Sandals are an open type of footwear, consisting of a sole held to the wearer's foot by straps going over the instep and around the ankle. Sandals can also have a heel. The most distinctive characteristic of the sandal is that it leaves all or most of the feet exposed. Usually, people wear sandals in warmer climates or during warmer parts of the year in order to keep their feet cool and dry. The risk of developing an athlete’s foot is lower than with enclosed shoes, and the wearing of sandals may be part of the remedy for such an infection.
Ancient Egyptians wore sandals made of palm tree leaves and papyrus, as sometimes observed on the feet of Egyptian statues. Ancient Greeks wore sandals far more often, with sandals being the most common type of footwear worn by women. The Greek sandals featured a multitude of straps with which they securely fastened to the foot. The top of the sandals was usually of colored leather. The soles were made of cattle skin, of even better quality, and made up of several layers. Citizens of Ancient Rome used to carve their boots and sandals with elaborate designs while biblical sandals were made from non-processed leather and dry grass with strings or ropes made of simple, cheap materials. Though, sometimes golden or silver beads and even gems were added. North African and Middle Eastern nomads developed various inventive sole shapes to allow for better movement in desert terrains. The sub-Saharan Hausa used sandals with large soles that extend well beyond the foot, while curved soles were utilized in Uganda, and rolled toes were developed in Arabia. Ancient Aztecs and Mayans of Central America adopted a thick-soled sandal with a protective legging attached at the heel, while the top of the foot and shin remained exposed.
Western culture traces the origins of the sandal from ancient Egyptian tombs, the earliest evidence dating from around the period of unification, about 5,100 years ago. Sandals were status-oriented for the elite, beginning with the pharaoh and working down the ranks of society throughout the Egyptian dynastic period, so that by the period of Roman occupation around 30 B.C.E. all but the very lowest of society were permitted to wear footwear. However, it appears that the wearing of sandals still remained an occasional one, reserved mostly for outdoor wear, especially while traveling. The vast majority of ancient Egyptians never wore footwear. Most Egyptians with status never wore footwear inside the home and in fact, it appears that the Pharaoh himself did not regularly wear footwear indoors until the late dynasties, about 3,000 years ago. When Alexander the Great united the Greeks in the fourth century B.C.E., the resulting society was one of great wealth and leisure that developed the arts, sciences, and sports under a democratic system. The Greeks also developed many different types of sandals and other styles of footwear, giving names to the various styles. There were strict rules as to who could wear what, when, and for what purpose. Sandals used during the early Roman Empire were very similar to the Greek styles and even followed the same precedents set for restricted use according to the citizen's rank in society. Like the Greeks, the Romans named the various styles, and in fact, "sandal" comes from its Latin name sandalium.
As the Roman Empire grew to include all the kingdoms held by Greece and Egypt, the Romans then continued their forays into northern Europe. The caliga, a military sandal with a thick-layered leather and hobnailstudded sole was named from the Greek kalikioi. The caliga protected the feet of Roman centurions on the long marches into northern Europe. However, the northern European climate, with its mud and snow, made it necessary for Roman invaders to adopt a more enclosed shoe style, beginning the decline of the sandal in the classical period.
As the Empire's strength diminished after the second century C.E., so did the quality of manufacture of footwear.
In the seventh century the Christian Roman Empire, based in Constantinople, decreed that bare toes were immodest in mixed company. The sandal all but disappeared for the next 1,300 years, remaining in constant use only in cloistered monastic orders. Although gone, the sandals were not forgotten. Artists portrayed sandal-wearing classical figures in biblically themed frescoes during the Renaissance, and sandals were worn by actors portraying historical figures in theatrical presentations.
After the 1789 Revolution, the new French republic looked to ancient Greece and Rome for inspiration; along with classically draped garments, the sandal made a brief return to the feet of fashionable women. By the 1810s, a closed-shoe style, resembling a ballerina's slipper with crisscrossed silk ankle ties, became fashionable, and although no toes were exposed and technically the style was not a true sandal, the long ties did suggest a classical association, and the shoes were commonly referred to in period literature as "sandal-slippers." The Empress Eugénie is depicted wearing toe-baring sandals in a photograph taken in the 1850s, but this was not to be a successful attempt at reintroducing the sandal as a staple into the fashionable woman's wardrobe. Propriety kept men's and women's toes hidden even on the beach, where bathing sandals consisting of cork-soled cotton closed-toe shoes with crisscrossed laces, first adopted in the 1860s. Similarly, another classical revival in fashions brought about the sandal-boot for women. This was a closed-boot style, but cutouts in the shaft exposed the stocking-clad leg beneath. This style of boot first appeared in the late 1860s and remained fashionable into the early years of the twentieth century.
It was back at the beach in the early twentieth century where bathing sandals and boots gradually bore more of the ankle and instep. During the late 1920s, women donned beach pajamas for the poolside or at the beach. These loose-fitting pantsuits were paired with low-heeled sandals made of wide leather or cotton straps. It was a short jump from poolside to the dance floor in the early 1930s, were under long evening gowns, high-heeled leather, and silk sandals permitted feet to remain air-conditioned for long nights of fox-trots and rumbas. By the late 1930s, the sandal was a fully reinstated necessity in a fashionable shoe wardrobe and included styles for all times of the day. World War II inadvertently aided in the reestablishment of the sandal as certain materials, such as leather, were rationed for civilian usage. Sandal straps require less leather in their production than an enclosed pump, and summer sandals made up of twisted and woven fibers and other non rationed materials were available without coupons on both sides of the Atlantic.
By the 1950s, many European men were wearing sandals for casual wear but most North American men considered them too feminine. Women's evening sandals in the 1950s used the barest of straps to give the illusion of no footwear at all as if the wearer was walking on tiptoe. The vamp strap-sandal style, also known as an open-toe mule, created a similar illusion, although quick steps proved impossible without losing a shoe in the process. American shoe designer Beth Levine solved this issue with the addition of an elastic web running the length of the insole. This innovation was called a spring-o-later.
In the late 1960s hippie anti-fashion introduced the most basic sandal style to American streets. Dubbed "Jesus" sandals, these simple leather toe ring or V-strap sandals were imported from Mexico and Asia or made up locally by fledgling street artisans. Gender-neutral, this sandal embraced naturalism, comfort, and ethnic-inspired style. This paved the way for the introduction of "health" sandals into the fashionable wardrobe, such as Birkenstocks in the 1970s. Contoured insoles and minimal curtailing of the foot were touted as perfect aids to foot health and comfort.
While high-fashion sandals have remained a staple in women's wardrobes since the 1930s, men's sandals have never achieved a place beyond the beach and casual wear. However, boundaries have been crossed in recent years. Sport sandals, introduced in the 1990s, transcended the sandal into a foot covering suitable for a variety of sports activities by including a synthetic rubber-treaded sole.
With the turn of the Millenium, however, the sandals have attained a degree of popularity that ensured transcendence over gender and race. Sandals are worn both indoors and outdoors all over especially in warm climates as well as during hot seasons. After a long day in closed shoes, sandals offer one's feet the freedom to breathe allowing one to relax irrespective of the current weather conditions. They are also ideal for weekend chill outs whether at home or in public, perfectly punctuating the relaxed air of casual attire.