Walk into any shoe store – or surf to any online footwear retailer – and you are inevitably faced with an ever-increasing number of choices, especially when it comes to lighter weight footwear. So many in fact it can all become a little confusing. For example, let’s imagine you are shopping for lightweight shoes should you be searching for slippers or sandals?
So, what is the difference between slippers and sandals? Sandals are usually defined as lightweight shoes that feature an openwork upper and are designed to be worn for all kinds of occasions. Slippers are usually defined as indoor shoes that are perfect for casual wear and relaxation.
But there is actually a lot more to both footwear types than that, as you’ll discover if you read on.
A brief history of sandals
Humans have been wearing sandals for a long, long time. The oldest known example of this lightweight footwear choice that still survives today is a very battered pair that was unearthed in Fort Rock Cave in Oregon in the US. They appear to be crafted from woven sagebrush bark and experts think they are somewhere around 10,000 years old.
Just who wore those sandals is unclear, but what is known is that they were very popular in ancient times in general. The Ancient Egyptians opted for sandals made from papyrus and palm leaves. The Greeks, being a little more advanced in the footwear stakes were already opting for leather while the Romans, who were very good at ‘adopting’ things from other cultures took the Greek idea and expanded upon it, creating the long, many buckled sandals we tend to call gladiator sandals today.
Over the centuries more and more cultures have developed their own ‘twist’ on the sandal. But some things have remained fairly consistent. Today it’s common to find sandals that boast soles crafted from a number of different materials – leather, wood, cork, rubber or even rope and while the heels may vary in height, and the styling might differ wildly, a sandal is also still defined by its open upper.
A brief history of slippers
Slippers, it seems are a slightly newer concept than sandals. The first recorded mention of these indoor shoes is made in 12th century writings by a Chinese Southern Song Dynasty Officer, who describes seeing them for the first time in what is now Vietnam and suggesting that they be produced in his homeland as they seemed very comfortable and yet practical for indoor use.
There are then mentions and examples of slippers in almost every culture worldwide, as the concept seemed to become rather popular very quickly. One of the most interesting of these, however, is the reasoning behind their introduction into the harems of the Middle East. It was discovered that not only did this lightweight footwear protect their expensive carpets but when given to the women of the harem to wear the fact that the soles of the shoes were lightweight and slippery it made it very hard for them to try to escape and run away (which many apparently did.)
These days as the most commonly worn indoor footwear slippers are more popular than ever all over the world, still characterized by those soft soles that are so kind to expensive flooring (and your feet)
Types of sandals to choose from
Sandals are incredibly versatile shoes. Often thought of as a summer shoe, perfect for vacation evenings or strolls along the boardwalk for either men or women, they can also be a formal shoe worn at any time of year. They can also be as casual – or as glamorous – as a wearer desires. Here’s a look at some of the most popular sandal styles available today:
Casual wooden sandals
These sandals – as made popular in the West by the US company Dr. Scholl’s (he was a real person, by the way, a shoemaker from Indiana who founded the company in the early 20th century) are characterized by their firm, wooden soles and open uppers. Wooden soled sandals are great for wear almost anywhere as they are both dust and water resistant.
Casual leather sandals
Back when the Ancient Greeks first introduced them leather sandals were reserved for the wealthy upper classes only. That, fortunately, is no longer the case, as this durable, but flexible material is used to create some great looking sandals that are as long-lasting as they are attractive. There is one caveat here though; try not to get them too wet, as the water will damage them.
Even in the middle of winter, when paired with a great pedicure a pair of women’s dress sandals can be the perfect compliment for all kinds of elegant ensembles, but especially evening wear. They can also be found in lots of different attractive styles, from heavily embellished with sparkles and sequins to stiletto style skyscrapers that can help create a very glamorous look.
Although many women often choose heeled dress sandals you can actually find an increasing number of flat dress sandals that are every bit as glamorous, just, perhaps, a little kinder on the feet if they have to be worn for a longer period of time.
Whether you opt for a low ankle style or a knee-high multi-strapped version there is no doubt that gladiator sandals have become a fashion must over the last few years, for both men and women. But did the gladiators of old really wear these very intricate sandals? Apparently, they actually did. They, however, often added hobnails to the front of their sandals (ouch) and the leg fronts were often crafted as a single leather ‘armor’ piece rather than the open look that is so very popular today.
Types of slippers to choose from
The fact is that everyone should have a comfortable pair of slippers to change into when they get home at the end of a long day. Not only are these soft-soled, soft uppered shoes kinder to the feet but they are kinder to your floors as well, as they don’t have heavy treads to mark your floors and they haven’t been worn outside picking up dirt and debris that can ruin all kinds of flooring types.
If you start shopping for slippers, you’ll find that there are lots of different kinds to choose from these days. Some of the most popular however include all of the following:
Traditional open back slippers
The most common style of slipper, for years, was the simple open back slide slipper. Easy to slip on and easy to wear these slippers often resemble fluffy or furry flip-flops and are often the least expensive and most readily available slipper choice out there (you can even find them in most local supermarkets these days.) They can also be as plain – or as ostentatious – as you like. Really want to go for some glamour at home ladies? Try the kind of kitten heel open back slipper first made popular in ‘Old Hollywood’ by the likes of Rita Hayworth and Joan Crawford.
Soft, often fur lined, moccasin style slippers have become a very popular choice in recent years for both men and women. Like the more common and traditional open-backed slippers they slide on quickly and easily but the extra coverage not only helps keep feet a little warmer and cozier but they stay on a lot better as well.
Boots designed to be worn indoors? Why not, as long as they are soft soled and comfy. Bootie slippers, which offer a lot more coverage and warmth, have become a very popular fashion choice for women and kids, but it should be noted that ‘real’ bootie slippers are not designed for outdoor wear, as doing so will quickly ruin their soft soles.
When it’s really chilly sock slippers make a lot of sense. These indoor shoes usually combine the coziness of your favorite fluffy socks with the durability and thicker soles of traditional house slippers and as they come in an increasing number of styles – everything from fancy Nordic knits to options that feature all kinds of cartoon characters (or even your favorite sports teams) there really is something for everyone.
Driving can really take a toll on your poor feet, which is just one of the reasons an increasing number of people have taken to purchasing special driving slippers to wear inside their vehicles. The idea isn’t actually a new one. The concept first became popular in the 1940s and 1950s when major Italian fashion houses began creating them for those who were lucky enough to drive the classic sports cars of the time in order to not only help them feel more comfortable but also to help them ‘feel’ the pedals of the vehicles better, to enhance their enjoyment of driving such high-end cars.