Backless footwear has been making slowly but steadily making their way back into the fashion world thanks to the popularity of the Princetown which is sometimes referred to as Gucci’s “It-shoe”. What’s more, this slipper design has made its way into everyday wear, and it is almost certain that you might come across a few on any given day. But just as you are beginning to think that there is no other slip-on design that can outdo the Princetown, summer brings with it a fresh incarnation of slipper – although the babouche slipper is anything but a new innovation.
What are babouche slippers? Babouche slippers are a type of footwear that originally hail from the Middle East where they were worn by both women and men. The babouches which are popular with fashion enthusiasts do not curl at the toe like the medieval footwear designs that are commonplace in Marrakech souks. Traditional babouches are made from goatskin, sheepskin, cowhide, and camel hide to achieve footwear that is 100% leather.
They may also feature a variety of fabric uppers which can be embroidered, hand loomed, tasseled, sequined, or bejeweled for a more elaborate look. Although the leather material is flexible, the sole of the babouche slipper is stiff. The updated versions of these slippers are generally more preferable to the ballet slipper or the slightly out of fashion skater shoe, and they are certainly more stylish than rubber slides.
A brief history of the babouche slipper trend
The traditional babouche slipper originally comes from the Middle East where Bedouins, monarchs, and other inhabitants of the region have been wearing them for centuries. The French “babouche” is derived from the Arabic “babush” or Persian “papush”, the flat footwear design which has an exaggerated point at the toe which became popular with 17th-century French courtiers because of their slender nature which was associated with nobility. Babouche slippers were worn by both men and women as everyday footwear. Typically made from leather, babouches were often decorated for weddings, feast days, special occasions, and other special occasions with embroidery knots, tassels, sequins, and patterns.
In 2016, Vogue embraced the Moroccan babouche as a fashion world staple when designer Phoebe Philo came up with her own version of the footwear for the 2016 Celine Resort collection. This helped to popularize babouches from the runway to street fashion.
The modern babouches don’t have a curl at the toe, and they have a practical stiff sole. They are more comfortable than ballet slippers, and they are more lightweight than most of their backless footwear counterparts.
The traditional design process
The main distinguishing factor between a babouche slipper and other similar designs is the ultra-soft leather used in manufacturing it, so much so that if the slipper features a back, you should be able to flatten it down and wear it as you would a mule.
Authentic babouche slippers are made from 100% leather, comprising of goatskin, sheepskin, camel hide, and cowhide. The leather is often combined with fabric uppers which may be sequined, bejeweled, tasseled, sequined, embroidered, or hand loomed.
The leather is typically cut to shape before the dying process begins. Once the dyed leathers have been adequately dried and cleaned, they are hand stitched, finished, and checked for quality. Babouche slippers that feature embellishments are also stitched by hand. With traditional babouche slippers, you may notice a strong scent due to the natural processes that are used to cure the leather. This should not be a source of worry since the smell tends to fade quickly with wear.
Factors to take into consideration when purchasing babouche slippers
Just like any other type of footwear, babouche slippers come in an assortment of designs and colors. Here is a simple guide to help you select a good pair of babouche slippers.
- The type – One of the first things you should consider when buying a pair of babouche slippers is whether you will wear them outdoors or indoors. If you intend to wear them exclusively indoors, you will want to go for a pair that has softer soles unless you have hardwood floors. Babouche slippers that are meant to be worn outside should have hard soles so as to provide adequate protection to the feet.
- The style – You should also take into consideration the design of babouche slippers before making a purchase. There are some varieties that have rounded toes whereas others have a more pointed toe.
- The fit – How babouche slippers fit will determine how comfortable they will be to wear. If possible, consider trying on the pair that you intend to buy. When shopping for babouche slippers online, you cannot assume that they will have the same measurements as your regular shoes or sandals. Consider buying shoes that fit onto your feet snugly without leaving too much wiggle room. Babouche slippers are generally stiff when you wear them at first, but they will slowly stretch out a little and consequently mold to the shape of your feet over time. Within no time, they feel like they were custom made for your feet.
- The color – The color of babouche slippers that you choose will depend on your preferences and personal styles. There are some designs that have a single matte color selection whereas others have patterned designs and very intricate embroideries.
- Basic babouche slippers – These babouche slippers have a rounded toe. Additionally, they feature a soft padded sole, hence they are meant to be worn indoors to keep them from getting damaged. They are handmade using traditional techniques. The material is 100% leather and very soft with a natural sheen to it.
- Decorative babouche slippers – These are a traditional pair of pointed slippers that feature intricate detail patterns on the upper. They are similarly handmade, and they feature a hard leather sole which allows you to wear them outside comfortably as long as the weather conditions are dry. They are also great for wearing indoors especially when you have hard floors or no carpet covering.
- Berber babouche slippers – These unisex slippers have a thick and hard wearing rubber sole that features a heel which can be folded up or down. Berber babouche slippers are also traditionally made and handstitched by specialized craftsmen.
Caring for babouche slippers
The leather used to make babouche slippers is soft and delicate, so you have to be very careful when it comes to caring for them.
- Polish – Polish is mostly for maintaining the shine of your slippers rather than protecting it from various elements. Having said that, consider investing in a polish that has a moisturizing element so that the leather doesn’t prematurely age. The frequency of polishing will entirely depend on your preferences, but try not to overdo it.
- Cream/conditioner – Leather cream or conditioner is essential in moisturizing the leather of your babouche slippers and consequently keep it from drying out and cracking. It is worth noting that conditioners do not have waterproofing properties, although there are specialized ones that have a water-repelling component. Leather conditioners are lotion-like, so you can easily rub them into the leather without being too firm. The conditioner will be soaked up and keep the leather strong and durable. How often you opt to use conditioner will depend on the condition of the leather, but it is generally recommended that you treat the leather every few months or so.
- Waterproofing – Waterproofing waxes coat your babouche slippers and consequently repel water and snow. Wax is quite durable, so you won’t need to apply it too often.
- Damp cloth – Use a damp cloth to wipe down your babouche slippers once or twice a week to get rid of dust and dirt. Do not use soap as it tends to ruin the quality of the leather over time.
- Ventilation – Leather needs ventilation in order to prevent mildew. Mildew growth may occur when you don’t allow for breathability. For example, if you store or transport your babouche slippers in plastic bags, there is a risk of moisture buildup and consequent damage by mildew. For storage or transport purposes, opt to use the package that they came in.
- Keep away from direct heat/sunlight – If your babouche slippers somehow get soaking wet, it can be tempting to use a hair dryer or heater to speed up the drying process. However, this will only cause it to shrink and dry out quickly. Instead, let them dry naturally, even if it takes longer than you may like.
You will also want to keep these slippers out of direct sunlight. Soft leather tends to dry and crack quickly especially when constantly exposed to sunlight.
- Always test first – Before you use any conditioner or polish on the babouche slippers, always conduct a test on a small area first. Let the treatment dry for 24 hours and see if there are any visible changes. This may seem like a lot of work, but it will keep your shoes from getting potentially damaged.
Babouche slippers are great for anyone who wants footwear that is comfortable and stylish at the same time. In addition to being a unique way to make a fashion statement during the summer, they are great to wear indoors as well thanks to the slip-on design and how easy they are to walk around in. All in all, they are definitely worth your consideration.