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 Garavani Rockstud Leather Caged Flats Sz Euro 39 Us Sz 8.5Tory Burch Womens 7 M New Black Patent Leather Miller Sandals Flats Shoes MhPrada New Womens 38 7.5 Triangle Black Rubber Flip Flops Sandals Shoes Flats OLeopard Print Tieks Shoes Ballet Flats Size 9 Fabulous Excellent ConditionTieks Ballet Flats In Cardinal Red / Size 9/ By Gavriell •new !!•Tieks Women's Leather Folding Flats Size 8 Solid BlackTieks Women's Leather Folding Flats Size 8 Solid GoldTory Burch Reva New Womens 7 M Metallic Gold Leather Ballet Flats Shoes YChanel Nude Black Leather Capped Toe Flats Sz 37 7Tory Burch Nwd Reva Womens 9.5 M Pebbled Brown Leather Ballet Flats Shoes YTieks By Gavrieli Ballet Flats Mint Patent Size 7Chloe Lauren Dark Red Scalloped Suede Ballet Flats Shoes 37.5 7 7.5 New $495Tory Burch Reva Womens 7 M New Classic Tan Leather Ballet Flats Shoes WdTieks By Gabrieli Ballet Flats Size 7 Metallic PewterSalvatore Ferragamo Beige Patent Leather Bow Tie Flats Sz 7.5Auth Chanel Black Leather Bow Tie Embroidered Logo Shoes Ballet Flats Sz 36 6Tory Burch Leopard Print Reva Flats Size 8V. Capavan Rockstud Shoes Just Like Valentino Caged Size 9.5 10 Nib Flats Heels Tieks By Gavriell Women's Purple Leather Ballet Flats Size 9Auth Chanel Ballet Flats Woven Straw Navy Blue Eur 37.5 / Us 7Tory Burch Nwd New Authentic Reva Womens 9.5 Black Leather Ballet Flats Shoes JqAuthentic Chanel Cc Camellia Flip Flops Sandals Flats Blush Color Rubber 37Louis Vuitton Leather Ballet Flats Sz37.5(7.5)V. Capavan Rockstud Shoes Like Valentino Rockstud Size 10 Flats Shoes NibChanel Black White Monogrammed Quilted Leather Ballet Flats Sz 37 7 Tory Burch "reva" Tan Leather Ballet Flats - Size 7.5Prada *mismatch* L 8 38 / R 8.5 38.5 Elasticized Nylon & Leather Ballet Flats FnBurberry *mismatch* L 39.5 9.5 / R 40 10 Womens Nova Check Plaid Flats Shoes CnChristian Louboutin Women's Black Leather Loafers Flats Size 40 - Us 9Valentino Garavani Rockstud Patent Ballerina Flats Black Patent/tonal Size 37.5 Christian Louboutin Black Leather "rosella" Bow Square Toe Ballerina Flats Sz 38Authentic Stunning Louboutin, Purple Ballerinas Flats Shoes Spikes!!!36.5/37 VgcChristian Louboutin Black Patent Leather Buckle Mary Jane Flats Sz 40.5 10.5Tory Burch, Silver Reva Flats, Size 8.5 (medium)Arche Laius Nubuck Noir Black Suede Ballet Flats Shoes 8.5 M 39 New $285"tory Burch" Classic Navy Ballet Flats, Size 12 Medium, Suede LeatherChanel Medallion Flats! Rare Black Leather Cc Logo Shoes 40 10 EucTory Burch Reva Ballet Flats Royal Tan Beige Leather Shoes - 8.5 MUnif Hellraiser Shoes Studded / Spiked Black Leather Flats Loafers Sz 8 $225 Tory Burch Caroline Ballet Flats Beige Patent Leather W/ Gold Logo - Size 7Tory Burch Shoes Ballet Flats Flower Shelby Gold Logo Sand Nude Size 9Womens Valentino Shoes Black Leather Flats Size 37.5Burberry Haymarket Check Ballerina Flats. Deep Red Size Us 7Louis Vuitton Authentic Flats Black Suede Shoes Size 39 #fa0019 No Reserve!Auth Chanel Black Leather Quilted Logo Detail Bow Embellished Slide Flats Sz 8.5Tory Burch Reva Ballet "pewter" Flats Womens Size 10 - Box Without Lid Kids Gucci FlatsGucci White Leather Loafers Flats Driving Shoes 37.5Nude Valentino Flats - New- 38Giuseppe Zanotti Design Metallic Gold Leather Stud Detail Flats Sz 37.5 Sz 7.5Auth Chanel White Black Quilted Leather Monogram Applique Ballet Flats Sz 40 10Christian Louboutin Air Loubi Travel Slippers Flats Teal Watersnake 36.5 Us 6.5Women's Horsebit Gucci Shoes Ballet Flats Size 38.5/8.5 PristineBurberry Nova Check Ballet Flats, 40, Worn OnceBoxed, New Spring 2015 Hermes Flats (size 37) In Corail ColorArche Designer Shoes - Women's Size 8.5 Eur. 39 Black/nubuck Ballet Flats - NewGrenson Shoes Black Leather Wingtip Oxford Lace Up Flats - Mens 6 Women's 8Denim Chanel Flats 35.5Chanel Silver Cc Logo Cap Toe Clear Plastic Ballet Flats Size 12Louis Vuitton Paris Authentic Flats Gray Patent Leather Shoes Size 38 1/2 Fa1009