What Are Huarache Sandals?

Sandals are a type of footwear that are primarily worn during the summer for a variety of reasons, including their open construction that allows the feet to breathe during the hottest of days, the ease of slipping them on and off, and their ability to look effortlessly stylish. There are different styles and designs of sandals to choose from, one of them being the huarache sandal. Read on for a comprehensive look at this little known but increasingly popular sandal.

What are huarache sandals? Huarache sandals are a style of Mexican footwear that have pre-Colombian origins. Normally linked to Mexican farmworkers, huarache sandals were introduced in the US during the 60 hippie culture. Today, they continue to be popular both in the US and Mexico.

The upper of an authentic huarache is made of tanned leather that is woven into the insole. The soles are often made of recycled tires, although they were traditionally made using hobnails and leather. As they are worn without socks, they can be a little difficult to break in. to speed up the process, you can try softening the leather using WD40. Alternatively, you can simply wear the huaraches with socks and walk around in them at home until they are broken in. To clean your huaraches, wipe them with a damp cloth when they get too dirty. Apply a neutral shoe polish once they are clean to add sheen to the leather and keep it supple.

Huarache sandals are one of the most unique types of sandals thanks to their design as well as their rich history. Here are the various aspects of this type of sandal.

A brief history of the huarache sandal

The first version of the huarache sandal was no more than a piece of clothing that was not too different from the alcapayo, another type of ancient sandals. The term “huarache” can be traced to the Tarascan language native to the Purepecha people who are originally from Jalisco, although three other regions in Mexico are claimed to have had a level of influence on the evolution of the huarache into the modern sandal that it is today.

The huarache is also often credited to the Mayan people that dwelled in the present-day Yucatan, but most of the regions that are tied to the huarache (like modern-day Jalisco) were constantly at conflict with the Aztec empire.

The most basic construction of the huarache sandal comprised of a leather upper that was woven using a single piece of material. Before the Spanish conquered Mexico, the sandals were made of untanned deer leather but after the conquest, cattle were introduced in the region and tanned cow leathers that were light-colored became the most popular material.

Early on, huarache sandals were very simple to make, and in most cases, the wearer took it upon himself to make them. However, at some point, the weaving design became an art form, with only the most skilled artisans being able to come up with unique designs.

By the 1930s, the design took another turn for the more practical with the introduction of tire treads. Tires that were cut up proved to be easily available and more effective as a material for the sole. With this new design, the leather on the upper of the sandal was less woven, which was reminiscent of the earlier version of the huarache before the complex weaving design was introduced. Rubber soles also began being used for the sole, with these two new introductions gradually replacing the preceding leather outsoles and hobnailed varieties that lacked an adequate grip on cobblestone surfaces.

The use of tire tread for the outsole proved that the huarache was sturdy enough to survive virtually easy terrain that they were subjected to. This period of transition also evidenced the stratification o the huarache. The fancy woven versions were custom made for upper and middle-class members of the society that lived in the city, while the handmade rope and leather versions were favored by the poor.

The huarache is still in use today, although the authentic designs are not as mainstream as they used to be. Huaracheros, local experts who specialize in making huaraches, are still making these unique sandals, but their numbers have been steadily plummeting. Huaraches are still made using the same techniques applied back in the day, which involved softening veg-tanned leather by dipping it in oil and water overnight to prepare it before weaving it onto a leather sole once it becomes pliable.

City-dwelling residents of Mexico still wear huaraches occasionally, but they are mostly factory-made and constructed using less-expensive leathers, PVC/EVA soles, and stitched foams. These varieties are usually used as house slippers or at the beach to protect the feet from the hot sand. Even in remote villages, work boots and injection-molded sandals are gradually replacing huaraches.

Tire soles are also being gradually phased out in favor of injection-molded soles. This is partly because most modern tires incorporate steel cords in their construction that makes them hard to cut. The limited availability of vegetable-tanned leather and softer tires has affected the ability of a majority of local artisans to continue crafting huarache sandals using traditional techniques.

How they are made?

In some aspects, making a huarache is quite similar to making a petate mat or a sombrero, and the tools used in constructing this sandal are not too different from those used in the making of riding equipment. The upper of the sandal features a distinct woven strip of vegetable tanned leather that is continuously woven into the insole, with the strip going in and out of every individual hole until the leather eventually covers the whole surface of the last.

As previously mentioned, the sole is sometimes made with recycled tires, but a combination of leather and hobnails were used for the earlier versions of the sandal as they were mainly worn in the countryside where the surfaces were mainly dirt roads. Sometimes the hobnail patterns in these early designs were customized for the wearer to include his initials so that his footprints would be easily recognizable. On the downside, hobnails proved to be problematic on modern concrete and tarmac due to the clacking noise they made as well as the lack of grip.

A high-end authentic huarache sandal will have a finer weave, and the leather will also be softer. If they are made of quality leather, the strips featured on the upper will be thinner (around four to six millimeters) that will not end up snapping during the weaving process.

Breaking in huarache sandals

Traditional huarache sandals can be very stiff when you first put them on. However, if they are the right size and they have been made well, you should be able to break them in after a couple of wears. Here are some few tips on how you can speed up the breaking in process.

  • Walk around in them at home – This is the most basic technique that is commonly used in breaking in footwear, and you can do it from the comfort of your home. Wear your huarache sandals and walk around in them for about half an hour. To make the process even more effective, wear a thick pair of socks under the sandals. Repeat this process until the sandals are more comfortable to wear for extended periods, upon which you can then take them out for a spin.
  • Treat the sandals with WD-40 – Another technique you can use to break in your huaraches is spraying WD-40 on the tight spots. WD-40 is effective in softening the leather and allowing it to mold to the shape of your foot more easily. To help with the stretching process, ensure that you have your sandals on as you spray them and flex your feet continuously. WD-40 also has the added benefit of making the leather more resistant to water and consequently prolonging its lifespan.
  • Hairdryer and socks – For this technique, you will need a standard hairdryer and a thick pair of socks or two. Slip on the socks and step into your sandal before proceeding to blast the hairdryer on the tight spots of the sandal on medium heat. Do this for a maximum of a minute, remembering to move the hairdryer as much as possible to prevent overheating of one spot. As you do this, ensure that you continuously flex your foot to help with the stretching process. When the sandals are cooling down, keep them on your feet to prevent them from going back to their original size.

Caring for your huarache sandals  

Since huarache sandals are made of leather, you will want to refrain from using too much water when cleaning them as it will only cause damage to the material and shape of the shoe. To maintain the quality of the sandals, use a leather cleaner and a soft cloth to get rid of the dirt, and then apply a leather conditioner to keep the leather moisturized and prevent cracking. Applying neutral shoe polish will help to keep the leather supple and even prevent stains in light-colored huaraches.

Final thoughts

Huaraches are stylish sandals that have managed to retain the qualities and charm of their original design despite the modifications made in its construction. An authentic huarache sandal is not only aesthetically appealing but also very sturdy as long as you take good care of it.

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