The terms ‘flip flop’ and ‘sandal’ are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are structurally different types of footwear.
A flip flop is an item of footwear, often considered to be a subcategory of sandal, which features a Y-shaped strap that separates your big toe from the rest of your toes.
A sandal, in today’s terminology, is generally open-toed, most often featuring horizontal straps across the foot, and perhaps additional straps behind the heel or around the ankle. Hybrid shoe styles also exist which incorporate, for example, a Y strap and heel strap into their design.
Both the flip flop and sandal come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Additionally, each shoe is individually suited to different lifestyles and activities.
The flip flop as a style of shoe can be traced all the way back to ancient Egypt, but was only introduced in the United States following the Second World War when American soldiers returned from Japan, bringing the style of footwear with them.
The term ‘flip flop’, however, did not come into common usage until the 1980s or thereabouts.
Flip flops are ideal beach or poolside footwear because they are typically made of cheap, waterproof rubber or plastics. However, flip flops are also great for letting your feet breathe in hot weather. They even make convenient slip-on shoes for quick, outdoor tasks such as watering the grass or taking out the recycling.
Flip flops might be very convenient and a great option in terms of breathability, but there are a few drawbacks to this style of casual shoe. In terms of environmental impact, for example, your typical, cheaply-manufactured, plastic flip flop is far from ideal.
The environmental concerns surrounding flip flops are magnified by the fact that this type of footwear is frequently worn on the beach, in close proximity to the ocean, where they contribute to rising ocean plastic pollution. Biodegradable flip flops are becoming increasingly popular, however, and as awareness of sustainability is being more widely spread, more consumers are being encouraged to opt for flip flops made from eco-friendly materials such as cork and natural or recycled rubber.
Moreover, the structure of the flip flop poses problems in and of itself. Whilst being able to slip your footwear on effortlessly might sound great in theory, this also means that your shoes are liable to slip off just as easily.
The Y strap which holds a flip flop to your foot leaves the heel of the shoe unsecured, which allows the flip flop to easily slip forwards off your foot. The sole of the flip flop can also catch on uneven ground, presenting a safety risk. The part of the strap which passes between your toes may also cause discomfort when worn for extended periods of time due to the constant rubbing motion.
Quick and easy to put on
Can easily come off the foot during movement
May present a tripping hazard
The most commonly available, cheapest versions are not eco-friendly
Y strap may cause discomfort
The sandal, as distinguished from the flip flop, is thought to date back as far as 10,000 years. The term ‘sandal’ comes from the Greek word sándalon. Sandals have been worn for thousands of years in both hot and cold climates.
One of the most iconic examples of sandal wearing throughout history is the Roman Caligae, which was a style of sandal designed for military wear. They had heavy soles, often fitted with hobnail studs, and leather straps which laced up over the ankle for stability. Whilst the Roman Caligae style continues to inspire sandal manufacturers today, the modern conception of the sandal is one more associated with leisure.
Like flip flops, sandals are ideal for beach and poolside activities, and for hot weather. However, sandals tend to be designed with more - or more conveniently positioned - straps than flip flops. Rather than a single Y strap, for example, your typical sandal features straps that fasten straight across your foot.
Additionally, many sandals feature an ankle or heel strap. These extra straps mean that sandals are more likely to stay securely on your feet during movement, making them the more suitable option for long walks. Additional straps can, however, mean that sandals take longer to put on and take off than flip flops, and features such as buckles or Roman-inspired lace-up designs may be difficult to fasten.
Sandals also tend to be made of more eco-friendly materials than your average flip flop, with manufacturers generally favoring materials such as leather and rubber over plastic for comfort and durability. However, this does have the drawback of making the average sandal more expensive than the average flip flop.
Stay more securely on your feet than flip flops, making them more suitable for walking and other physical activities
Designed to be more durable
Tend to be made of more eco-friendly materials
Additional straps can take a long time to fasten
More expensive than your average pair of flip flops
The primary structural difference between flip flops and sandals is the number and positioning of straps. The flip flop’s single Y strap makes the style easy to slip on and off at will, but unfortunately also means that your shoe is likely to fall off accidentally or catch on uneven ground, presenting a tripping hazard. The sandal’s incorporation of other straps, such a a heel or ankle strap, minimizes these risks and makes them more suitable for walking.
In terms of material, flip flops tend to be less durable and eco-friendly than sandals on average, although they have the advantage of being generally cheaper. However, eco-friendly (and often more durable) flip flops are available on the market for a slightly higher price point.
Ultimately, the quality and price points of both flip flops and sandals can vary according to where you purchase from, so the real deciding factor in whether flip flops or sandals are right for you will come down to your lifestyle and personal preferences.