You may have been wearing them all of your life. Most of us have. You have also probably worn many different kinds of them. You may even be wearing them right now as you read this. And the chances are you may have never actually really thought about the following question…
What are slippers? Slippers are very commonly utilized, comfortable, easy to wear pieces of footwear that are generally reserved for indoor use only.
But there is actually so much more to them than that. And for such a very common item of clothing they have a lot of interesting facts behind them. But for now, let’s start at the very beginning…
Where do slippers come from and who created them?
The earliest mention of a shoe that could be defined as a slipper comes in writings that date back to the 12th century Song Dynasty. The author of the piece was a Southern Song Dynasty military officer who describes soft shoes he saw being in worn in an area that is now known as modern day Vietnam.
They were crafted from ‘soft silk with fine stitching’ and had a thong to slip between the first two toes – more like today’s flip flops. And must have caught on, as a number of pairs from that area and elsewhere in China now reside in museums across the world.
A dark side quickly appeared in relation to slippers in the East. In Arabian harems women were forced to wear slippers with highly polished soles at all times so, that should they decide to try and escape (which some tried) they couldn’t get very far.
The first mention of slippers in the Western world comes in the late 14th century when they were becoming popular with European nobles. By the early 16th century they were on the feet of every well to do European , both male and female, and crafted from some very expensive cloth, including silk, velvet and, as he happened to fancy himself as the most extravagantly fashionable man in Europe, the infamous Henry VIII of England prefered slippers crafted from pure ermine with real gold stitching and kid leather soles.
Henry was not the only English royal to influence slipper fashion over the centuries. In Victorian England ‘Prince Albert’ slippers became very fashionable. These were a velvet slipper with a quilted silk lining and soft leather outsole. These were so elegant they were considered suitable for wear even at fine dinner parties and, as the concept of the men’s’ club grew in popularity ‘club slippers’ became a must.
By the time the twentieth century arrived, house slippers were the norm for people across the Western world and no longer reserved for the wealthy. These days they come in a huge array of styles (more about that in a moment) and are a universally accepted form of indoor footwear.
What are the different types of slippers?
As we just mentioned, these days slippers come in a wide variety of styles and types. And while it would be hard to list them all here here’s a look at some of the most commonly known – and purchased – slipper types that are popular today.
1. Slip on slippers
This really is the most popular type of slipper the world over. That’s because they are easy to put on, easy to take off and, above all, easy to wear. Basic slip on slippers leave the heel exposed but wrap the front of the foot with a fabric band of some sort.
Most slip on slippers have a soft sole that is has no real tread and strictly designed for wear indoors. They are the most popular choice among women and while most are flat some of the more glamorous styles for ladies do feature a small ‘kitten heel’. They are the kind of boudoir slipper popularized by the Hollywood starlets of the 1950s – and the Playboy Bunnies of the 1960s – but actually date all the way back to the the courts of European royalty in the 16th and 17th centuries.
2. Closed back slippers
Closed back slippers are very similar to the slip ons just described but they have, as the name suggests, a closed back that makes them fit more securely. They tend to be a little warmer – many are lined with fur – and not all of these slippers have the same soft sole as standard slip ons, as some do boast a more rigid outsole that provides a little more traction (great if you have slippery wood or tile floors at home)
Closed back slippers are unisex but they do tend to be the choice of most men over an open backed slipper.
Moccasin slippers, which are fashioned after, to various different extents, to the traditional Native American footwear, are an option that was very popular at the start of the twentieth century, fell out of favor a little at the end of the4 century but is now enjoying a resurgence in popularity, especially among fashion forward younger men.
The moccasin slipper is a lot more like a standard outdoor shoe, thanks to the fact that both the upper and the outsole are crafted to be tougher and more durable. They come in a wide variety of colors and materials – although suede and leather are popular as are various shades of brown – and some feature embellishments like hand stitching and even tassels.
4. Novelty Slippers
Novelty slippers are fun and colorful and the term covers a huge range of styles and designs, everything from popular cartoon characters to funny animal shaped options. They are the kind of slippers people gift one another for Christmas and vary a great deal in terms of basic style as well.
While most people would never venture outside in their novelty slippers oddly enough a group of young fashionistas in both China and Japan have recently decided that doing so is very cool and now its not that unusual to see women – and not just teenagers – out and about in Hello Kitty style slippers everywhere. Declaring it is ‘because they have the right to feel comfortable’ some Asian business women are even wearing their novelty slippers into the boardroom!
5. Slipper socks
They look like socks. You put them on like socks. They are often made from the same materials as socks. But slipper socks are thicker and more durable and have bottoms that are crafted more like the soles of standard slippers. Some people even like to sleep in them in them, and because they are so very easy to wear – and so very warm – they are a hugely popular choice these days, especially among women and kids.
What are slippers made from?
If you think back to the start of this piece you’ll remember that the Song Dynasty warrior said that the slippers he encountered way back in the 12th century were crafted from a fine, but flimsy silk. You’ll also remember that we noted that when European aristocracy began to interest themselves in the idea of slippers they were crafted from some of the finest materials available at that time, including velvet, brocade and fur.
Slippers have come a long way since then and now you’ll find them crafted from all kinds of different materials, everything from terry cloth (commonly used to create the kind of inexpensive slip on slippers that you can pick up almost anywhere, even at some drug stores and supermarkets) to fine grain leather and suede and even fur.
Real fur is being used less and less in the construction of slippers however, as the backlash against the culling of animals for their fur has become stronger and stronger over the last decade or so and so to avoid controversy -and a drop in sales – most manufacturers and designers have dropped real fur in favor of artificial faux fur options . The good news there is that many of these options look very realistic and wear well, but come with the added advantage that no animals have to be harmed in order for them to be created.
Why do we wear slippers?
There are a number of reasons people all over the world choose to wear slippers indoors. many of them relate to protecting our homes and the furnishings and floors in them while others relate to personal comfort and even general foot health. Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons:
To protect flooring
Most people spend more than a little money on the flooring that they have laid in their homes, whether they choose carpet, hardwood, tile or a combination of flooring materials. and while the modern versions of all of these flooring types are hardier and more dirt resistant than ever before, and most vacuum cleaners are more efficient, walking across any indoor flooring surface every day in hard soled outdoor shoes can really take its toll on even the most expensive flooring.
Dirt and debris are obvious threats and even if you think you have been walking all day on relatively clean streets the fact is that the soles of your shoes are still covered in dirt and dust at the end of the day that, if you keep those shoes on when you come indoors, will quickly transfer onto your indoor flooring surfaces. Not only will this dirty those surfaces but even tiny bits of grit can scratch wood floors and the heavier soles of outdoor shoes can trample down carpet fibers that, eventually, over time, simply won’t spring back up any more, leaving carpets looking flat and dingy, even if vacuumed on a regular basis.
To protect your feet
Even if you keep a spotless house (as in you sweep or vacuum every single day religiously) things end up on the floor that, if trodden on, can leave you in some serious pain. Ask any parent who has ever trodden on stray Lego in their kids room in bare feet. Putting a barrier between the delicate soles of your feet and the floor and its many potential hazards – a stray dropped pin tack, a dropped needle, a sharp piece of stone that came in on your puppy’s paw – may help you avoid nasty injuries that could leave you limping for weeks.
To protect your health in general
If it’s cold, experts recommend that extremities be covered as much as possible. Wear a hat if you are going out and certainly don’t pad about the house in bare feet, as even thick carpet can feel a little chilly. Slippers literally help trap in your body heat, keeping you warmer without the need for you to turn up the thermostat another notch. Therefore, wearing your slippers can help you cut those high winter energy bills as well.
In addition, if you live in a household with several other people – or even pets – walking around barefoot increases the risk of the accidental transmission of foot diseases like athlete’s foot. That sounds gross but it’s a more common occurrence than you might think.
For pure comfort
It’s the end of another long, hard day. Your feet have been crammed into your outdoor shoes all day. They are tired, achy and, as it is normal for anyone’s feet to swell during the day, you are feeling pretty constricted in the foot area. At home you want to be able to feel comfortable, and the fact si that nothing is nicer than slipping into a nice, soft comfortable pair of slippers at the end of the day. They allow your feet to ‘breathe’ and isn’t it just nice to be able to relax in a nice pair of comfy slippers – whatever you are doing – in the comfort of your own home at the end of the day?
Are slippers really that interesting?
Slippers are pretty mundane things, right? You put them on, you take them off. End of story. Hardly worth getting excited about are they? Well, maybe not but there is some pretty interesting trivia out there about slippers that you may not be aware of. here are just a few interesting tidbits of slipper trivia you are probably not aware of:
The world’s most expensive slippers
Ever wondered what the most expensive pair of modern day slippers cost and why? If you are thinking they must belong to some glamorous Hollywood starlet – or a Kardashian – you are actually quite wrong. The current record holder for the most expensive slippers is a pair of closed back heavy soled slippers that are covered in more than 1,400 white diamond chips. And they were created for Nick Cannon.
Yes, Mr Wilding Out, America’s Got Talent, ex hubby of Mariah Carey comedian Nick Cannon. He even wore them to host an episode of AGT, but admits that he would never have worn them outside. He does not plan to have them for much longer though. Because he’s a good guy he intends to auction them off for charity.
Slippers and smarts
Muhammad Haroon Tariq, a Pakistani man who now divides his time between his homeland, Australia and the UK is in the records books for being the most successful exam taker ever (at last count 70 O-levels, 16 A-levels, one S-level) And he credits a large part of his success to the fact that he always wears slippers rather than outdoor shoes when taking exams? Why? Because according to Tariq you can’t do your best academic work unless you are comfortable, and that includes your feet.
Converse all stars start life as fake slippers
Converse All Star sneakers are famous the world over. You still see them on the streets, and the basketball courts, every day. But technically they start life as slippers. Right out of the factory they boast a fine coating of felt-like material on their soles. This does wear off with just a few weeks wear, but it also allows them to be classified as ‘indoor shoes’, aka slippers. And as it is cheaper to both import and export slippers than standard shoes it helps the clever sneaker company keep its costs down by a considerable amount.
You have to wear special toilet slippers in Japan
Most people do know that the Japanese are pretty serious about wearing slippers indoors and that is a must that they be worn in the home at all times. What you might not know however is that the average Japanese citizen has at least two pairs of slippers; one to wear around the house and another, separate pair of ‘toilet slippers’ that are only to be worn while using the bathroom.
This is a pretty strict rule and the two pairs of slippers should never be mixed up, as one of the most embarrassing fashion and etiquette mistakes you can make is to be caught wearing your toilet slippers anywhere else in the house!