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

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]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Authentic Salvatore Ferragamo Blush Patent Leather Logo Bow Varina Flats 38 8bValentino Garavani Women's Eu 39 Us 8.5 Red Rockstud Leather Caged FlatsAuth Chanel Red Patent Leather Bow Tie Detail Round Toe Flats Sz 36.5 6.5Auth Chanel Beige Leather Bow Tie Detail Round Toe Flats Sz 36.5 6.5Tory Burch Black Mini Miller Flat Veg Leather Ballet Flats 9.5Brand New In Box Chanel Denim Blue Black Double Sole Espadrilles Flats 36 6White Chanel Ballet Flats Size 37Auth Chanel Taupe Patent Leather Bow Tie Detail Round Toe Flats Sz 36 6Auth Hermes Pewter Leather Oran Open Toe Slides Sandals Flats Sz 38 Gucci Brown & Ivory Ballet Flats, Bamboo & Gold Hardware, Sz 8 Chanel 15c Crackled Leather Black Patent Cap Toe Cc Logo Espadrilles Flats ShoesLouis Vuitton Multicolor Ballet FlatsAuth Valentino Rockstud Cage Ballet Flats Noir Black 37Chanel Women's Beige Leather Cap Toe Ballerina Flats Shoes Size 38.5Pretty! Chanel Pink & Silver Ballet Flats ~ Sz 38 7 -7.5 Run SmallChanel Navy Blue Quilted Leather Ballerina Flats W/strap& Cc Logo Sz 38=8usValentino Rockstud Flats 38Chanel Quilted Leather Cap Toe Logo Ballet Flats Shoes 39 Us 8.5Tieks Leopard Ballet Flats 7 Nwob Chanel Red Black Bow Detail Tweed Print Ballet Flats Sz 6.5Chanel Black Patent Leather Cap Toe Cc Logo Ballet Flats 37 6.5Ferragamo Varina Flats Size 8.5 B Textured Leather With Contrasting BowsAuth Hermes Light Brown Leather Oran Open Toe Slides Sandals Flats Sz 38Christian Louboutin Leopard Flats (38)Chanel Classic Black Leather Bow Quilted Flats Size $41Aquazzura Belgravia Flats Black Suede Sz.40Gucci Vernice Crystal Gg Logo Flats Thong Leather Sandal Black Size 37+Tieks Flats By Gavrieli- Nib- Size 9 Black With Turquoise AccentChanel Ballet Flats Tweed, Cap Toe 39 Black NwbtGorgeous Christian Louboutin Glitter Peep Toe Ballerina Flats, Size 37/7Tory Burch Reva Leather Ballet Flats White W/ Silver Logo Size 9Valentino Black Beige Sheer Lace Mesh Knit Espadrille Flats Sz 36 6 In BoxGucci Black Leather Logo Embossed Green Red Canvas Toe Ballet Flats Shoes 37 7Auth Chanel Beige & Black Ballet Flats Shoes Size 37Chloe Beige Nude Leather Lauren Scallop Ballet Ballerina Slides Flats Shoes Sz37Christian Louboutin Big Kiss Silver Spike Black Leather Ballet Flat 39 AuthenticSalvatore Ferragamo Varina FlatsChristian Louboutin Gold Degraspike Flats 39 $895New! Kate Spade Ballet Flats Sz 9 M Calf Hair Aminal Print Cheetah Leopard BowsChanel Denim Ballet Flats (size 39) Louis Vuitton Amarante Leather Oxford Ballet Flats Shoes Size 37.5 Us 6.5 - 7 Auth Chanel Brown Metallic Coal Gray Round Toe Ballet Flats Sz 39.5 / Us 8Vince Women Black & White Strips Leather Flats Shoes 8 M Made In ItalyFerragamo Women's Shoes Purple Patent Leather Flats With Bow Size 7Tory Burch Reva Black Leather Ballet Flats Gold Logo Medallion Sz 7Nib Charlotte Olympia Kitty Embroidered Raffia Flats Size 38 W/ Box + Dustbags!Chanel Black Canvas Textured Round Toe Ballet Flats Sz 36.5 6.5Jimmy Choo Black Burnout Velvet Suede Mary Jane Pointed Toe Flats Shoes Sz 39Jimmy Choo Ladies Maroon Suede Flats,shoes Brand New Size 7 1/2-38-100%authenticAuthentic Chanel Straw, Cork, & Leather Yellow Camelia Flats 38.5 (us 7.5-8)Prada Flats- Size 7.5 (38)Vince Woodsmoke Leather D'orsay Flats Size 9mTory Burch Ballet-inspired Flats In Black. Size 5m. Authentic Chanel Espadrilles 38 Linen Beige Black Cap Toe Flats Original BoxRoger Vivier Gommette Patent Shoes Ballerinas Flats Sz 40Gucci Ballerina Flats 38.5Chanel Ballet Flats 9.5Chanel Lilac Ballet Flats New Size 38Nwb Prada Black Leather Silver Tone Animal Print Panel Ballet Flats Sz 10.5Valentino Rockstud Flats Size 37