Read of the Day: “Your Flip-Flops Are Grossing Me Out”
6:00 pm, July 8th | by Colette McIntyre
In today’s Read of the Day, Slate’s Dana Stevens takes on the most controversial harbinger of summer: the flip-flop. According to Dana, your schlapp!-ing footwear is unsightly, unhygienic, and unfit for public. (To all of you flip-flop devotees: don’t shoot the messenger!)
From what angle to approach the wrongness first? The crux of the flip-flop problem, for me, lies in the decoupling of footwear from foot with each step—and the attendant decoupling of the wearer’s behavior from the social contract. Extended flip-flop use seems to transport people across some sort of etiquette Rubicon where the distinction between public and private, inside and outside, shod and barefoot, breaks down entirely. I’ve witnessed flip-flop wearers on the New York City subway slip their “shoes” off altogether and cross their feet on the train-car floor with a contented sigh, as though they were already home and kicking back in front of a DVR’dCheers marathon. We would all look askance at a person who removed his socks and sneakers on the train before ostentatiously propping his naked dogs in plain sight. Why do people get a break just because they happen to be wearing footgear that takes them 90 percent of the way there?
Then there’s the lack of support and protection the flip-flop offers its wearer’s foot. Of course, the same might be said of any flat, thin-soled shoe—but as soon as you slap a heel strap and a buckle onto that sad, flapping sole, my objections disappear. Individual sandals and clogs are subject to scrutiny as to their wearability and visual appeal: Tevas and Crocs may be aesthetic abominations unto the Lord, but at least they perform most of the basic functions of shoes. They permit the wearer to break into a run or take a step backward when needed (who can predict when you’ll need to sprint to catch a bus or help a friend move his couch on short notice?). And with their thicker soles and foot-harnessing straps, they at least go some way toward protecting the feet from the most egregious aggressors in the outside environment: broken glass, loose nails at construction sites, wads of gum, pools of motor oil, piles of dog poop, puddles of human effluvia. (If this unappetizing imagery is skeeving out you flip-flop loyalists, welcome to the mental world of everyone who looks at your feet.)
It’s tough to find hard numbers for the growing pervasiveness of flip-flops as city footwear, though the explosive growth of the popular, Brazilian-owned Havaianas brand over the past two decades suggests that wherever we’re choosing to wear them, we’re certainly buying more of the things than ever. But anecdotally, it’s evident that flip-flop culture is steadily gaining ground. In 2005, several members of the Northwestern women’s lacrosse team wore them on a visit to the Bush White House, sparking a national conversation about whether shoes originally worn to ward off fungus at the gym were also appropriate for trekking through the Oval Office. By 2011, the stigma had diminished to the extent that Obama became the first-ever president to be photographed wearing a pair of flip-flops (though to the president’s credit, the context—an ice-cream shop in his native Hawaii, where he was vacationing with his family—was entirely flip-flop appropriate. It’s not like he was meeting with foreign dignitaries).
To read the rest of Stevens’ tirade, click here.