Every year, style sites trot out their Summer Content, which almost always includes a post exploring the issue of men slipping their hairy, crusty feet into thonged sandals. The Cut has debated Men in Flip Flops. Racked has said no to the entire “mandal” trend. Even noted tastemaker Fox News couldn’t help but ask, “Do real men wear flip-flops?” The news peg was DMX dissing Jay Z’s footwear choices, claiming “thugs don’t do flip-flops,” a hypothesis recently proven correct by Drake.
Everyone seems to be able to agree on one thing: MEN HAVE DISGUSTING FEET THAT NAUSEATE EVERYONE AROUND THEM. And they’re generally right. An ex-boyfriend of mine had toenails that rivaled the claws of the Wicked Witch of the West.
But don’t people generally have disgusting feet, male or not? My horse hooves — a cute nickname I gave my peds 😉 — are currently horrifying. Ravaged by summer sandals, they’re a canvas for blisters and cuts, proving that “gross feet” aren’t the real reason to hate men in flip-flops. There’s a far better reason, and it doesn’t involve foot-shaming.
Women are expected to curate every aspect of our appearance, so much so that many of us routinely get our heels buffed off and toenails painted. A woman who wears flip-flops has probably judged her feet and herself (physically, emotionally, spiritually) multiple times before putting them on: Are they appropriate? Am I repulsive? Will anyone ever love me? Men in flip-flops prove the theory that they’re able to put little to no effort into fashion or grooming (and everything else, if we’re being honest) and still be seen as attractive.
Men are largely left out of the fashion rule book—except when it comes to shoes. A sexist guy on Reddit (of course) claims he’s never met a woman who didn’t notice a man’s shoes: “How a man cares for his shoes is how he cares for his body, is how women seem to (over) analyze it.” The thread here, started (of course) by a man, is full of insanity, but I agree with the overarching premise: If you want to get positively noticed by women, the answer is simple — “wear nice shoes.” (This piece wouldn’t exist otherwise, right?)
The only problem here is what you mean by “nice.” Do flip-flops qualify? Surely, there are levels, but the economy of flip-flops is fairly simple, befitting the shoes themselves. The leather Rainbow is the Manolo Blahnik ($50); the cloth Reef is a more sporty, sensible Franco Suarto ($30). Spending spring break in Brazil? Go with the rubber Havaianas ($25). On your way to take a shower in a disgusting dorm bathroom? There are $3.99 ones for that, which, according to GQ, is one of the only semi-acceptable activities for flip-flop wearing.
Not that some haven’t dared to wear them in other settings. Writer and noted flip-flop apologist Elon Green, who has been called “wrong and dangerous” for his views, gives zero fucks about societal expectations when it comes to his footwear. In April, for instance, he wrote about a time he wore flip-flops to a baby shower:
“That Saturday was a tad chilly but gorgeous. We were blessed with the sort of sun that Saul Bellow once described as ‘the light of warmer seasons, not of deep winter.’ I wore dress pants, a button-down shirt and a sweater. On a beautiful day, such clothing would ordinarily be constraining. But I wore flip-flops. Even that little bit of freedom — to feel the newly-cut grass in my toes as we enjoyed samosas — was enough to infuse the afternoon with a delicious informality.”
The problem here is far more serious than violating GQ’s code of ethics. Shoes are important, perhaps more so than any other item of clothing, because they come with a personality or at the very least an offering, like “come-fuck-me heels.” A flip-flop says nothing, really. The only thing they reveal about the person wearing them — outside of their recent or upcoming participation in a water sport — is that they don’t give a shit. In her landmark manifesto against men in flip-flops for Slate, Dana Stephens nails it when she writes: “Because of the ease with which they’re put on and removed — along, perhaps, with their generic ubiquity — flip-flops connote a sort of half-dressed slatternliness, a sense that the wearer has forgotten to do anything at all with his or her body from the ankles down.”
At best, flips-flops are the human equivalent of a boring dude who’s into boats, beer and boobies (yes, he calls them that).
Yet one of the great things about 2016 — and there are few — is that men finally have options. Looking to reveal a little toe? Want to wear a sandal that’s functional and comfortable, all while demonstrating a shred of human decency? Men can go for a slide or a Birkenstock or a huarache, which demonstrate — even if you don’t aesthetically care for their look — that one has made even a pinky toe’s worth of effort. Like women being freed from their corsets, men don’t need to have rubber in between their toes anymore. Embrace it.