Being the beach bums that most of us are here on the Koh Tao, most dive pros don’t even wear any type of footwear but when referring to ‘wearing shoes on Koh Tao’, you would be talking about wearing flip flops or some sort of sandal.
But have you ever thought where did my flip-flops come from….
What Are Flip Flops?
Flip-flops are a type of open-toed sandal, typically worn as a form of casual wear. They consist of a flat sole held loosely on the foot by a Y-shaped strap or thong that passes between the first and second toes and around both sides of the foot. The name “flip-flop” originated from the sound made by the slapping of the sole, foot and floor when walking.
They’ve been around for a while, in fact they’ve been around since ancient times!
This style of footwear has been worn by the people of many cultures throughout the world, originating as early as the ancient Egyptians in 1500 B.C. The modern flip-flop descends from the Japanese zori, which became popular after World War II when soldiers returning to the United States brought them back. They became popular gender-neutral summer footwear starting in the 1960s.
Some varieties have since found their way into more formal attire.
Flip-Flops, Thongs, Jandals, Slops, Tsinelas, Padukas
The term flip-flop has been used in American and British English since the 1970s to describe the thong or no heel strap sandal. In old times, they could be bought by tracing round the edge of a foot on paper, and then the template would accompany a servant to the market, where he would barter for flip-flops.
They are called thongs in Australia, Jandals (originally a trademarked name derived from “Japanese sandals”) in New Zealand, Slops in South Africa and Tsinelas in the Philippines.
This particular type of sandal originated as early as the Ancient Egyptians in 4000 BC, and the oldest known pair is on display at the British Museum from 1500 BC. This pair is made from papyrus, but just as a huge variety of cultures have worn these sandals through the years, they’ve used a great variety of materials.
Papyrus and palm leaves were the most common materials used in Ancient Egypt, while rawhide was the material of choice among the Masai of Africa. In India, these sandals were mostly made with wood, and many used rice straw in China and Japan. The Ancient Greeks and Romans wore versions of flip-flops as well.
In Greek sandals, the toe strap was worn between the first and second toes, while Roman sandals had the strap between the second and third toes. These differ from the sandals worn by the Mesopotamians, with the strap between the third and fourth toes.
In India, a related chappal (“toe knob”) sandal was common, with no straps but a small knob sitting between the first and second toes. They are known as Padukas. Of course, in modern times, most cultures have moved to leather, rubber and other sturdier textiles.
The Beginning of the Modern Flip-Flop
What we know of as the modern flip flop gained popularity in the United States after the end of World War II. They are derived from the Japanese zori, which soldiers brought back to the States with them. During the post war boom, Americans started to design flip flops in new bright colours and patterns, wearing them for their convenience and comfort. In the 1960s, they became primarily known as a part of the casual beach lifestyle of California.
Flip flops are a popular choice among people of all ages, typically worn in casual settings. A minor controversy erupted in 2005 when some members of Northwestern University’s national champion women’s lacrosse team visited the White House wearing flip-flops.
The team responded to critics by auctioning off their flip-flops on eBay, raising $1,653 for young cancer patient, Jaclyn Murphy of Hopewell Junction, New York, who was befriended by the team.
There is still a debate over whether this signalled a fundamental change in American culture – many youths feel that flip-flops are more dressy and can be worn in a variety of social contexts, while older generations feel that wearing them at formal occasions signifies laziness and comfort over style.
In 2011, while vacationing in his native Hawaii, Barack Obama became the first President of the United States to be photographed wearing a pair of flip-flops. Even the Dalai Lama of Tibet is also a frequent wearer of flip-flops and has worn them while meeting with several U.S. presidents.
Billion Dollar Footwear
While exact sales figures for flip-flops are difficult to obtain due to the large number of stores and manufacturers involved, the Atlanta-based company Flip Flop Shops claimed that the shoes were responsible for a $20 billion industry in 2009. Furthermore, sales of flip-flops exceeded those of sneakers for the first time in 2006. If these figures are accurate, it is remarkable considering the low cost of most flip-flops.
Every Backpackers Favourite
Havaianas, a classic and well-known brand, was created in 1962 in Brazil by the country’s largest footwear brand Alpargatas. By 2010, more than 150 million pairs of the sandals were being produced per year. While backpacking in Thailand you will be able to find a pair of “genuine fake” Havaianas in nearly every market you visit for around 200 THB.
Very handy if you are out at one of the many beach parties that are on offer and you manage to lose your first pair. You can’t call yourself a proper backpacker until you have got yourself at least one pair of havainas!
The Dark Side
While flip-flops do provide the wearer with some mild protection from hazards on the ground, such as hot sand at the beach, glass, thumb tacks or even fungi and wart-causing viruses in locker rooms or community pools, their simple design is responsible for a host of other injuries of the foot and lower leg.
In the United Kingdom in 2002, 55,100 individuals went to hospital with flip-flop related injuries. By 2010, there were 200,000 flip-flop related injuries costing the National Health Service in Britain £40 million.
Walking for long periods in flip-flops can be very tough on the feet, resulting in pain in the ankles, legs, and feet. A 2009 study at Auburn University found that flip-flop wearers took shorter steps and their heels hit the ground with less vertical force than those wearing athletic shoes. Individuals with flat feet or other foot issues are advised to wear a shoe with better support.
The lack of support provided by thong sandals is a major cause of injuries. Since they have a spongy sole, the foot rolls further inward than normal when it hits the ground – an action called over-pronation, which is responsible for many foot problems. Over pronation may also lead to flat feet.
Flip-flops can cause a person to overuse the tendons in their feet, resulting in tendonitis. The lack of an ankle strap that holds the foot in place is also a common reason for injury, as this causes wearers to scrunch their toes in an effort to keep the flip-flop in place, which can result in tendonitis.
Ankle sprains or broken bones are also common injuries, due to stepping off a curb or tumbling – the ankle bends, but the flip-flop neither holds on to nor supports it. The straps of the flip-flop may cause frictional issues, such as rubbing, during walking. The open-toed nature of the thongs may result in cuts, scrapes, bruises, or stubbed toes.
Despite all of these issues, flip-flops do not have to be avoided completely. Many podiatrists recommend avoiding the inexpensive, drug store varieties and spending more on sandals with thick-cushioned soles, as well as ones that have a strap that’s not canvas and that comes back almost to the ankle.
Flip flops are definitely the most convenient shoe when visiting Thailand as they will keep your feet cool while you are out and about. Whether you out heading to one of Thailand Beaches, spas or just walking about the town be sure to have a pair of these essential holiday footwear in your suitcase for your flight.
They easily fit in with local Thai custom and etiquette of removing your footwear before entering a building such as temples, homes and some shops.
Author: Nina Horne (PADI DM #355693)