From the Runway to the Streets: Flip-Flops Through the Years

The oft-derided flip-flop has made its way back in style this summer, having appeared in spring ’19 runway shows and on the feet of A-listers like Kim Kardashian.

While flip-flops have always been viewed as acceptable for trips to the beach or trips to the nail salon, they’re often knocked as “ugly” and viewed as an impractical choice for city streets.

Nonetheless, flip-flops as fashion go back farther than many might think. Always one to push the limits, Perry Ellis teamed flip-flops with a cropped sweater and a teensy miniskirt at the brand’s spring ’81 runway show.

Knit crop top with plaid mini skirt in the Perry Ellis Spring/Summer 1981 show in New YorkPerry Ellis Spring 1981 RTW, New York
A model in a teensy plaid miniskirt and flip-flops at the Perry Ellis spring ’81 runway show.
CREDIT: Dustin Pittman/Shutterstock

In the ’90s, we saw a major influx of the style — possibly inspired by the popularity of “Baywatch,” the 1989–2001 primetime soap that followed a group of lifeguards on Malibu Beach.

DAVID CHARVETON THE SET OF 'BATWATCH' TELEVISION SHOW, LOS ANGELES, AMERICA - 1994
David Charvet in blue flip-flops on the “Batwatch” set.
CREDIT: Keith Butler/Shutterstock

As the lifeguards wore their bathing suits and functional swim shoes in the sand, designers took the humble flip-flop to new heights — literally. Platform and flatform flip-flop styles hit the runway through the ’90s, and celebrities wore them on the red carpet, making the trend even more popular. Who can forget Gwen Stefani’s fluffy bikini top and white platform flip-flops at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards?

AMBER VALLETTA WEARING ISAAC MIZRAHIDOLCE AND GABBANA FASHION SHOW, SPRING / SUMMER 1997 / 1998S, NEW YORK, AMERICA - 1996
Amber Valletta wearing white flatform flip-flops at the Dolce & Gabbana spring ’97 show.
CREDIT: Shutterstock
Gwen Stefani, Platforms, 90s, 1998 MTV Video Music Awards
Gwen Stefani at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

In the early aughts, the shoe style appeared frequently on the feet of “it” girls like Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. Paparazzi snapped stars wearing the sandals with other must-have of the day, like velour sweatsuits, bootcut jeans and skinny scarves.

LINDSAY LOHANNEIL BOGART MEMORIAL FUND ANNUAL TOUR FOR A CURE, AT UNIVERSAL AMPHITHEATRE, LOS ANGELES, AMERICA - 04 NOV 2002
Lindsay Lohan wearing a velour sweatsuit with a skinny scarf and black flip-flops in Los Angeles on Nov. 4, 2002.
CREDIT: David Buchan/Shutterstock
Paris Hilton and Nicky HiltonPARIS AND NICKY HILTON SHOPPING ON MELROSE AVENUE, LOS ANGELES, AMERICA - 12 JUL 2004
Paris (L) and Nicky Hilton in flip-flops and miniskirts shopping in Los Angeles in July 2004.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Until the recent resurgence of flip-flops, the style this decade was mostly a go-to for the water (or post-pedicure), with the exception of Havianas backstage at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

Bella HadidVictoria's Secret Fashion Show, Backstage, Grand Palais, Paris, France - 30 Nov 2016
Bella Hadid backstage at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in 2016 wearing flip-flops.
CREDIT: Matt Baron/Shutterstock

But for spring ’19, flip-flops were back on the runway and better than ever. The latest revival has seen them teamed with unexpectedly formal items like pantsuits or minidresses — so 2019.

Dree Hemingway on the catwalkSonia Rykiel show, Runway, Spring Summer 2019, Paris Fashion Week, France - 29 Sep 2018
Dree Hemingway on the catwalk at the Sonia Rykiel spring ’19 show at Paris Fashion Week.
CREDIT: Shutterstock
etro spring 2019 flip flops prints
Embellished flip-flops with a leather top-handle bag at Etro spring ’19.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Below, shoe designers sound off on the top trends.

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