Thursday, July 08, 2004

Ode to Flip Flops

Here is one from the archives, circa July 1999. As true today as it was then; indeed I think this one is timeless:

Ahhh, summertime! At last, it has arrived, and I can once again enjoy my favorite indulgences of our warmest season. First on that list is the dusting off of my flip-flops for another season of service and comfort for my feet after nine long months of confinement. Minnesotans always talk about cabin fever caused by the long winters, but if there is one body part that suffers from terminal cabin fever, in all months outside of summer, it is the foot. But as they say, one never knows the pleasure of comfort so well as when it has been denied them for so long.

Summer affords one the opportunity to wear a whole range of open toed footwear, from flip flops to the Tevas, Birckenstocks, or the soccer style sandals. While everyone has his own preferences, I can say with confidence that anyone choosing something other than the flip flop has no taste. A presumptive remark, I know, but I make it only after serious thought and experience with the matter.

First among the advantages of the flip flop is its economy of material – there is simply no other way to attach a cushioned sole to the bottoms of your feet without using more material than that required by the flip flop. I offer this as an advantage not because of any concern for wasting natural resources in shoe construction, but instead for the aesthetically pleasing simplicity of design that no other summer footwear can match.

Second among advantages is the complete lack of pretension embodied in the flip-flop. Their price ranges from as little as $2 a pair to as much as $70 a pair, but there is no way to put on heirs by your choice. No matter how much you spend, you will always be seen as being in league with those wearing the cheap ones. Though I typically have no complaint with a showy display of wealth, I note the irony that the liberal environmentalist peacefreak’s shoe of choice for summertime is typically the Birckenstock. The Birckenstock is supposed to signal the liberal’s simple lifestyle, his eschewing of material wealth, and his rebellion from the tight leather shoes required in the business world. Yet he pays barely less for the Birckenstocks than the businessman invests in his Italian leather shoes. The image that the shoe provides for its wearer actually commands a premium in price which makes it, quite laughably, an ostentatious purchase made only by those who are specifically trying to avoid one. You’ll never see a poor person wearing Birckenstocks, but you’ll see plenty who are sensible enough to invest a couple of dollars in flip-flops.

A third set of advantages presented by the flip-flop consist in what it prevents you from doing. In comparison to all other summer footwear, the flip-flop is unique in constraining its owner from the contemptible temptation to wear socks in conjunction with them. The thingie, that little piece of material that attaches the sole to the upper flip-flop, and nestles in between the big and second toes, effectively prevents doing so. (I made this word up. Some people used to refer to it as a thong, but that word, along with others such as “is”, had its meaning destroyed in the course of the impeachment.) In my mind, there is no greater sin to fashion. Just as white is not an appropriate color for women in the time between Labor Day and Memorial Day, so to should the wearing of open-toed footwear be confined. Fashion rules are of course often arbitrary and inexplicable, but this one just wrings of common sense, and I suspect that it is followed in all cultures.

A friend once purchased a pair of nice Timberland leather sandals, similar to the Teva design, but also having the thingie characteristic of flip-flops. I expressed disappointment in his choice, as he was for many years a sensible flip-flop wearer. He replied by saying that he could never wear socks with his Timberlands, and so he was in the spirit of the flop. I might have let him off the hook after pointing this out, but he got greedy, and argued that his pair was superior because the heel strap allowed him to run more easily than he could in flip flops. Which brings me to the second and more important great constraint offered by the flip flop: It prevents you from running anywhere. If you want to run, put on running shoes. Open-toed summer footwear is all about relaxing – running nowhere. Those who are able to run in their inferior footwear may find themselves blistering, and could resort to, egads, socks, as a preventive measure.

A last advantage of the flip flop held over all but the soccer sandal is that you never have to bend over to put them on or take them off. You simply step into or out of them. No laces to tie. No velcro straps to attach. No buckles to secure. In and out – its as simple as that.

If there is a disadvantage, it’s the emotional attachment that people tend to feel toward their flip-flops. Others will leave behind their current pairs for the latest fashions long before the sandals have been rendered useless, but the flip-flop wearer is loyal. He wears nothing other than his flops until that fateful day when the thingie eventually breaks. Even Jimmy Buffet, musician and fellow flip-flop wearer, could only escape the sadness of blowing out his flip flop by firing up the booz in the blender for another margarita. I suggest the margarita as your grieving ritual when you should blow out yours. One thing is for sure, you’ll never blow it out in a season that is not perfect for an excuse to kick up your heels and enjoy one.


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