Every summer in cities across the world, millions of feet are set free from leather bondage as women trade their foul-weather Wellingtons and bulky UGGs for open-to-the-elements sandals of every description.
There are golden Ferragamos, with oval open toes and a single strap behind the ankles; Charles Jourdan sandals with cork soles and fake cherries on their plastic vamps; wide Birkenstocks for those who like to walk with their feet firmly on the ground; and Tevas and other sport sandals, for working warriors who cannot wait for the weekend.
In formal or dress wear, the line between sandals and high-heels can be pretty fuzzy. Many sandals, particularly those designed for making an eye-catching entrance at a resort swimming pool, sport heels that would make a runway model blush. Some Italian sandals, for example, have breathable mesh covering the instep on top and four-inch heels below, while Manolo Blahnik’s idol, André Perugia, created stiletto sandals of multi-hued kid leather for his fashionable clients.
Less spectacular, but even more imitated, are Andrea Pfister’s plastic basketweave sandals, which rested on low, wooden heels. And shoemakers everywhere have created sandals for an evening of dancing.
Bally dressed up its wide-heeled sandals with stripes of silver kid and black suede; Cardin anchored leather straps to its soles at the toes, instep, and ankle; and Halston threw caution, as well as good podiatry practices, to the wind with its strappy, and revealing, high-heel sandals that were probably meant to be held in the hand or tossed on a nearby banquette than to tear up the floor at Studio 54.
Sometimes sandals have borrowed from the materials menu of cowboy boots, as in the snakeskin examples produced by Ravel. Other times sandals borrow from seemingly unrelated shoe styles , such as the sandals that rested on platforms in the 1940s or the improbably high cork disco platform sandals of the 1970s and ’80s.
For a few manufacturers, the open architecture of the sandal is not revealing enough, which is why, in the 1950s, many designers turned to new, clear plastics for their straps, both across the instep and in the back. Rhinestones and other costume jewels were often used to decorate the vamp. In other cases, clear Lucite heels would augment the transparent look. Companies from American Girl to Ferragamo to Herbert Levine championed this airy effect...
Finally there are those sandals that resemble works of art. Bernard Figueroa employed silk flowers on his sandals, going so far as to attach fake florals to the ends of his strappy ankle ties. Jimmy Choo sandals are often all straps and little else, grids of neon greens and pinks. And some recent Manolo Blahnik sandals have tried to have it both ways by being revealing and light, but also making room for thick ankle bands that drip with boot-like leather fringe.