This summer, while everyone was distracted by the spread of the leopard mini skirt from body to body, another trend quietly trend gained ubiquity: the naked sandal. Unlike the former, which at worst forced us to question if we’ve all become cookie-cutter cutouts of each other (we have) and at best provided us with a wardrobe staple, the naked sandal has no positive attributes.
The naked sandal is essentially a sandal with slim straps that delicately lay horizontally, vertically, or sometimes both, on the foot, criss-crossing it like string around a rump roast. It’s a simple silhouette that makes the shoe the less-important co-star to the foot. The style has been described as “hyper minimal” by some places, “floss heels” by others, and “dainty wisps of sandals” by one particularly poetic internet commenter; historically, the shoe has been known as a “strappy sandal.”
You might think the naked sandal is the perfect complement to any outfit because of its unassuming presence — an item you barely notice automatically goes with everything, right? Except for the fact that the naked sandal is probably the most impractical shoe in existence.
The problem lies in what makes the sandal beloved, apparently — its minimalist nature. Since the shoe’s straps are so tiny, they also have to be more constricting in order to keep your foot tethered to them. This typically results in them cutting off any and all circulation after walking a mere couple of blocks. But if the straps aren’t tight enough as to leave semi-permanent marks on your feet at the end of the day, they are left loose to flail around, putting them in danger of perhaps a worse fate: making contact with whatever ground is under them (which, in my case, would be the New York City pavement). And the only thing more foul than exposed feet in a city as dirty as New York — overrun with garbage and climate-change loving rats — is those exposed feet touching the ground. Add the fact that many “naked” sandals include — cringe — kitten heels — makes keeping your shoes on and trying to avoid walking like a wobbly toddler even harder.
And all of this goes without mentioning the obscene cost of a sandal that is built to have a minimal existence. Here’s a torturous-looking pair with “three braided straps across the front and a wrap tie at the ankle” for $218. This pair, made from sheep leather, suede and, apparently, razor wire retails for $300. A slightly less-expensive style ($79.90) at Zara looks similarly painful, not to mention straight out of Clueless.
A Cosmopolitan story earlier this year titled “ICYMI, ‘Naked Sandals’ Are This Summer’s ~Sexiest~ Shoe Trend” asked the burning question: “They don’t look super comfy but they’re definitely cute, so maybe they’re worth it?” After taking a pair for a test run the author of the article reported back: “By the end of the day, my feet were aching for something flat to wear.” But, she adds, they’re a “great office shoe,” or a cute style “to wear for a couple hours on a rooftop bar, while picnicking in the park, to go on a coffee-shop date, or whatever else you do for a shorter amount of time in the summer.” In other words, they’re definitely not worth it.
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Let’s take a quick look back at the history of sandals to understand this fashion moment to which we have been delivered. In Ancient Greece, there was a sandal known as the baxeae that was made out of twigs and leaves that was “worn on the comic stage and by philosophers.” Sure. It also looks very uncomfortable. There was another theater-specific shoe called cothurnus, a boot sandal that rose to the middle of the leg that looks equally as uncomfortable as the baxeae.
I have two guesses for why people wore shoes that either tore into their feet or provided little to no support back then: because they would do anything for the theatre, and because they didn’t know any better. What we might now consider poorly constructed shoes were the Gucci loafers of their time. Nowadays, we have sturdier, more durable options for footwear. We know better, so we should do better (onstage and in real life).
There was a moment earlier this summer that truly illustrated the nonsensical nature of the naked sandal for me. I was heading out to lunch in Soho, dodging tourists and international influencers when I noticed a young woman wearing a pair of them, crossing and re-crossing the street, posing for her Instagram husband. You know the awkward feeling you get while watching someone take a selfie? This was like that.
Over time, though, I became more concerned about her twisting an ankle while teetering on her shoes and trying to navigate the made-for-Instagram, not-made-for-walking cobble stoned streets than any secondhand embarrassment I felt by standing there gawking. After a couple of minutes — and after presumably getting the shot — she sat on the corner, reached into her bag, and pulled out a pair of Birkenstocks. It was like having the Instagram vs. Reality meme come to life right in front of me.
Don’t get me wrong, the naked sandal is sexy, and most of us have likely endured a little pain for a look, a moment, or a couple of likes. Maybe the popularity of these simple yet sadistic shoes says something about us a society. All I know is if naked sandals like the abominable flip-flop heels Kim Kardashian has been pushing take off, our feet are on their own.
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