Types of Sandals
Sandals come in a few different types:
Sport sandals are designed for active, outdoor activity, and they are typically made with more durable synthetic materials that can handle water (leather wears out quickly when wet). They tend to have a thicker sole, protective straps around the feet, ankles, and heels, and decent arch support. In addition to generic "sports sandals", there are two sub-types:
- Hiking sandals are built specifically for long-distance walking and hiking, so they have thick, rugged outsoles with excellent grip, stiff midsoles that offer decent arch protection, and straps that protect your entire foot. They are designed for stability and support on rough trails. Some are made of leather, while those designed for wet environments tend to feature synthetic materials.
- Water sandals are intended for use on the beach or with water sports, such as rafting, kayaking, and sailing. They tend to weigh less than other sports sandals, made from synthetic materials that can handle a good deal of moisture without damage. They tend to be designed to protect your feet, but still provide plenty of drainage to eliminate excess water.
Fisherman sandals are a real old-school style. They tend to be made of leather, and they offer a lot of coverage for the foot while still providing an open-toe design that promotes good drainage. They feature a center strap that runs from the big toe up the top of your foot, connected by multiple straps to the sandal's outsole. A strap around the back of your ankle keeps it firmly in place.
These sandals are ideal for boating and water use, and they're a fashionable choice (given that they're made from leather).
Fashion sandals are more form than function, designed to be as stylish as possible without the durability you need for active use. They offer very little arch support, cushioning, stability, or foot protection, but they are a highly stylish option for wearing with summer outfits. They're what you wear to a beach wedding or summer luncheon!
Huaraches are a more rustic style: a lightweight sandal made with a rubber sole, with narrow webbing to split at your big toe. It may feature a wrap around your heels to keep your feet in place and provide stability. Huaraches were originally made from leather, with soles of wood or woven string. Now, huaraches have rubber soles and uppers made from real and synthetic leather. To truly be considered a "huarache", the shoe has to be hand-made.
Slide-In sandals, also known as "slides", are a mix between a flip flop and a sandal. They have the thicker sole and wider strap of sandals, but just one that runs across the top of your foot. They're designed to be easy to slide your foot in and out of. They're very casual, but offer enough padding to be comfortable for walking.
Closed-Toe sandals are sandals that have a closed-toe design, highly effective at protecting your feet. Ugly as they are, Crocs are a perfect example. Closed-toe sandals are designed to offer good support and comfort for walking around town, and they can even be used for light hiking or water use. However, they're definitely the ugliest of the sandal styles!
Flip flops are simple rubber sandals that have a thin, V-shaped strap that goes between your toes. They offer very little support and no protection, making them ill-suited for active use. They're best used for short trips to the beach or pool.
How to Buy the Right Sandals
When evaluating sandals, here are the most important features to keep in mind:
Straps – The more straps a sandal has, the more active the shoe. Casual sandals have just one or two straps, while sport and hiking sandals tend to have lots of different straps. However, in addition to offering better foot protection and stability, these sandals also increase the risk of chafing and blisters. If the straps aren't placed well, they could also cause blisters and irritation.
Cushioning – Thicker sandal outsoles usually equal better cushioning, but some sandals will have extra cushioning built into the insole. These offer good reduction from impact, making them easier on your joints. If you're a larger or heavier person, extra cushioning is always something important to look for.
Flexibility – Thinner soles are usually more flexible, but they offer less cushioning. Thicker soles are good if you're hiking over rugged terrain, but you want flexibility from your water and sport sandals. Your foot should be able to bend naturally as you walk.
Closed or Open Toe – Some hiking sandals are built with the closed-toe design, offering you maximum protection against rocks and better stability. However, be warned: closed-toe shoes tend to have poor water drainage, so the shoes won't dry out as quickly as open-toe shoes.
Size – Obviously you need to take your shoe size into account when shopping for sandals. Most sandals and flip flop are sold for TWO sizes, rather than one. For example, instead of a 9 ½ size sandal, they'll be sold as a "9-10". They tend to be more versatile in their sizing, but that versatility increases the risk of the sandal being too small or too large. If the sandal is too large, it can make walking uncomfortable. If the sandal is too small, it may cause chafing in your heels and be painful for your toes.
Material – Leather is the more comfortable and stylish option for sandals, and it's usually more durable—for dry use only. For any activities that could cause the sandals to get wet regularly (water sports, beach use, poolside, etc.), consider sandals that are made with synthetic materials, such as nylon webbing. Synthetic leather and fabrics can handle water without damage, making them better for water use.
Why Arch Support Matters
One of the features that ALL shoe shoppers—yes, even those looking for sandals—need to consider is arch support.
Your feet are the foundation of your body, meaning all of your weight is resting on your feet. Without proper support, you can wear out the various parts of your foot.
Oddly enough, the arches of your foot are one of the weakest structures in your body, and in need of the most support. The arch of your foot handles most of the pressure of your movement, with anywhere from 200,000 to 300,000 pounds per mile walked, according to The Podiatry Center.
People with flat arches tend to pronate more with each step, while people with high arches pronate less than the average person. If the arches aren't supported, your body will try to compensate, shifting your stride or the way you step in order to accommodate it. This could lead to skeletal imbalances in your hips, knees, lower back, ankles, and even your neck and shoulders. Over time, these problems can lead to inactivity, or potentially even disability.
If you're still confused, the following link provides great photos to explain exactly how arch support works: https://cdn.runrepeat.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Arch-support-Truth-vs-hype-2.jpg
Most types of sandals do not offer thick arch support, though some hiking and sport sandals include some manner of support. Arch support isn't vital if you're just going to use the sandals at the pool, at the beach, or to lounge around the house. However, if you're going to do any kind of walking, you MUST have a pair of sandals with some form of arch support.
Sandal Do's and Don'ts
If you're going to buy and wear sandals, it's important that you understand a few rules:
- Buy sandals of good quality. It's worth paying a bit more to get a pair of sandals built to last. High-quality (pricier) sandals tend to be more supportive, look more stylish, and last longer.
- Take care of your feet. Over-long, miscolored, or infected toenails are unappealing, as are dirty, overly hairy, or cracked feet. If you're going to wear sandals, make sure you have the feet for them!
- Roll up the hem of your pants or jeans. Not only will this make the sandals more comfortable, but it's a stylish look that speaks of casual coolness. But just roll up once or twice—any more will look silly.
- Shop for your sandals specifically. Don't buy "El Cheapo" brand from your local department store, but put some thought and effort into buying quality sandals, just like you would with any other shoe.
- Wear them anywhere and everywhere. Sandals are footwear designed for home, at the pool, in the gym showers, and on vacation. They are NOT office wear and certainly not formal wear.
- Wear them with socks. Or, should I say, don't wear them with socks unless you are one of the very few men classy enough to pull off the right socks and sandals combo!
- Wear them on a date. Unless your entire date is going to be spent on the sand, leave the sandals at home.
- Wear them on a hike. Yes, there may be "hiking sandals", but for the most part, you want total foot protection, excellent stability, and a sturdier shoe than sandals can offer. Take them with you on your jungle or island vacation, but for hiking at home, always wear hiking boots.
- Wear slides or slip-ons. These shoes are made exclusively for use in the shower or at the pool, but they are a heinous style offense that should never grace your feet elsewhere.
Guide to Sandals Style
If you're the kind of guy who is daring enough to try wearing sandals as a fashion choice, you're definitely in for a tough time. Here are a few tips from the experts on how to wear man sandals stylishly:
Pair with shorts. Shorts and sandals are a classic combo, especially during the summer months. Bright-colored swim shorts/board shorts are a good option for pairing with sandals, but you can even use them with cut-off jeans or chinos. Pair chinos with leather sandals, and lightweight cotton or denim jeans with flip flops.
Be wary of pairing with pants. Sandals and trousers are an iconic summer look, but it's hard to get the pairing right. Khakis are a definite no-no, but a good combination is leather sandals, chinos, and a basic T-shirt. If you have the legs for it, you can use cropped or rolled-up pants with a nice pair of leather sandals.
Go beach formal. Such an odd combination—a blazer, cotton chinos, and leather sandals—but it's just the right way to look professional with that laid-back beach vibe. DEFINITELY not an outfit to wear to work, but it's good for a working vacation by the ocean.
Go black. If you're not sure how to pair leather sandal colors with the right pants, belt, and watch, opt for black sandals and black jeans. The combination will go well with any bright-colored T-shirt, and it will be a muted, appealing style.
Flip Flops 101
Flip flops are the "ugly cousin" when it comes to sandals. While many sandals can be highly stylish (not to mention pricey!), flip flops usually denote the word "cheap".
Here's a simple guide to help you figure out where and how to wear flip flops:
- At the beach
- At the community pool
- At a friend's pool
- In the college shower
- Around a beach town
- At the seaside, on the sand
If you are any of these places, it's totally appropriate to go ahead and break out the flip flops.
- At the office
- Around the city
- Concerts, indoor and outdoor
- City sidewalks and streets
- Formal events
- Weddings (sandals are the only footwear suitable for beach weddings)
- Any court appearances
- ANY bathroom
- ANY city