Flip-flops are ubiquitous footwear in warm-weather months. They consist of a flat sole held onto the foot by a y-shaped thong that runs between the big toe and second toe. Flip-flops come in a wide range of materials, but most are rubber, plastic or another synthetic material. They are inexpensive, comfortable to wear and open to a high level of customization, all of which have led to their boundless popularity.
The flip-flop became popular in American culture in the 1950s. However, its origin dates back thousands of years before its emergence in Western culture. Archaeologists have found artifacts of these sandals or artwork depicting them in sites from Africa to Asia. Ancient Egyptians made their sandal from papyrus, while the ancient Chinese made theirs from rice straw. American troops stationed in Japan during World War II took kori, the contemporary Japanese sandal, home as souvenirs. The trend continued in the 1950s when troops stationed in Korea returned home with similar sandals. The introduction of these Asian variations of thong sandals inspired American footwear manufacturers to begin making their own version of the product.
Use and Composition
In developed countries like the United States, where flip-flops are fashion footwear, manufacturers use many materials to make these sandals. The most popular material is a synthetic foamlike rubber called polyurethane. It is cheap to manufacture and can be customized in a myriad of ways. Leather, silk, canvas and bamboo are other materials that are commonly found in upper or lower portions of the shoe. Inexpensive versions are typically made of synthetic materials and easy to replace since they are also of lesser quality. High-fashion embellished thong sandals can cost hundreds of dollars. In impoverished areas like India and most African nations, flip-flops are the most common footwear. Inexpensive synthetic versions are cheap and easy to replace. This type of opened footwear also has the added benefit of keeping feet healthy, whereas closed footwear is more likely to trap bacteria in, leading to infection.
In an effort to reduce waste, some manufacturers now make flip-flops from recycled tires. The rubber is finely ground and compressed to create the new product. Just as some footwear makers seek ways to recycle used products into flip-flops, other companies look to recycle used flip-flops into other products. Old Navy has held campaigns, organized to run through its stores, to collect old flip-flops to recycle into playground equipment. Though it is not done on a broad commercial scale, flip-flops may also be recycled into shredded foam filling.
Styles and Decoration
While flip-flops designed for men typically remain utilitarian and undecorated, the footwear is frequently decorated for children and women. Flip-flops for kids may depict pop culture characters or other creatures, either real or imaginative. Flip-flops for women and girls are frequently decked-out in beads, crystals, ribbons, bows and innumerable other embellishments. Women often wear high-end embellished flip-flops in semi-formal settings.
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