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

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 Ballet Flats Matte Black Size 8Tieks Ballet Flats 10 Olive GreenClassic Chanel Black Suede Flats W/ Gold Chain & Logo Charm At ToeTieks Ballet Flats Metallic Pewter Sz 9 Worn Twice Ln EcTieks Ballet Flats 3 Pairs Retail Is 705.00 Size 10Tieks Ballet Flats 10 Black Patent LeatherGucci 9055 Womens Gg Pink Leather Embellished Slip On Ballet Flats Shoes 10 BhfoWendy Williams Isabel Toledo Black Puff Ball Toe 'it' Flats Size 11Wendy Williams Layla Joy Gold Reptile Pattern Studded Strap Flats Size 12 Tieks By Gabriel Ballet Flats Leather Size: 10 Gold SnakeskinTory Burch Reva Flats Size 11Well Worn Pointy Black Ballet Flats American Eagle 7Chanel Beige Black Lamb Skin Leather Ballet Ballerina Flats Shoes 39 NewVery Gently Used Tieks Ballet Flats Size 7 In Pacific Green. Great Deal!!!Chanel Cambon Ballerina Flats Women's Size 40.5 Retail $625Prada 2904 Womens Black Patent Leather Bow Dress Ballet Flats Shoes 39 BhfoVery Good Condition Black Tieks Flats By Gavrielli-as Seen On Oprah Winfrey ShowTory Burch Miller Dark Brown Leather Thong Sandals Flats Sz 10 MChanel Shoes Ballerina Flats Size 40 10Well Worn Black Leather Ballet Flats 7.5California Navy Blue Tieks - Size 11 Ballet FlatsTory Burch Reva Royal Tan Tumbled Leather Ballet Flats Size 8Cydwoq Leather Ballet Flats Minimalist Simple Shoes Size 36 / 6Chanel Basic Flats 7.5Well Worn Womens Black Flats Bow Size 9 Super CuteChanel $895 Green Velvet Black Cc Patent Leather Cap Toe Ballet Flats 39.5 Us8.5Valentino Black Patent Leather Gold Tone Studded Loafer Flats Sz 40 10Chanel Cc Logo Black Patent Leather Ballet Flats Shoes Size 40 IChanel Cc Pink Nude Tweed Ballet Cap Toe Bow Flats Size 38.5Roger Vivier Clip Buckle T Strap Thong Sandals Shoes Flats Blk Leather Flower 37Celine Burgundy Leather "bell" Ballerina Flats - Sz 40#2 Tory Burch Reva Black Leather Gold Logo Ballerina Flats Womens Size 11 MAuth. Chanel Camellia Flower Jelly Thong Sandals Flats 39 Us8Tory Burch 'miller' Reva Logo Flip Flop Sandal Flats Shoes Slides Tan Brown 7.5Valentino Satin Lace Ballet Flats 41 Black 133227Chanel Black Leather Bow Detail Pointed Toe Ballet Flats Size 40.5 10.5Gucci Woman Sachalin Gg Leather Loafer Flats With Buckle Size 39 Gray NewCharlotte Olympia Blue Denim Embroidered Cat Pointed Toe Flats Size 40 10 Chanel Brown Black Bow Detail Leather Round Toe Flats Sz 36.5 6.5Everlane Modern Loafer Flats Matte Black Leather Size 10m Vguc Made In Italy$565 Ferragamo Varina Rosso Patent Red Gold Flats Bow 9 BAuth Nib Valentino Rockstud Ballerina Flats Size 37 Eu/7us $745Tieks By Gavrielli Burgundy Leather Ballet Flats Sz 7Gold Chanel Ballet Flats 100% Authentic 39.5, Great ConditionTory Burch Miller Flats Sandals Vintage Vachetta Leather Brown Size 7 M NibTieks Ballet Flats Brentwood Size 8 Very Gently Worn Tory Burch Women's Black Flats New Size 9Christian Louboutin Black Patent Ballerina Graffiti Flats Sz 36.5 Size 6.5 NwbValentino Rockstud Blue Flats Sz 40Chanel G27708 Black Leather Pewter Tone Cc Medallion Loafer Ballet Flats Size 39Chanel Black Tan Loafer Moccasin Cc Logo Heels Flats 38 Size 8 Orig $360Lanvin Red Patent Leather Scrunch Ballet Flats Hidden Inner Heel 41.5Jimmy Choo !!!..union Jack Studded Flats Womens Size 40 NibTory Burch Black Leather Wedge Flats Size 9Tory Burch Leather Reva Ballet Flats Black Size 8 Medium Auth Christian Louboutin Rosella 39 {8.5-9 Us}navyballet Flats~no Reserve/freeshJohn Fluevog Womens Turquoise Teal Leather Flats 10.5Kate Spade Black Patent Bow Flats Size 9.5Chloe Irridescent Gold Faux Snakesin Scalloped Leather Ballerina Flats Size 412016 Fall Deep Denim Valentino Rockstud Ballerina Eu40/us10 $975 Ballet Flats