The Ringer’s Amanda Dobbins recently said men’s fashion is in it’s “woman repeller” phase — that men seem to be dressing for each other, mostly. It’s a riff on the long-standing women’s fashion site Man Repeller, which takes it as a given that women interested in fashion aren’t dressing to attract men, and in effect, may do the opposite. Dobbins’ point, as I take it, is that in 2019 guys are less interested in wearing flattering, fitted, traditional clothing (that straight women might, broadly speaking, find attractive) and more interested in wearing weird, conceptual, loud, even confrontational clothing that they or their peers find cool or interesting. Aka, jawnz.
Footwear may have led the charge in this area — it’s well-documented at this point that the people love ungainly, loud, and goofy sneakers, and outlandish kicks have become normal enough that even Target knocks them off (for women, at least).
Another category guys seem to have embraced is sandals. In my experience, open toe (or really, open anything) shoes for men have long been at least frowned upon by women (and men), with the refrain usually going something like “Nobody wants to see men’s gross feet.” Which — point taken.
But men’s feet aren’t innately gross. Men don’t generally grow up expecting to show their feet in public much, and we don’t often take care that they’re aesthetically pleasing, in the way that women are broadly expected to. But with a minimum of care (e.g., trimming nails, scrubbing away dead skin, and getting rid of corns), men’s feet are, if not pleasing, aesthetically tolerable. (Just don’t do what this Amazon reviewer did, rasping his feet until dead skin was “flying like dust from a bandsaw.”)
It’s possible sandal aversion is also somewhat related to the fact that the fashion capitals of the world are, in fact, cities, and city streets and sandals aren’t always compatible. There’s a reason everyone in New York wears Timberlands. They’re defensive footwear; sandals equal vulnerability.
Another factor in the rise of the fashionable sandal is the granolification of fashion. In the post-prep, post-fitted-minimalism men’s fashion world, there isn’t a single aesthetic or subculture dominating men’s clothing, but jam-band-dirtbag-lite style has partially filled the vacuum with tie-dye and highfalutin, or at least midfalutin, outdoor gear. And along with a ragged shirt and a pair of hiking shorts, open air footwear is a key component of a Phish or Dead parking lot ensemble.
Truthfully, sandals is a really broad category, meaning anything from a traditional welted shoe with some a/c, to a beach town five-and-dime flip flop. One of the few rules is not to mix categories too much–a nice leather sandal can be great; give it a sneaker tread and it’s corny. If you’re thinking of breaking into sandals this summer (you still have time), you have some choices to make.
The simplest sandal (maybe the simplest footwear), a slide is a sole with a single, wide strap to slip your foot into. Easy, waterproof versions like the Nike Benassi or Adidas Adilette are good for poolside or around the house (and they’re pretty affordable). A suede slide like Mr. P’s looks looks better with non-board-shorts. In my opinion, if you intend to wear slides outside of your yard or a resort, the simpler the better — best to avoid embellishments or logos.
(Side note: I’ve come around to sandals with socks, but I would not likely wear slides with socks.)
Beyond the basic slide are multistrap sandals that you can still get on and off with little effort — I’d put Birkenstock’s Arizona (the crunchiest of granola shoes?) in this category, and even the Boston (a good model if you really don’t want to show your toes).
You can also find more traditional companies, and some luxury brands, making strappier sandals in this category. Good leather and decent construction may be less important here than in dress shoes, but they can make a sandal look good when broken in and last a bit longer. The type of sandal I’m thinking of, which is something I feel like Michael Bolton or John Tesh would wear with some natural linen pants, isn’t as common as it once was. RL Purple Label has a pair this year, and that seems about right. Grenson also has a number of designs.
Derek wrote about huaraches a couple of years ago — to be honest, I hadn’t seen many here on the east coast at the time but I’ve seen many more since. They’re a traditional shoe in Mexico and came to the U.S. in the 1960s with the rise of surf culture. The name covers a range of shoe designs, but they are generally constructed with leather strips woven, basket style, into an upper.
Unfortunately Derek’s source Marku Kittner is no longer selling huaraches, but you can still find traditional makers through his blog. Yuketen has reliably carried a couple of models in the last few years, as well.
In a similar if less traditional vein is Malibu Sandals — these use the basket weave technique but are made of vegan leather or nylon.
Sport or outdoors
If Birkenstocks are the Jose Canseco of gorpcore, Chacos are the Mark McGwire. Together, they’re the Stash Brothers? Sorry. Chaco makes a lot of different shoes, generally intended for hiking or outdoor activity, but they’re most known for their nylon strappy sandals, which are de rigeur for picking up your CSA box at the farmer’s market. They’re similar in character to Tevas, but Chaco wearers I’ve known are pretty dedicated to the brand.
A bonus is that you can order Chacos with custom straps, including tie-dye patterns and actual Grateful Dead stealies. Custom orders take about 10 days to make, so you may still be able to order a pair in time for this summer’s Dead and Co. tour stop in your town.
You can still find Teva sandals around as well, a brightly patterned does of 90s nostalgia.
If you keep an eye on the sandals section of better online men’s shops, as I do, you’ve probably noticed the biggest jump in the sandals sections has been in designer takes on these other categories, mostly the sportier models. Prada, Dries Van Noten, Marni, and others made fancy Tevas this year.
It’s hard to know where to draw the line, exactly, between a brand like Chaco and one like Suicoke, which likewise specializes in performance sandals. But Suicoke seems more meta — like they took an existing concept and piled stuff on top of it. Many of Suicoke’s models also incorporate neoprene into their designs, which makes them pretty comfortable.