The first shoes worn in the civilized world were probably flats—sandals, to be more precise, similar to the 5,000-year-old antiquities from ancient Egypt. Heels came into vogue sometime in the Middle Ages, reaching the height of their popularity in the 17th- and 18th-century courts of Europe. They might have remained so had Marie Antoinette not worn a pair of high-heel shoes to the guillotine, which soured the public on what was suddenly considered a showy and unseemly shoe.

Flats ruled until the late 1800s, when heels once again came into fashion. But flats never really went away. Two especially ubiquitous types of flats that had a renaissance of sorts at the beginning of the 20th century were the slipper and the espadrille.

In those days, slippers were not just for padding around the house. During the Belle Époque, for example, the practice of sipping champagne from a lady’s slipper was a testament to the quality of the footwear. Some were made of satin, richly embroidered, and trimmed with pleated ribbon. Others were printed in honeycomb or other cheerful patterns, which brought the shoe to the masses.

Contemporary designers who have explored the limits of the slipper include Philippe Model, whose red slippers from the 1980s boasted gold soles and bouquets of satin ribbon. Willy van Rooy also made stylish slippers during the 1980s, using colorful upholstery-like fabrics on the uppers with golden sash-like belts on the vamp.

Andrea Pfister riffed on her own basketweave sandal when she created a spun gold and costume-jewel-studded slipper that resembled a flat mule with an upturned Turkish toe. And in the 1990s, Emma Hope took a men’s black-velvet evening slipper, added a rounded and pointed toe, and applied shimmering hearts and stars to the shoe’s brooding surface.

The espadrille, originally known as the alpargata, was a centuries-old creation of Spanish farmers, who made the soles of these inexpensive, disposable shoes from woven esparto grass, with uppers of cheap canvas. The casual-chic look caught on at Riviera resorts in the early 20th century, when they were renamed espadrilles.

Today inexpensive espadrilles can still be purchased, though most are made in Bangladesh, where plentiful supplies of jute are used for the soles. Despite the shoe’s peasant root...

Another precursor to the flat is the Native American moccasin, which was usually made of deerskin and decorated with beads. These shoes have also been re-imagined, most notably by Italian designer Diego Della Valle, whose Gommino shoe’s sold at his Tod’s stores are a hybrid of the moccasin and the loafer, with knobby non-skid soles and brightly colored suede uppers.

Loafers, of course, are one of the most classic flats. In particular, Belgian loafers have become something of a cult shoe thanks to their restricted supply—if you want a pair you pretty much have to visit one store in New York run by Henri Bendel. Anne Klein and Gucci are two other prominent names in loafers, as is Bass, whose Weejuns from the 1930s set the standard for this archetypal form of footwear.

Even designers best known for their stilettos do flats. Christian Louboutin’s are dyed in purple, red, or yellow, after which they are covered with spikes. And Manolo Blahnik’s slippers often drip with costume jewels until they resemble a Miriam Haskell or Trifari confection from the 1930s, ’40s, or ’50s.

Of course, designers like Louboutin and Blahnik are best known today for supplying high-heeled creations to pop and movie stars, but there was a time when Hollywood was infatuated with flats. In fact, the year can be precisely dated to 1957, when Audrey Hepburn starred in “Funny Face,” which paired the actress’s tapered Capri slacks with Capezio ballet flats.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

MyVintageVogue

MyVintageVogue

The history of 20th-century women’s fashion largely played out in the pages of magazines such as “Harper’s Ba… [read review or visit site]

All About Shoes

All About Shoes

From Canada's Bata Shoe Museum comes a visually impressive exhibit focusing on the history of the shoe from traditi… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

Virtual Shoe Museum

Virtual Shoe Museum

This virtual museum from Shoe Icons Publishing showcases over 800 pairs of shoes and related reference information.… [read review or visit site]

1960s Fashion and Textiles

1960s Fashion and Textiles

Put on your go-go boots and check out this wavy, groovy tribute to 1960s fashion and textiles, courtesy of the Vict… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Fashion Guild

Vintage Fashion Guild

While primarily designed to steer buyers to online vintage clothing shops, this blog is chock full of interesting, … [read review or visit site]

Fashion-Era

Fashion-Era

Bursting at the seams with content, this site contains hundreds of pages of fashion and costume history, including … [read review or visit site]

The Antique Corset Gallery

The Antique Corset Gallery

Take a deep breath, and check out this sparse, simple, and beautifully designed site showcasing 250 years of corset… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Authentic Chanel Cc Classic Beige Tan & Black Logo Bow Ballet Flats Sz 38Authentic Chanel Cc Mesh & Leather Black Espadrilles Logo Flats *rare* Sz 39Chanel Classic Ballet Flats (size 37)Authentic Chanel Cc's Ballerinas Flats Shoes New Box Sz 38 8 Black Classic 2 Euc Pairs Of Christian Louboutin Suede Flats - Sz 42Tieks By Gavrieli Black Patent Leather Collapsible Travel Flats Sz 7 New In BoxAuthentic Chanel Ballerina Flats Slippers Tan Leather /w/ Black Cc Toe 37.5 NwotValentino Rockstud Ballerina Flats Shoes Heels Soft Pink Size 36 Euc Paid $695! Chanel Womens Ballet Flats Shoes With Chanel Pouch Sz 41 Sz 9$725! Boxed! Chanel~black Classic Flats~stretch Trim~patent Tips~size 42~us 11bTieks By Gavrielli Nude Camel Leather Womens Ballet Flats Shoes Fold Up Size 9100% Auth Chanel Black Beige Cc Logo Cap Toe Leather Ballet Ballerina Flats 37 7Chanel Ballet Flats Purple Size 38.5Valentino Rockstud Cage Ballerina Ballet Flats Nude 37 7 T StrapTieks By Gavrieli - Beautiful Chestnut Ballet Flats - 10K. Jacques St. Tropez Nib Spring 2013 Beige Leather Sandals Shoes Flats 37Chanel Black Flats Thong Sandals Bow Chain Detail Size 41/10 Perfect For Summer!Christian Louboutin Pigalle Spikes Flats Patent Yellow Shoe Size 38 Retail $1100Chloe Addie Leather Acrylic Heel Ballerina Flats Size 40Tory Burch Reva Leather Flats Brown 7.5Nike Flyknit Racer Shoes Mens Size 10 No Reserve Mimilist Style Race Flats NibTory Burch Reva Black Leather Flats 7.5 Tieks By Gavrieli - Beautiful Matte Black Ballet Flats - 8Tory Burch Tumbled Reva Ballet Flats (royal Tan) Sz. 9.5 Authentic!!!Chanel Ballet Flats 37 Black/goldTory Burch Caroline Off White Ballet Flats Womens Size 8 M New $225Authentic Valentino Rock Stud Black Patent Leather Ballet Flats Shoes-38.5Tieks Romantic Blush Ballet Flats Size 8Chanel Women's Size 8.5 (euro 40) Chanel Ballet Emblem FlatsTory Burch Metallic Gold Reva Ballet Flats Leather Gold Logo Medallion 11 MValentino Rockstud Flats - Brand New Size 38Chanel Black Cambon Quilted Flats - Us Size 8Tory Burch Reva Ballet Flats 9.5 Leopard Pony Hair Brown Gold Medallion LogoChanel Brown Leather Cc Ballet Flats, 38.5Nib Chanel $575 Platinum Silver Patent Leather Cc Logo Ballet Flats Shoes 37 7Chanel - Black Leather & Suede Grey Cap-toe Elastic Ballet Flats - Size 5 / 38Valentino Gold Studded Leathers Flats 38 UnwornChristian Louboutin Flats W/ Ankle Strap Gold W/ Brocade/ Size 37/amazing Price!Chanel Cambon Ballet Flats Size 40 With BoxLouis Vuitton White Womans Loafers Flats Size 9Chanel Flats 40Louis Vuitton Oxford Ballerina Flats (authentic/new) 34.5 / 5.5 Us~look~christian Louboutin~brown Flannel Ballet Flats~bow~padded Insole~37.5Tory Burch Tan Leather Reva Ballet Flats Sz 6.5 Roger Vivier Tan Suede Flats W Signature Front Buckle Sz 7/38 M $99.99Chanel Patent Leather Ballet Flats Nib!Tory Burch Reva Sally Pebbled Black Leather Reva Flats 8.5Tory Burch Silver/silver Metallic Leather Reva Flats Women's Size 8 EucMarc By Marc Jacobs Velvet Women's Flats Size 38 1/2 Retail $228.00 New In Box!!Tory Burch Reva Metallic Leather Ballerina Flats Pewter Patent Leather 7 1/2Worn 1 Time! Gucci Loafers Flats Mocs Pink Monogram Guccisima Horsebit 39 9 BoxTory Burch Royal Tan Reva FlatsValentino Black Lace W/ Bow Flats/shoes Size 37Tory Burch Reva Ballerina Ballet Flats Shoes Patent Leather Turquoise Womens 7Lanvin Black Leather Ballet Flats Shoes - Size: 7.5Tory Burch Flats Size 6 Brand New ! ! !Jimmy Choo Patent Leather FlatsNib Louboutin Mrs H Patent Nude Leather Pointy Toe Ankle Strap Flats 39 8.5 Genuine Gucci Gg Guccissima Black Patent Leather Ballet Flats Shoes 38 8 $475Prada Black Patent Leather Puffer-bow Flats 7