What Are Gladiator Sandals?

Gladiator sandals always seem to make a comeback during the summer, which is quite a feat especially if you consider the fact that they have been in existence for quite a while. Their ability to remain relevant can be attributed to their versatility and stylish appearance that manages to almost always flatter the wearer. Gladiator sandals come in a variety of materials and styles, which is why it is sometimes difficult to distinguish them from other similar types of sandals. Read on for a comprehensive look of this unique style of footwear.

What are gladiator sandals? Gladiator sandals are a type of footwear that feature several straps that hold the sole securely to your foot. They have been in existence since ancient times when they were frequently worn by the Romans and Greece.

The initial design of the gladiator sandal comprised of a stiff sole that was attached to the foot by straps, braided thongs, or leather cords. They were predominantly flat to ensure comfort for the wearer. Today, you can find gladiator sandals that are heeled, and details such as zippers and bright colors are quite common. Since there are so many styles to choose from, they can be worn by both men and women. Women can pair sandals with a variety of outfits, including printed and solid-colored dresses, skirts, and jumpsuits, to mention a few. On the other hand, masculine gladiators pair beautifully with shorts and wide-legged pants.

During the summer, one of the most common styles of the sandal that you will come across is the gladiator sandals. Here is a look at the various aspects of these sandals.

The history of gladiator sandals

Gladiators are one of the few footwear types that have managed to stand the test of time and remain popular even today.

  • Footwear in ancient civilization – One would assume that society would immediately recognize the numerous benefits of footwear and readily adopt them, but in reality, footwear was considered to be materialistic and unnecessary especially in Ancient Greece and Egypt. Most of the people in these ancient civilizations preferred going barefoot.

With time, Ancient Greeks started wearing sandals as they believed that they would somehow distinguish them as mortals and separate them from the underworld. Between 1000-700 BCE, the popularity of sandals continued to increase as they proved to be useful for a variety of activities. Other than serving as a barrier between the Underworld and mortals, the society during this time was more focused on the form of sandals rather than their function. As a result, even though the strappy sandals were primitive in terms of construction, they often featured lavish decorations with rows of amulets and colorful dyes. They were popular among soldiers, courtesans, and philosophers.

  • Roman footwear – While there were many variations of the strappy sandals in the ancient world (including the Greek version), it was the Romans that perfected this design, so much so that designers today still draw inspiration from the Roman version of this type of sandal.

The Romans, upon eventually conquering the Greeks, adopted various aspects of their culture, including their style of shoemaking. They came up with the gladiator sandal after making improvements to the Greek version of sandals by enforcing the sole and the straps with studs and adding an upper to make it more durable. Due to these significant modifications, the Roman army was able to walk longer distances and the performance of gladiators even improved during fights. As a result, gladiator sandals became a symbol of courage and strength and quickly became popular in the Roman Empire.

Wanting to take advantage of the popularity of gladiator sandals without having to step into a fighting pit, members of the upper class in the Roman society started commissioning their versions of the footwear that featured embellishments and colors which were not accessible to the rest of the population.

With the fall of the Roman Empire, sandal-making became a lost art for an extended period, and the gladiator sandal also vanished for a time before reappearing in the modern world.

  • Gladiator sandals in modern times – Strappy sandals gained popularity in fashion as the 20th century began. However, the gladiator style was not seen on fashion runways until the 1960s. During this time, a bold look that comprised of gladiator sandals with straps that went all the way up to the knee paired a mini-skirt was wildly popular. In 1968, Vogue Magazine helped to further popularize this style of footwear by featuring a full spread of Paco Rabanne’s designs that were accessorized with strappy gladiator sandals that were full-length. Pattie Boyd was famously photographed wearing a pair decorated with fringe. The classical origins of the gladiator sandals fit perfectly with the hippie fashion that was popular in the 60s. 

Gladiators continued to be popular throughout the 70s, but by the time the 80s came around, they were considered to be outdated. They saw a brief resurgence in popularity in 1993 when they were prominently in Gianni Versace’s 1993 Spring Collection. It wasn’t until a decade later that they made a full reappearance yet again.

In the early 2000s, gladiators made a big comeback, starting with the Spring/Summer 2002 collection by Calvin Klein where almost all the outfits were accessorized with these strappy sandals. This particular collection set a new standard for this style of footwear – the gladiator sandals featured on the runway were made from leather, satin, or linen, which brought a certain elegance and softness to its look. Other designers took inspiration from this upgraded design and created their takes on gladiator sandals, adding detail such as metallic finishes, heels, zippers, and bright colors.

The gladiator style continues to evolve and grow, with a majority of today’s versions consisting of a heel with straps or laces.

How to wear and style gladiator sandals

Depending on the design of your gladiator sandals and your outfit, these sandal types can be worn with both casual and more elegant looks.

  • Take your leg type into consideration – If your legs are on the shorter side, you will want to stick to wearing simple styles of this footwear design. Ankle gladiator sandals are ideal for shorter and fuller legs as they will not visually shorten your legs. Consider going for nude- or solid-colored sandals that are similar to your skin tone. Height to the heel of your ankle gladiator sandals and a long vertical strap will enhance the appearance of your legs and make them appear longer. On the other hand, if your legs are thin and long, you have a wider selection to choose from, including knee-high and ankle-high varieties.
  • The width of your feet – Gladiator sandals can sometimes make your feet appear wider than they are. If you have thick ankles or wide feet, consider going for a style that features diagonal straps rather than horizontal straps as the latter can visually alter the appearance of your feet and make them seem wider. If your feet are on the thinner side, go for designs that have thin straps and minimalistic details if you want to make your feet appear wider.
  • Flat vs. heeled gladiator sandals – Heeled gladiator sandals are generally considered to be fancier than their flat counterparts. For a dressy occasion, opt to go for heeled gladiators that have thin straps and a metallic finish. For a more relaxed setting, you want to go with a gladiator sandal that has tie-up straps and flat soles. Ensure that the soles of the sandals you choose are thick enough to absorb shock as you walk on hard surfaces such as pavements. A zippered style will allow you to put on and take off your sandals with ease.
  • Outfit options to consider for women – If you want your look to stand out and be loud, consider pairing your gladiator sandals with large, abstract patterns, whether on a dress, top, or a pair of shorts. However, if you want the sandals to be the centerpiece of your look, consider matching them with a solid colored outfit such as a neutral-colored dress to achieve an elegant yet understated look.

Elevate your t-shirt and denim shorts combo by adding gladiator flat sandals to your look. if you want your legs to appear longer, go for a heeled design instead. Gladiator sandals also match effortlessly with short skirts, shirt dresses, and midi dresses. Mid-calf gladiator sandals work extremely well with a short romper or even capri pants.

  • Options for men – Consider pairing your gladiator sandals with a pair of slim, tailored shorts. To elongate your legs, go for varieties that stop just below your ankle. For those with longer legs, opt for styles that have straps which reach above the ankle bone. If you intend to wear gladiator sandals with trousers, consider matching them with wide-legged pants and a simple casual t-shirt. Neutral colors such as grey and black should work with most of your outfit choices.

Final thoughts

Despite their ancient roots, gladiator sandals have continued to inspire designers in the modern fashion world due to their sheer stylishness and versatility – there are varieties for both men and women, and you can easily pair them with almost any outfit in your closet. All in all gladiator sandals are still going strong, and they are likely to remain popular with the masses especially during the summer.

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