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]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Valentino Nude Rockstud Ballerina Flats Shoes 39Chanel Pink Karung Snakeskin & Black Leather Cap Toe Ballet Flats 00v Sz 40 NewValentino Garavani Rockstud Leather Caged Flats Sz Euro 39 Us Sz 8.5Yves Saint Ysl Monaco Gemstone Gladiators Flats Sandals Heels Shoes Size 39Valentino Rockstud Flats Black 40Roger Vivier Blue Patent Leather Flats With Off White Accenf. Size 37Auth. Christian Louboutin Paulina Black Patent Leather & Plastic Point-toe FlatsTieks Ballet Flats Size 8 - 2 Pair Silver Lake Vegan & Cardinal Red Classic GucTieks By Gavrieli Pink Flats Size 7 Authentic Womens Chanel Ballet Flats Black Patent Leather 37 1/2 Gently UsedAuth Chanel White Black Quilted Leather Monogram Applique Ballet Flats Sz 40 10Dolce & Gabbana Aw13 Micro Stud Crystal Ballerina Flats 40 £500 Net-a-porterTory Burch Reva Womens 7 M New Classic Tan Leather Ballet Flats Shoes WdTory Burch Nwd New Authentic Reva Womens 9.5 Black Leather Ballet Flats Shoes JqTieks Black Matte Leather Classic Flats Sz 7Tieks By Gavrieli Ballet Flats Mint Patent Size 7Chanel Black White Patent Leather Colorblocked Stretchy Ballet Flats Sz 38.5 8.5Tieks Shoes By Garvrieli Size 9 Chestnut Italian Leather FlatsValentino Rockstud Flats 39Tieks By Gavrieli Sunset Stripe Vegan Flats Size 9 Lanvin Ballet Flats, Size 40Christian Louboutin Black Patent Leather Silver Tone Studded Flats Sz 40 10Tieks Ballet Flats Size 6 - 2 Pairs Camel And Black Only Worn 5 TimesWomens Nude Tan Tieks Packable Travel Ballet Flats Size 6 NewChanel *mismatch* L 10 40 / R 9.5 39.5 Veau Vieilli Ballet Flats Womens Shoe QjChanel Brown Black Leather Bow Detailed Stretchy Ballet Flats Sz 38.5 8.5 In BoxAuth Louis Vuitton Black Beige Canvas Monogram Print Bow Trim Flats Sz 39 9New Valentino Black Rockstud Caged Flats Patent LeatherNib Christian Louboutin Love Leather Ballet Flats Navy Red 39.5 9.5 RareTory Burch Pony Hair Leopard Print Flats Size 10.5 MChristian Louboutin Black Mesh Spike Flats 39Nib Tory Burch Reva Tumbled Leather Flats Size 9Christian Louboutin Pigalle Flats Sz 40Tory Burch "reva" Royal Tan Tumbled Leather Ballet Flats Women's Size 8.5mChanel Black Leather T Strap Flats W Metal & Strass Cc Logo Of Chanel Charms 41Tory Burch Tan Snakeskin Cream Reva Flats Size 10 Gold Roger Vivier Paris Flats Shoes Purple Size 38 Euc Shoe Art!Authentic Burberry Nova Check Brown Ballerina Flats Sz,. 9m Women's!Authentic Marsell Metallic Leather Arsella Thong Sandals Flats-39Tory Burch *mismatch* L 7 M / R 7.5 M Womens Nwd Reva Ballet Flats Shoes QoChanel Pink Lambskin Leather & Black Patent Cc Logo Cap Toe Ballet Flats 41Authentic Roger Vivier Yellow Gommette Ballerinas Flats Tortoise Buckle 36.5Tory Burch Reva Black Leather Flats Gold Medallion Size 7.5 M Authentic Marsell Metallic Leather Arsella Thong Sandals Flats-38.5Chanel White Lambskin Leather & Navy Patent Cc Logo Cap Toe Ballet Flats 41V. Capavan Rockstud Shoes Just Like Valentino Caged Size 9.5 10 Nib Flats Heels New Burberry Smoked Check Ballerina Flats (size 36, Uk 4) Rrp £250Tory Burch Reva New Womens 9 M Silver Leather Slip-ons Ballet Flats Shoes XAuthentic Stunning Louboutin, Purple Ballerinas Flats Shoes Spikes!!!36.5/37 VgcBurberry Nova Check Lace Up Shoes Flats Loafers 39 9 8.5 MTory Burch Caroline Flats 9Gucci FlatsTory Burch Reva Straw Ballet Flats With White Logo Never Worn Size 9Burberry Nova Soft Check Ballet Flats Size 38.5 Authentic! Beautiful New In BoxV. Capavan Rockstud Shoes Like Valentino Rockstud Size 10 Flats Shoes NibUnif Hellraiser Shoes Studded / Spiked Black Leather Flats Loafers Sz 8 Chanel FlatsNwb Miu Miu Pointed Toe Ballet Flats Nude Black Bow Size 8.5/38.5Brand New Tory Burch Caroline 2 Flats, Black/blue, Size7.5Christian Louboutin Black Patent Leather Buckle Mary Jane Flats Sz 40.5 10.5