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”)

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]

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]

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

The VFG is a non-profit international educational organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of vinta… [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]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Tieks Black Ballet Flats Size 8 Leather Womens ShoesChanel Cream & Black Leather Cap Toe Ballet Flats Size 40.5Jimmy Choo Strappy Patent Leather Sandals Nwb Sz 37/7 Coral Pink Flats $725Tory Burch White Patent Leather Miller Thongs Sandals Flats Size 9 MCharlotte Olympia Tempest Sandals Nwb Sz 37 (7) Gold Leather Cut Out Flats $685Valentino Garavani Rockstud Ballerina Flats Pink Us7Tieks Black Italian Leather Ballet Flats Size 9Chanel Black Leather & Suede Cap Toe Ballet Flats Size 42Christian Louboutin Stunning Pink Tassel Loafers/flats -size 7.5 Uk/41 Eu/10 UsTieks Ballet Flats Brown Textured Shoes Size 10 Excellent ConditionChanel Black Quilted Leather Cambon Cc Ballerina Ballet Flats Shoes 8.5 M Tory Burch Black Patent Leather Miller Thongs Sandals Flats Size 8 M.Tieks By Gavrieli Size 8 Cream Soft Leather Flats Worn 1x Euc Tieks Blue Patent Leather Ballet Flats Size 8 Foldable Ballet Flats - MediumRoger Vivier The Gommete Patent Leather Ballerinas Pink Flats Sz 37.5 7.5Tieks By Gavrielli Mint Color Crinkle Glaze Size 7 Ballet Flats Auth.chanel G25139 Silver Metallic Calfskin Silk Cap Toe Ballet Flats Size 40cTory Burch Black Patent Leather Miller Thongs Sandals Flats Size 10 1/2 10.5 MChanel Tan And Black Leather Flats Size 41 1/2Chanel "cc" Logo Ballerina Flats Black Toe Size 9-9 1/2 (40)New Tory Burch Brown Pony Hair Leopard Print Buckle Detail Flats Sz 8.5 In BoxTory Burch Reva Black Gold 8.5 FlatsTory Burch Flats Women's Size: 8 Color: Tan Material: Leather Nwb Chanel Tan Black Leather Almond Toe Cinched Trim Ballet Flats Sz 39.5 9.5Christian Louboutin Flats 42Auth Salvatore Ferragamo Green Patent Leather Bow Detail Ballet Flats Sz 8.5Tieks By Gavrieli Obsidian Black Patent Italian Leather Ballet Flats, Size 11 MManolo Blahnik Hangisi Wedding Flats $995 Size 7Chanel Cream Black Leather Cap Toe 'cc' Logo "spirit" Elastic Flats Sz 37.5Chanel Suede/leather Cap Toe Ballet Flats In White And Black Size 38Brand New Tieks By Gavrieli Cardinal Red Ballet Flats Size 6Tory Burch New Black Leather Embellished Ballet Flats Shoes 6 Medium (b,m) BhfoTory Burch Reva Black Flats Womens Size 9 M New $225Nib $495 Authentic Salvatore Ferragamo Varina Patent Leather Flats 6bTory Burch Black Patent Leather Miller Thongs Sandals Flats Size 6 1/2 6.5 MNib $495 Authentic Salvatore Ferragamo Varina Patent Leather Flats 5.5bTieks Soft Leather Ballet Flats In Solid Cream Size 10 EucChanel Black Quilted Pearls Cc Thong Flats Sandal Shoes 40/fits Us 8-8.5Chanel Leather Bow Cc Logo Ballerina Shoes Flats 37.5Tory Burch Caroline Mestico Elastic Black 7.5 Ballet Flats 50008665 New NibTory Burch Classic Reva Sz 6 Women's Black Leather Ballet Flats Shoes Gold NewValentino Inspired Rockstud FlatsSalvatore Ferragamo Varina Black Patent Leather Ballet Flats Size 6.5Salvatore Ferragamo Varina Stingray Beige Patent Leather Toe Bow Detail Flats 7Auth Chanel Green Leather Bow Tie Detail Round Toe Flats Sz 39 9Prada Black Leather Bow Ballet Flats Sz 38 (7/7.5)Chanel Beige Black Leather Round Toe Bow Detail Ballet Flats Sz 40 10Auth. Louis Vuitton Flats With Metal Logo Chain Size 41New Nwob Alaia Zigzag Metallic Ballet Flats It Sz 39 1/2 $1200Prada Sport Black Leather & Patent Cap Toe Mary Jane Flats Size 40Kate Spade Whimsical Racer Red Patent Leather D'orsay Flats Womens Size 8.5 MNude Tan Leather Chloe Ballet Flats Sz 36.5 Us 6Authentic Chanel Flats Size 38.5 Preowned. Black With Black Cap Toes. Us 8.Miu Miu Gorgeous New Flats 41Chloe Ballet Flats Brand New Chanel Espadrilles Flats Beige And Black Leather Size 38Classic Chanel Ballerina Flats Black Womans 38Jenni Kayne D'orsay Pointed Flats Size Us7 Eu37 BlackManolo Blahnik Shoes Flats 39 9 8.5 Black Jeweled Gorgeous Tory Burch Quinn Leather Ballet Flats Shoes Carnival Pink Red 9 M