What Is The Difference Between Flip Flops And Sandals?

What is the difference between flip flops and sandals - 1

When summer comes around and you don’t have to dress up too officially, it is almost instinctual to reach for a pair of your lightest summer footwear to keep your feet cool and sweat-free. There is a variety of footwear that you can wear when the weather warms up, and different people refer to them by different names. This article takes a look at flip flops and sandals – two of the most common types of footwear worn during the summer – to determine just how different they are from each other.

What is the difference between flip flops and sandals? Flip flops are an open type of footwear that is made up of a flat sole and is secured to the feet by a Y-shaped strap that goes between the big toe and the second toe. On the other hand, while sandals are also categorized as open footwear, they typically comprise of a sole that is held to the foot of the wearer by straps which usually go over the instep, or in some cases, around the ankle. Flip flops are constructed with a wide variety of materials, with some of the most common being rubber, foam, plastic, and even leather in some cases. Although sandals are made of similar materials, their construction is generally sturdier as compared to that of flip flops.

While you might get away with wearing a fancy pair of sandals to a wedding or another dressy event or even to the workplace, flip flops are mostly limited to being worn in more casual settings.

The terms “flip flops” and “sandals’ are often used interchangeably to describe footwear that is mostly worn on sunny days to allow the feet to breathe and prevent sweat accumulation. However, despite serving similar functions, there are some distinct differences between the two.

Differentiating between a flip flop and a sandal


The history of the flip flop is not as straightforward as you might expect. The name of the flip flop is derived from the sound that the footwear makes as you walk in them.

The first footwear that was designed in the style of a flip flop was discovered in Egypt by architects and dates back to 4000 BC. This version of the slipper is made from papyrus, and it can be found in the British Museum.

Although they were first uncovered in Ancient Egypt, slippers were being worn in other regions of Africa as well as in the East, China, and Japan. In other parts of Africa, slippers were crafted from rawhide, while in Asian countries, they were constructed using rice straw.

The modern flip flop first gained popularity across Europe and the US as beachwear and was especially popular with Western soldiers who were returning from Japan post World War II. By the time the 50s came around, shoe designers had begun incorporating the style of these traditional Japanese slippers, incorporating rubber in the construction instead of straw.

Today, you can find flip flops in a wide variety of styles, and they make great substitutes for shoes for a trip to the beach or a pool party.

Although sandals were not invented by the Ancient Greeks, they helped to perfect and popularize that style of footwear. The Ancient Greek sandal design was made up of a stiff leather sole that had leather straps attached. The straps typically went between the big toe and the second toe and looped around the ankle to keep the sole in place. The sandal design that a person wore was used to distinguish their social standing – the upper class wore leather sandals which were often coated with real gold, while the middle class wore sandals that were dyed in a variety of colors.

Commoners wore what has become known as gladiator style sandals. These sandals had strapping up the leg, sometimes up to the knee. Gladiator sandals were worn as a form of leg protection rather than a fashion statement.

Material and construction

Flip flops are usually made from one type of material, whether it is foam, rubber, or plastic materials. The Y-shaped straps, commonly referred to as thongs, may be made from the same material or a different material. The construction of flip flops is relatively flimsy, and most varieties generally offer little to no arch support.

The soles of sandals are typically made from leather, rubber, wood, rope, or tatami – in many cases, sandals are made with less flimsy materials and generally considered to be sturdier.

Shape and look

As previously mentioned, flip flops have some sort of straps which hold the footwear to your feet. Sandals may have one or more straps which go around the ankle or over the arch of the foot. Sandals may have a wedged or heeled sole, although both types of footwear can feature platform sole. Some sandal designs also have structured ankle straps or even fuller-coverage straps that hold the heels and the toes in place. Sandals are generally more efficient in keeping your feet in place than slippers.

When to wear

No matter how cute your flip flops are, they are generally limited to casual activities such as going to the pool, hitting the beach, or going to the amusement park. On the other hand, you have more options with sandals, and there are designs that you can wear to different settings such as a wedding, a high-end restaurant, or something similarly elegant or dressy.

You will want to avoid wearing flip flops to the office unless you work as a lifeguard or at a beach store. Although some workplaces don’t encourage wearing sandals to work, this type of footwear is acceptable to wear to work in some cases. Whereas flip flops generally lack the professional look required, a pair of wedge sandals or a heeled leather pair may be just what you need when it comes to your summer office footwear.

Factors to consider when purchasing flip flops

  • Support – For any type of footwear, arch, joint, and heel support is of utmost importance. Arch support reduces the chances of foot fatigue and pain occurring when you spend extended periods on your feet. Heel support, on the other hand, allows for proper balance and motion control. Therefore, look for flip flops that have contoured footbeds, those that feature memory foam or similar cushy but firm materials, and seek out arch support that is suitable for your type of arch.
  • Comfort – A good pair of flip flops should be comfortable to wear and walk around in. Other than a supportive footbed, you should also keenly look at the material that is used in the construction of the straps of the flip flops. Ensure that the straps are soft and malleable so that they don’t rub into your skin and cause blisters.
  • Fit – If a flip flop is too big, your foot will end up sliding uncomfortably in it, increasing the chances of you tripping, falling, and potentially injuring yourself. If the design turns out to be too tight, you will likely end up with blisters on your feet. Flip flops typically don’t feature adjustable straps, although if you come across a design which includes a buckle closure system that allows you to make adjustments to the fit, then, by all means, go for it.
  • Flexibility – In addition to molding to your feet, flip flops are also supposed to adjust to the surface to which they are subjected. Otherwise, if it is too stiff, you could end up sustaining injuries. Therefore, when you buy a pair, test it against a wall to determine how far back it manages to comfortable bend.

Factors to consider when purchasing sandals

  • Breathability – You might assume that an open design of footwear to be naturally breathable, but this is not always the case, especially for sandals which are constructed with synthetic materials that lock moisture in. As a result, you will want to go for sandals that have a suede, mesh, or moisture-wicking lining. Such materials will help to keep your feet from overheating as well as control the moisture buildup and ensure dryness. Cutouts are also a great way of ensuring that fresh air is allowed into the sandal and hot air escapes.
  • Support – For support, look for sandals that hug the arch, have a deeper heel cup, and allow your toes to splay. In addition to preventing pain after a day on your feet, such a sandal will also properly align your feet and allow for natural shock absorption.
  • Outsole – You want the outsole to be reasonably flexible to allow you to move naturally. However, a sole that is too flexible will not allow for adequate protection of your feet. You should also look for sandals that allow for an adequate grip of the surface you are walking on to prevent potential slips – a traction pattern is a great choice for this purpose.

Final Thoughts

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, sandals and flip flops are quite different from one another, especially when it comes to the design and the occasions where you can wear them. However, whether you are buying a pair of flip flops or sandals, always look for ones that will provide you with adequate support and allow for comfort so s to keep your feet protected.

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