Slate’s Dana Stevens really does hate flip-flops. Last Wednesday, the movie critic took the opportunity a “lull between big summer movie releases” afforded her and absolutely blasted the things. And though I must congratulate Stevens for the very act of dedicating almost 1,500 very well written words to Havaianas-hating, she is missing the point of the footwear altogether. Practically every issue she has with flip-flops is part of what makes them great in the first place. In one of her particularly eloquent “tirades” about flip-flops, Stevens writes:
“But we are not here to discuss the footwear choices of impoverished villagers, just-showered athletes, or Jimmy Buffett strumming his six-string on his front porch in Margaritaville. We’re talking about grown adults in affluent societies — people presumably in possession of at least one pair of actual shoes — who see fit to navigate the grimy sidewalks of large cities shod only in a loosely flapping, half-inch-thick slip of rubber. Those people — you, if you’re among them — need to face the reality that you are, in essence, going barefoot, and it’s grossing the rest of us out.”
Here, Stevens misses one of the central traits of flip-flops. They are the anti-shoe. The very casualness that Stevens so hates about them is their greatest quality. While we can’t all be riding dolphins “On a Boat” instead of riding the subway, we can all dream of the alternatives to the daily grind. The “schlapp!” noise that, much to the author’s chagrin, accompanies every flip-flop’s step down a flight of stairs is the sound of pedal — and personal — freedom. Tell me, Stevens, does Ferragamo make GLOW IN THE DARK PAC-MAN loafers? Didn’t think so.
Moreover, her indictment of flip-flops implies they are for unemployed slobs who care little for neither fashion nor arch support. They may not be haute couture, but they can still go for a pretty penny. And some of them come with bottle openers.
Stevens then goes on to commit what is in my mind a cardinal sin by putting flip-flops below Tevas and Crocs on the Great Chain of Shoe Being. I’m sorry, but unless you happen to be in a canoe or are too young to get a learner’s permit, neither Tevas nor Crocs should ever surround your feet. Better to subject yourself to “broken glass, loose nails at construction sites, wads of gum, pools of motor oil, piles of dog poop, puddles of human effluvia” (yikes) by going barefoot than put them on.
I will concede that going for even a little bit more coverage — TOMS and boat shoes come to mind — would keep you away from the aforementioned list of really disgusting things you might (literally) run into on city streets. There’s nothing wrong with simply thinking feet are gross, which seems to be the unifying theme of Stevens’s article. Nor do I suggest you show up to just about any place of work in them (but lucky you if you can get away with it). However, though flip-flops probably are a podiatric disaster, so are the “across-the-foot ‘slide’” shoes that Stevens touts as alternatives. Most of her gripes with them could be resolved with just a little common sense from flip-flop wearers.
In targeting flip-flops alone as “foot robes,” Stevens underestimates their value in rebellion against the typical shoe. Ridding ourselves of flip-flops is just one more step toward a society full of Men in Grey Flannel Suits. Who needs to walk backwards anyway?