One of the latest fashion debates has surrounded the post-pedicure, poolside shoe of choice: flip flops. Despite being so divisive, the thong sandal seems to have won over the fashion world, with more approval than ever from fashion brands and tastemakers this season in particular. From Yeezy Season 8's PVC wedge and Simon Miler's kitten heel to the Balenciaga Pre-Fall 2019 lookbook and subsequent Vetements Spring 2020 runway‚ the flip flop resurgence has peaked.
Quite similar to the rise of the dad sneaker, getting here wasn't easy. Over the years, flip flops have crept into street style galleries and runway shows with increasing ubiquity. Today, even the Kardashians and fast-fashion retailers are embracing it (so you know it's real). This ugly non-fashion-turned-fashion sandal is officially summer's most hate-loved shoe — but how did we get here?
It was Brazilian brand Havaianas that unofficially invented the flip flop in 1962. The brand put a patent on the "sole with a strap, decorated by two parallel threads." While the style has remained a staple of beach vacations and quick dog walks, it never really became a full-blown fashion statement. Flash forward 57 years and these Havaianas flip flops were planted all over the streets of Copenhagen Fashion Week last summer. Big-name influencers like Pernille Teisbaek and Jeanette Madsen were photographed in the rubber slides, pairing them with Celine and JW Anderson.
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On the runway, Alexander Wang was an early purveyor of the trend, featuring flip flops in his Spring 2017 show. Michael Kors and Isabel Marant followed, showing their own versions of the thong sandal for Spring 2018. Rihanna also debuted a heeled version in her Fenty collection for Puma that same season. Still, the trend didn't gain traction right away. The newly appointed LVMH designer experienced negative backlash for her iteration that caused a Twitter war amongst her fans. We should've taken this drama as a sign igniting the flip flop's takeoff. From past experience, we know that with any groundbreaking trend in pop culture comes harsh criticism in the beginning. It's all a part of the buzz until a group confidently makes it cool.
Editors from The Zoe Report and Refinery29 quickly hopped on board, while others from Well+Good, PureWow, Elle.com and one of our own writers gave flip flops a hard pass for reasons ranging from their lack of support to the inevitable exposure to germs. In Vogue's latest video from its "Go Ask Anna" series, Anna Wintour responds to a viewer that questions the trend with the answer, "I love a flip flop." If anyone is permitted to have the final say in a trend's legitimacy, it's her.
Unfortunately for its haters, you can expect to see flip flops gain more traction this summer and even carry over into the next. All this drama has caused the shoe to go viral on Instagram. In a recent Q+A with her followers, Alyssa Coscarelli said the trend she is most excited about this summer is "flip flops of all kinds." Leandra Medine, one of the industry's best trend soothsayers, has been wearing Tibi's version nonstop.
"No trend is here to stay, but flip flops are a summer basic so the updates are key to their relevance," says Ana Correa, associate editor of accessories and footwear from trend forecasting company WGSN. "They will remain as a fresh item if the appeal for sportif, high-low styling, noughties references continues to be relevant." We don't see any signs of this slowing down.
"Younger influencers are just doing what other generations did; [they are] finding inspiration from prior decades. They style the flip flop in newer and more contemporary ways…making it seem like it's a completely new item," Correa adds. The newer take on the thong sandal includes a sculptural heel from Cult Gaia, a fluffy square-toe shape from Staud and a thick-strap color-block platform from Proenza Schouler, Etro and Acne Studios also showed flip flops in their Spring 2019 collections.
Like any tried-and-true fashion trend, flip flops are trickling down into the mainstream. The master of fast-fashion footwear, Steven Madden, has been testing them this season with a few styles that are essentially versions of its originals from the '90s. "The 'barely there' trend is running hot this year, which has fueled the thong," says says Christina Ciglar, Steve Madden creative director of retail. "The timing is right for [it] to have made a comeback." The brand is excited to push the thong-style sandal through spring 2020.
While flip flops have clearly become a statement in fashion world, they are only a microtrend, falling under the umbrella of '90s and 2000s nostalgia. It goes beyond footwear and fits into this cultural phenomenon the internet generation has become obsessed with. First it was the dad sneaker, now it's the flip flop. This cyclical and ironic pattern has us looking back to predict: What ugly trend will explode next?
For now, shop some of our favorite flip flop styles below.
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