From the interest being shown in sandals in recent years, it would be tempting to think that they were a new invention. However, sandals have been considered a practical and comfortable way of dealing with the summer heat for thousands of years. Although few modern armies would fight wearing them, as the ancient Romans did, they are a common and popular choice for just about any other activity.
Sandals vary so widely in their construction and design that it would be difficult to find a single, all encompassing description. The one thing all sandals have in common is that in hot weather they are a better alternative to shoes, as they allow the feet to breath.
This guide looks at some of the principal types of sandals, and considers which are the most comfortable to wear both generally and for particular purposes. It also considers the best materials for making sandals, and where a good selection of sandals can conveniently be found by those interested in purchasing a pair. As well as the more limited selection available in high street stores, online retailers such as eBay are able to offer a much wider choice of sandals, including both common and not so common varieties.
Types of Sandals
The main reason for choosing to wear sandals is that they are more comfortable in the heat, due to the open, or semi-open, nature of their design. Some sandals simply look like shoes with ventilation holes cut into the uppers. Others are so minimalist that the uppers do not exist at all, with the sandal consisting of just a narrow thong on a slim sole. The majority of types of sandals fall somewhere in between, with varying numbers of straps or panels to hold the wearer’s foot in place. The basic principle in all of these designs is the same. The sole is the important part of the sandal, as it protects the sole of the wearer’s foot when walking. The upper is there mainly to keep the foot in contact with the sole. Although in fashion conscious wearers, the upper has a second function too, which is to look good and express the wearer’s personality and personal style.
Thongs or Flip-Flops
There isn’t much to choose between a pair of thongs and a pair of flip-flops. The essence of both is two slim straps of leather, plastic or woven textile knotted together and inserted into a flat, soft foam pad that forms the sole. The straps sweep back to form a "v" shape, which holds the foot in place.
Although they are a traditional footwear in many cultures, thongs and flip-flops are not considered to be especially good for the feet if worn for a long period. This is because the minimalist design does not provide much support or protection for the foot. For men, in any case, they are really suitable only for poolside or beach wear. For these purposes, they are very popular choices.
These are much more substantial than thongs, having a chunky, properly supportive sole and a discernable heel. The uppers consists of a piece of leather or other fabric that runs down the centre of the foot and joins the sole in front of the toes, but leaves them partly exposed. Several straps are attached to this central piece in a T-bar shape, to form a sort of basket enclosing the foot. The heel is often partly enclosed with a further strap, or it may be left open.
Traditionally Fisherman’s Sandals would be closed with a buckle, although modern versions sometimes use elastic incorporated into the design to remove the need for a buckle. It is impossible to say whether the name comes from an association of this style of sandal with fishing. However, it is certainly true that the design is practical and comfortable for wearing in shallow water, as it allows water to drain out, while still providing sufficient rigidity to keep the foot secured and stable.
Any sandal which rises above the ankle could be called a "boot sandal", therefore this is a wide ranging category of sandal rather than a single specific type. Some boot sandals have a strap-like arrangement that criss-crosses up the calf to the knee. These resemble the generic old-fashioned leather sandals seen in Hollywood films about ancient Rome. Others enclose the ankle and come part of the way up the calf, but no further. These are equivalent to ankle boots. Add these options to the ordinary choice faced when choosing sandals, of either fully-open, part-open, or mostly enclosed feet, and it will be seen that the range of permutations for boot sandals is almost endless.
There are two reasons for a man choosing to buy boot sandals, and they are radically different from each other. Some boot sandals are designed to look good, without any practical application for the boot part. Although there are certainly no hard and fast rules, in the case of boot sandals, this style consideration probably applies to women more than men. The second reason for a man choosing boot sandals is that they help stabilise the foot, by stiffening the ankle joint. This is of particular importance for those engaging in sports, hiking, climbing, running, or other high impact activities.
Boot sandals designed for this purpose may have straps that are made of modern, strong, fast drying materials, and carefully shaped soles that will give plenty of support to the arch of the foot. They are in effect the sandal equivalent of hiking or running boots, but with plenty of ventilation to ensure comfort in hot weather. As such they can be a good option for serious enthusiasts who need the extra stability, which boots offer, but need to stay light and cool.
Sports sandals look a bit like running shoes or trainers that have had chunks cut out for ventilation. And that is not far from being the case. They aim to have all the advantages of a good pair of sports shoes, with the added bonus of being lightweight and much more comfortable in the heat. Ventilation is particularly important when taking part in sport, as perspiration can accumulate in normal footwear very quickly, leading to both discomfort and skin conditions such as athlete’s foot.
These are really just a broad category of sandals which have an old fashioned look. Either made of leather, or a material which looks like leather, they can include sandals with straps rising up the leg, like the boot sandals mentioned above. Or they can be just ankle height. Generally, Roman sandals look fairly skimpy, with more gaps than leather.
As their name implies, strapped sandals have a number of straps that form the uppers. There is a wide variety of styles, but one of the most popular is the cross strap sandal. These are characterised by an ‘X’-shaped cross that sits over the top of the foot, with the ends of the straps inserting into the soles.
Strapped sandals are a very popular design, which is ideal for general walking and lounging. Being a minimalist sandal, they are good for hot weather, and of course, they should be worn without socks.
Other Types of Sandals
The sandals mentioned above cover the main categories available. In reality, the range of sandals is so large that it would difficult to cover every variant in a single guide. By changing the width of the straps, adding or removing heel straps, and increasing or decreasing the number of straps, an almost limitless number of permutations is possible. However, most of the sandals available are variations on these general themes.
Sandals were traditionally made either from leather, or woven fibres such as palm fibre, or hemp. With the introduction of modern textiles this has changed, although the traditional materials remain popular.
Leather is still a favourite, being appreciated for its qualities of endurance and attractiveness. Few things can equal the look of soft, well tooled leather. Likewise with comfort, once worn-in leather will adapt itself to the owner’s foot and provide a relaxed and comfortable fit. Leather is expensive though, and usually it is just confined to the uppers. It is rare these days to find leather on the soles, which are usually synthetic.
Thanks to its appealing visual characteristics, leather is particularly popular for ‘dress’ sandals, which are to be worn on social occasions, rather than for sport.
Today these are appreciated for their rustic look and naturalness, rather than their durability or practicality.
For the reason of cost, many men today buy sandals made from plastic, or synthetic material of various sorts. In fact, some sandals make a virtue of being made from cheap and cheerful looking materials. ‘Jelly’ flip-flops made from bright, garish plastic are always popular, especially for boys.
Sporting sandals are also likely to be made from high-tech, synthetic, woven textiles. These modern materials do not mould themselves to the shape of the wearer’s feet in the same way as leather, but their lightness and pliability go some way towards compensating for that.
Buying Sandals on eBay
If you are considering buying a comfortable pair of sandals, there are a number of ways to do so. Many high street retailers carry a selection of the main types of sandals, although their range of colours, sizes and styles may be limited by the practicalities of keeping so many different types in stock.
Alternatively, with Internet shopping now so popular, it is possible to buy pretty much any type of sandal from online marketplaces, such as eBay. Here you can browse a wide range of styles and colours, and select your own size. It is also possible to find well known brand-name sandals, both new and used.
One of the advantages of buying online at eBay is that you can browse at your leisure, without the presence of sales staff. Another advantage is the sheer range of items available, which is likely to far exceed that available at a high street retailer.
Sandals have been around for thousands of years, yet their popularity has not diminished. This is probably due to their comfort in the heat, when wearing shoes can lead to problems of overheating and accumulation of sweat. Although there are many different types of sandal available today, they all have in common a relatively open upper, and a sole that protects the wearer’s foot.
The material used to make sandals can vary from traditional leather, through natural fibres, plastic, and modern synthetics. It is because of the very wide range of sandals available, ranging from flip-flops at one end to high-tech running sandals at the other, that make buying sandals quite a challenge. Due to the constraints imposed by the need to be profitable, high street retailers will generally only be able to carry a limited range.
This constraint does not apply to online markets such as eBay, who can therefore offer a much wider selection. By browsing online and entering simple search terms, it is possible to look for the specific style, colour and size of sandal that he wants. This can greatly increase the chances of finding a comfortable pair of sandals.