe shops as the basic styling seems to have changed very little over the course of over 6,000 years.

It seems that the Ancient Egyptians were not the only ones to have adopted this ‘floppy’ shoe in ancient times. Around the same time similar shoes crafted from rawhide were being worn by various tribes in Africa and in the East, in China and Japan, flip flop style shoes were being sported that were made from rice straw.

The modern flip flop though, as worn across the US and Europe today, primarily as beachwear, began to gain popularity when Western soldiers began returning from Japan after World War II. While in Asia these men had become acquainted with a Japanese shoe called a ‘zori’. The zori was worn across Japan and many soldiers brought theirs back with them. By the 1950s shoe designers had started to pick up on the ease of wear these very lightweight shoes offered and began creating rubber versions in a myriad of colors and patterns. By the 1960s they had become the symbol of California ‘surfer’ chic.

These days you can find flip flops in a huge variety of different styles, from very cheap and simple – the kind you can buy for a couple of dollars at a beach shop – to bedazzled, bejeweled and rather ostentatious offerings from major shoe designers that would have a hard time standing up to a trip to the beach but would look great at a pool party.

What are sliders?

Properly known as slider sandals – and not to be confused with the tiny burger sandwiches that are now also often referred to by the same name – sliders are essentially open toed shoes that get their name from the fact they quite literally slide onto the feet and (usually) do not need to be buckled or laced.

They differ from sandals in that they feature only a single strap running across the center of the upper – with the exception of the famous Birkenstock slider which usually has at least two – and from flip flop in that they have a thicker, more durable sole and do not feature a toe post.

Who invented sliders?

Again, this form of summer footwear has its roots firmly planted in the clothing of the Ancients. The first documented appearance of a slider-like shoe comes in Ancient Rome, but it is believed that the Romans ‘borrowed’ the idea from the Greeks or the Egyptians, something they did a great deal, as is the right of conquerors (or at least that was their thinking.) 

The slide began to gain in popularity in Europe and the US in the 1950s and 1960s. Dr Scholl’s created a wooden soled open ‘clog’ that featured a single, buckle embellished strap on the upper that became hugely popular with housewives, as they offered ease and comfort and could be worn indoors or outdoors.

Birkenstock, a German company, also introduced their unique slides to the US around that time. These slide featured – and still feature today – a multi layered sole that was first introduced in the 1930s. The sole is made up of a base shock absorbent sole, followed by two layers of jute fiber, and a cork footbed. The last layer is the footbed liner which is a soft suede.These shoes became instant ‘hippie’ classics and are still some of the best known – and best selling – slider sandals on the market today.

For men however, the real game changer may have been the now iconic Adilette. This sports slider, created by Adidas, is now seen in gyms, locker rooms and beside the seaside all over the Western world. It was created in response to the German national soccer teams request for a sturdy shoe that could be worn both in the shower and in the changing room.

The Adilette is a simple, slightly chunky slider that features a three striped band that identifies it instantly as an Adidas product. It is crafted from a tough but flexible waterproof polyurethane-coated synthetic that is long lasting and comfortable but not prone to stretching.

The Adilette is indeed the perfect locker room shoe, but in the mid-aughts, when a computer whiz named Mark Zuckerberg began appearing everywhere – for those of you who have been sleeping for a few decades he’s they guy who created Facebook – on TV and in the newspapers he was wearing them constantly, and they became a part of the non-fashion entrepreneurial uniform that was so popular in Silicon Valley for so many years.

Are flip flops bad for your feet?

Out of the three types of summer footwear we have been discussing here it is the flip flop that gets the worst rap as a shoe that is not particularly good for the health of your feet. Some of that criticism is, for the most part, well-deserved. Most flip flops are completely flat and have fairly thin soles, simply because that is just what they were designed to be; light, almost throwaway shoes that are great for beach wear, or perhaps wearing around the house.

The flat sole is a problem for those with flat feet as they offer almost no arch support, so for flat footed folks wearing flip flops for an extended period of time can quickly become a rather painful experience. Flip flops are also sometimes considered hazardous to walk in as they do ‘flop off’ fairly easily, especially if the wearer really does not know how to walk in them the right way.

Flip flops are not all bad though. As beach shoes they protect your feet from hot sand, and the jagged pieces of rock and shell that you find on almost every beach. And when worn in communal settings like locker rooms or college dorms they can protect your feet against the surprising – and often alarming – amounts of harmful bacteria that is found on the floors of such spaces.

What are the best summer shoes for people with problem feet?

When it comes to choosing footwear suitable for casual summer wear those who suffer from foot problems like flat feet or plantar fasciitis do tend to have a harder time shopping as the last thing they want is to spend the warmer months with painful feet thanks to a poor choice in footwear. And as these people usually need to opt for supportive footwear to prevent that it can seem as if sandals, flip flops and sliders might all be out.

The good news is that this really isn’t the case, as with a little careful shopping you can find all kinds of examples of light summer shoes that offer enough extra foot support for those who need it.

Birkenstock sliders, for example, have long been known as summer slider shoes that are an excellent choice for those with problem feet. The cork in their sole is one of Mother Nature’s most effective shock absorbing materials and the footbed of a Birkenstock slider has always been engineered to offer arch support.

An increasing number of shoe designers offer all kinds of sandal styles that are especially designed to be supportive of flat feet and these are not all the clunky affairs that you might fear they would be. In fact manufacturers like Vionic, Clarks and even Skechers offer some beautifully dainty, high fashion sandals that are no different in appearance than any other.

Finally, arch support flip flops are now a thing. No, you usually won’t find them for just a few dollars, as you might other flip flops, but even the ‘higher end’ brands like Telic and Reef offer them for under $20and they too are designed to offer all the extra arch support and shock absorption a flat footed person needs without sacrificing the ease and casual style that we all love flip flops for.

In the end it doesn’t really matter if you choose flip flops, sandals or sliders for warm weather wear, only that you are comfortable and appropriately dressed for the occasion. Could you wear sliders to the office? If you work for Facebook, maybe. In most offices however they are still very much a no, but a smart pair of sandals is more readily accepted than it might once have been. Should you wear sandals on the beach? You could, but a good pair of flip flops is a much better choice. But, even though you are now much clearer – we hope – on the difference between flip flops, sliders and sandals the choice is always yours.

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