soccer

smashing bad taste!

Although MoT is normally concerned with visual expressions of taste (architecture, gallery exhibitions, shoes), the occasional performance is worthy of note, especially when it attracts the attention of the global population (not to mention the occasional cephalopod mollusk).  Described as the “most popular sport in the world,” the “ballet of the masses,” the “game Americans pay a little attention to every four years,” soccer is deserving of such note since it appears that, to a certain degree, success in this sport hinges on the exercise of a certain kind of taste.  To be sure, the Hand of God, creative referee calls, omniscient octopi and even, dare we say it, talent, have their place.  But in addition (and appreciated to a much lesser extent), as the World Cup has shown: taste matters in soccer.

The taste we’re talking about here is not good taste; rather, the badder, the better is the rule in soccer.  Intentional bad taste appears to give successful teams a winning edge.  This has nothing to do with athletes’ on- or off-field behavior, or the antics of fans (although the horrifically annoying vuvuzela probably deserves some credit).  Our concern here is the gear that is worn by the players.

Portugal: this uniform gives me wings!

North Korea

Evidence from the 2010 World Cup reveals the effect that the choice of uniform (or “kit,” for those of  you who insist on calling the sport “football”) makes on the field (“pitch” to you).  Take, for example, the biggest blowout of the series: the Group G meeting of Portugal and North Korea.  Portugal’s players, in costumes that resemble Christmas ornaments with a squirt of mustard, completely overwhelmed the North Koreans, who made the mistake of wearing simple white with a splash of red, giving the chromatic advantage to the Portuguese before anyone was done tying up their shoes.  They never had a chance, and the 7-0 scores shows it.

OMGoal?

It follows that those teams that display the greatest abuse of the color wheel with with the most garish, trippy uniforms have greater success over teams that tend toward the refined and subtle mingling of hues.  Just look at the historical record: judging by this crime against color worn by the Mexican team back in 1994 (shown to right), Los Aztecas should have worn the Cup; the only reason they did not take it home was the even more outrageous uniform donned by their competitions.  (No photo available due to aesthetics-sensitive web filtering software installed on MoT HQ computers.)

Another way for a team to color itself victorious is to select one single hard-to-wear shade and then go all out.  No country has dominated a hue as completely as the Netherlands in its command of oranje.  Orange is a tough shade to pull off in any quantity; eleven big Flying Dutchmen a l’Orange constitute an overwhelming wave that drowned out most of the competition.  Even Brazil, clad in an ungainly mix of green, yellow and blue could not withstand the Orange Onslaught.  The Dutch leave us Netherlerious.

Dutch treat: orange, right down to the cleats

Venus with the Venus

Wherefore this crime against chromatics, this terror on taste?  The root cause is probably the thing for which all these teams are competing: the World Cup itself, the trophy, which does not fare so well in an aesthetic match among its peers.  Shiny prizes are handed out all over the place to reward athleticism; while many are painfully uninspired ([American] football’s Heisman and Lombardi trophies are truly insipid), others are really quite impressive.  Witness the elegant Football Association Challenge Cup (yes, European football), the very cool Indian-inspired Calcutta Cup (warning: the number of excellent trophies developed for rugby may shock and awe viewers to this site) and (to left) the Venus Rosewater Dish (a functional piece, a tea tray for the ladies who win the singles championship at Wimbledon).

FIFA TROFI

Once up on a time, FIFA had a handsome trophy (not the one to the left).  Designed for the 1930 World Cup by Abel Lafleur, an Ecole des Beaux-Arts graduate, the original Coupe du Monde was a small gold cup held aloft by Lafleur’s interpretation of the second-century B.C. Winged Victory of Samothrace standing on a blue base of lapis lazuli.  It was stolen in 1970 and replaced not by a replica of the original design but, inexplicably (except for the general level of taste witnessed in the early 1970s) by the design of Italian artist Silvio Gazzaniga (seen at left), whose inspiration was, apparently, a gold-plated softball nested in a jiffy pop.

the Dutch team in 1905

Perhaps soccer fans have Gazzaniga’s hideous doorstop to thank for the greater spirit, verve and excitement (such at it is, relatively speaking) of their game; it is true that the earlier teams were more demurely adorned, in keeping with their trophy, and they played a more gentlemanly game.  As the picture here shows, back in the day even the Dutch team wore simple togs of black and white.  The twenty-first-century teams that follow this sedate lead have proven no match for those of their more peacocky competitors.

Uruguay: Diego Forlán (right) might be an awesome striker, but he's killing his team with those coordinated headbands

Consider another team tromped by the new and improved, orange-clad Dutch.  Uruguay’s understated (one is tempted to even say pretty) blue, white, and black reveals the risk of the quiet colors (not to mention the hands-down best socks in the tournament).  Their final game in the 2010 Cup was against Germany, who had earlier learned the lesson: in the semi-finals against Spain, the Germans (to their peril) wore  hue-drained black and white uniforms that could not stand up to the colorific assault of Spain.  Germany v. Uruguay promised to be a meeting of the mild.  But Deutschland had learned its lesson: the Germans mach-ed schnell to the tailor and adopted a spätzle’s worth of zazz from the national flag: a little red at the collar, metallic gold for the numbers (we would have gone all out and suggested lamé shorts, had you asked.)  The result?  Win!

lesson learned: some German players literally cannot stand up to the visual mess of the Spanish uniform

USA v. Ghana 2010

The danger of the subtle soccer uniform has been proven time and time again in this World Cup.  MoT’s home team, the United States, was dressed far too old-school for such a young, scrappy team.  Their sharp uniforms, featuring the national colors asymetricallly and stylishly disposed without actually looking like Old Glory, couldn’t stand up against Ghana’s fruit salad-inspired uniforms.  (Next time, we recommend full Elvis jumpsuits, as designed by the guys at Marvel Comics.)

France: "home colours"

Likewise, behold the most extreme example of the dangers of simplicity.  France is the world’s most fashionable nation, hands down, and the chromoriffic simplicity of Les Bleus proves the point.  No team looked better, more put together, more majestic; and no team was so ready to self-destruct, victims of their own fashion-forwardness.  They went home disgraced, but looking haute all the way.

And in soccer, that is how the croissant crumbles, mon ami.


France: "away colours"

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shoe crime

Spartans!

Those Spartans.  Those magnificent, well-accessorized Spartans.  Although the Athenians get more credit for “philosophy” and “art” and “culture” and stuff, it’s the Spartans who could teach us a thing or two about dressing for demanding conditions in a harsh climate.  From their jaunty red capes (carefully tailored to provide maximum warming to the deltoids and trapeziuses while bearing abs so killer that a single view would send most foes fleeing for their very lives) to their excellent footwear, those Spartans knew how to accessorize and rock a killa uniform.
And how about those sandals!  They provide maximum shin protection while exposing the heel to cooling upward drafts from the wells into which one must, from time to time, kick emissaries from enemy nations.  What great dual action!  Not to mention their undeniable wow factor.  Clearly, the Spartans knew from sandals.

So why is it that the Romans have become so well-woven into the cobbler’s lexicon?  And how is it that they get so much credit for their version of the Spartan shoe that we now refer to as soi-disant “gladiator sandals”?

kiwi gladiator

Those Romans!  They knew a thing or two about swiping other cultures’ excellent ideas and taking credit for them.  Historical documents like 300 and Gladiator clearly reveal (as MoT‘s resident Shoeologist confirms from her painstaking graduate-level research) the way the Romans adopted the general idea of the Spartan sandal, enhanced its strappiness and added a bit o’ imperial beadazzling, and faster than you can say quod erat demonstrandum, a new kicks craze was born.

more gladiators: these from Cypress

Two millennia later we’ve yet to kick it.  Tall and strappy (and we mean really tall and really strappy) sandals have come and gone through the years, but got a whole new lease on life when Chanel trotted out its resort collection back in 2007.  Behold the über-gladiator sandal:

Chanel gladiator sandals, 2007

All of us here at MoT HQ were gaga about the whole get up; you can bet your big floppy sun hat that those of us who look like Chanel models and did our best to emulate it.  (Especially on weekly bikini day.)  Those of us who look more like we have a few children or graduate degrees (or both in equal numbers) stayed away from the tall sandals, not quite sure they were quite the thing for the office, the grocery store, the kids’ soccer field and so on.  And even if we had, we would worry about getting funky tan lines on the three days of the summer we actually got to go outside to play.  (And it was awfully hard to source those matching strappy glove things.)  While foregoing the knee-high glads, we supported anyone who could pull off this look with a hearty brava.

But now we are faced with something new under the sun–or at least, a new version this old something.  Instead of being under the sun, it ought to be kept locked behind closed doors.  It appears that, having stretched the sandal to what to most eyes appeared to be its limit (reaching boot-like heights but still maintaining identity of a sandal), shoe designers have taken a regrettable turn by hybridizing the two kinds of footwear.

Such unions sometimes result in wonderful offspring: witness the marriage of Mary Jane and Stiletto performed by Manolo Blahnik.

a hybrid we can believe in (and that we dream of regularly): Manolo Blahnik’s Mary Jane

The mongrel rolling off the runways this season is a sad, ugly marriage.  And it needs to stop.  Philosophically, functionally and aesthetically, these sandal-plus-leg-warmer-ankle-shackle get ups are an absolute travesty of shoedom.  This approach to shoe design is a crime, and Matters of Taste is here to save you from being a victim.  Or a perpetrator.  For your personal safety, read on.

Alexander McQueen ($779)

In this exemplary offering, the shin/ankle element has been reduced from its earlier (ca. 2007 Chanel) heights that recalled gladiators and warriors and made us all feel pretty Xena-esque.  This short version can only be appropriate for people whose jobs involve a whip (at either end) or a pole, and we think that alluding to such is in the worst of taste.

Velvet Angels, “Queen” ($299)

The color!  The fringe!  How is it that they couldn’t have worked some sequins in to make this part of the uniform for people who work at establishments with a name like “Velvet Angels”?

Giuseppe Zanotti ($650)

Studded cuffs and virtually bare feet: anyone else having a really, really uncomfortable Roots flashback?

Another part of our complaint stems from simple confusion of function.  Is this a warm-weather shoe, or a cold-weather shoe?  It’s one thing to open a peep-toe in a pump, but in that case you still know what you’re wearing (a pump), what it goes with (almost anything) and where it can go (virtually anywhere).  These hybrids are just confused; they have no name (perhaps that’s all for the better: the shoe world’s They-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named).  Are they boots or sandals?  Should we wear them in cold or hot?  With wool skirts or cotton sundresses? We don’t know!

Michael Kors, “Angelo” ($295)

From Michael Kors: the breezy ease of a buckled sandal plus the luxurious warmth of a suede legwarmer: now who doesn’t want that at poolside?  Or . . . in the ski lodge?

Dolce Vita, “Irene” ($153)

Designers of this breed of shoe also seem to really have it bad for bad hardware: confusion abounds.  Are these really so difficult to get in and out of that we need multiple wacky fastening systems?  And should sandals ever be associated with zippers?  We think not.

Jessica Simpson, “Nikina” ($79)

Oh my gosh, these are even worse.  They give the suggestion that, like a biker jacket, they can be zipped up or down depending on if we’re jumping on our bikes to make a getaway if we’re just ready to dive into a gang fight.  If ever faced with that decision, we will be happy to have these shoes by Jessica Simpson (and really, who better to personify biker gang fight than Jessica Simpson?), although we worry that when we peel out on our choppers we may foul our pedicures with smushed bug guts.  Ew!

Jessica Simpson, “Noho” ($110)

The lighter side of Jessica Simpson’s life as a biker chick.

DV by Dolce Vita, “Avila” ($101)

Buckles and laces and zippers, oh my!  Wear the Tin Man shoes (see below) while you are trying to work up the heart to strap/zip/lace yourself into these beauties by DV.

And then there is the simple, but essential, matter of aesthetics.  These must be the ugliest footwear.  Ever.  Neither pretty when empty nor flattering when filled with a foot.  In fact, their design goes completely against the way that good shoes can enhance good features and mask the bad ones.  We’ve already warned you about bearing your ugly feet to the world in our post about the dreaded flip-flop.  These hybrid things are just as bad as those nasty plastic thongs in what they reveal, while at the same time making the wearer as thick as possible at the ankle, which is bulked up by all this cuffing nonsense.  Really, try and imagine these examples doing anything better than a good pair of sandals OR boots might do for you:

Vicini, “Tapeet” ($354)

If you don’t have the time to knit your own shackles before going to Lilith Fair, just fork over $350 to Vicini.  If they don’t canklify your legs quickly enough, try on these architecturally-inspired designs, which may be built from actual construction debris:

Rock & Republic, “Gwyneth” ($379)

We think this pair from Rock & Republic is for architects who can’t get enough of those vernacularish shed-roof houses with the woodsy clapboard that were so popular in the 1960s and ’70s.

Type Z, “Purra” ($93)

Type Z: More for architects, especially those who want their thick ankles wrapped in a Frank Gehry building!

Luichiny, “Rosey Posey” ($80)

Lui Chi: less Gehry, more Tin Man.  Still no good.

Gabriella Rocha, “Cierra” ($89)

Gabriella Rocha: Wait. Gabriella Rocha?  Gabriella Rocha of our perfect pointy-toe patent-leather ballet flats? et tu?

Bootie?  Sandal?  Sandal?  Bootie?  Make up your mind!  People, we’re at war.  Pick a side already, and the footwear that goes with it.  Stop the madness, and trot your tootsies right on by these nameless freaks and strap some gorgeous kicks on your gam pegs instead.

Coda

By the way, those Manolos come in a dozen or more colors, including tortoise shell, black patent, pale pink and azalea pink.  Have we presented enough evidence before the court?

no confusion here; Taste calls these shoes “perfection”

We thought so. Case dismissed.

give me Liberty

floral fabrics at Liberty & Co., London

Depending on one’s point of view, on March 14, 2010 the British Arts and Crafts Movement either reached an all-time height in its ongoing apotheosis or felt its final death rattles.  On that date Target stores across the US unveiled the company’s most recent effort to team out-of-house, top-notch designers with the mass-production and massive marketing that accounts for the big box’s big success.  Recent design collaborations with the rarefied likes of Jean Paul Gaultier and Rodarte have successfully brought haute fashion within reach of the likes of you and me, but those partnerships have not raised the same kind of philosophical and moral issues that the collaboration with Liberty of London does.

idealistic: Morris chair (handmade everything, 1870; V & A collection)

This story takes a little time.  Taste suggests you prepare yourself a cuppa, settle in, and bear with us as we travel back to mid-nineteenth century England, where a sense of unease (if not outright revulsion) about the industrialization that had swept the country and dissatisfaction with the level of design quality in manufactured goods prompted the movement that would later be termed Arts and Crafts.  At its center was a group of Oxford divinity students (make that soon-to-be-former divinity students), who were also concerned by the human cost of making those goods. In addition to the obvious abuse of the scores of people (children among them) who were dehumanized by the manufacture process, the burgeoning Arts and Crafts philosophers noted the toll taken on the consumers of these sub-standard products as well.  Their most profound expositor, William Morris, argued in an essay of 1877 (“The Lesser Arts of Life,” which you can–and should–read by clicking here) for the abolishment of the traditional distinction between high art and low.  Morris believed that the Lesser Arts, whose “first intention was to satisfy [men’s] bodily wants” (furniture, table service, clothing, and so on) should be made as beautiful as they were useful by appropriating the ability to “satisfy men’s spiritual wants,” which had long been the realm of the Greater Arts (monumental sculpture, oil paintings, etc.).  Morris’ famous dictum, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,” exemplified the scores of wallpaper, furniture, book, and textile designs that rolled out of Morris and Company workshops, manifest in useful/decorative arts through traditional methods of handcraft, and that were destined to fill English domiciles from Cornwall to Cumbria.  Great idea, and great products, if one could get them—rather, if one could afford them.  All that ennobling hand-craftwork is luscious and marvelous but it does not come cheap.  For all his utopian aims, Morris’ Lesser Arts remained out of the reach of the classes he most hoped to serve and, with no small irony, were affordable instead to those families made rich through the Industrial Revolution.

realistic: Liberty & Co. washstand (some industrial process, 1894: V & A collection)

Enter Arthur Lasenby Liberty, who saw the necessity of compromising the purity of Arts and Crafts ideals on the production side to achieve their wide diffusion on the consumer side.  Liberty was a London draper’s apprentice, warehouse manager, and finally owner of his own shop, Liberty & Co., which opened in 1875.  The store specialized in fabrics and well-designed decorative arts (wallpaper, clocks, jewelry, pewter), much of it with patterns inspired by nature and artistic traditions of the Far East and manufactured with industrial means that made them more affordable.  Through his efforts Liberty achieved his aim “to combine utility and good taste with modest cost,” and did much more to achieve Morris’ aim to brighten English homes with well-designed and crafted goods, although the production did indeed involve machines and even those “dark Satanic mills” that William Blake warned us about a half-century earlier.

the Liberty store in Regent Street: inside

Flash forward to the later twentieth century.  Liberty & Co. maintains its presence in one of London’s great shopping districts, but is no longer such a leader in progressive design and style. The store’s Tudor architecture, which once symbolized Liberty’s association with wholesome, high-quality pre-Industrial Revolution crafts, now embodies a fusty Olde England that no one much misses.  Before the whole enterprise vanished in the dim nostalgic haze emanating from the receding glory days of pewter tankards and floral tea cozies, Liberty & Co. was rejuvenated by the 2005 launch of Liberty of London, an in-house label headed up by creative director Tamalra Salman.  Salman has done much to update standard Liberty wares and goods, in part by inviting unexpected collaborators to design clothes and accessories for the label (a Ronnie Wood makeup bag, anyone?).  An extension of these in-house collaborations, the recent deal struck with the across-the-pond retailer Target was a lower-brow effort at the same kind of partnership that had been a mainstay with Liberty.

pretty dress by Liberty of London for Target, available 3.13 miles from MoT HQ ($30)

In service to you, dear reader, Matters of Taste Correspondent for Consumer Affairs doorbusted her way into Target on that fateful Sunday to get a firsthand look at the line, as well as to stock the MoT archives with key pieces from the collection.  She reports from her exhaustive study that the goods really are delightful: nice materials with bright sunny patterns and solid construction; some of the dresses are even lined. The combination of quality products, superior design and reasonable cost has clearly struck a chord not only with our correspondent but with Yankee consumers from coast to coast; this stuff has flown off the shelves at such a rate one would think that some kind of Denim Curtain had just fallen, allowing comrades to ditch the capri jeans, breathe the air of aesthetic freedom and indulge in head-to-toe paisleys for the first time ever.

pretty dress by Liberty & Co., available 3,963 miles from MoT HQ (& quite a bit more than $30)

In many ways the Liberty of London for Target collaboration exemplifies what the Arts and Crafts were all about: the uniformly good, and occasionally great, designs are realized through the marriage of functional objects with beautiful patterns on durable materials for virtually every “bodily want” from bedding to bikes.  The only thing that’s missing from the collection is a collar for Taste’s resident pooch, which is regrettable, since she will not be perfectly accessorized on walks when we go out in our Liberty of London for Target dress, Liberty of London for Target trench coat, Liberty of London for Target hat, Liberty of London for Target rain boots and Liberty of London for Target umbrella.  Nor will she be a perfect aesthetic fit when she naps on her Liberty of London for Target pillow, near the Liberty of London for Target planter, which we tilled with our Liberty of London for Target gardening tools, and eating biscuits from our Liberty of London for Target dishes.  Beyond this oversight, Taste is thrilled by the collection, which stands up pretty well against the real Liberty goods purchased by MoT‘s Resident Sconologist in London.  Who wouldn’t be thrilled to scoop up a brightly patterned dress with a perfect fit and offered up for $30 rather than the $360 of the original Liberty garment on which it is based (assuming one could find one’s way to London in the first place, which is getting harder and harder with MoT‘s strict CFO limiting our passport usage)?

pewter milk jug; Archibald Knox for Liberty & Co. (1904; V & A  collection)

But we wonder: what accounts for that drop in price?  Quantity? Probably–we’re just guessing that Target is pushing a few more zillion gross products than Liberty’s flagship store.  Use of more common materials?  No doubt–there is a drop in quality from the very-high quality wares from London, and we would be hard pressed to find any melamine for sale on Regent Street.  Cheaper labor?  Bingo. How our Correspondent wishes she had neither bothered to read the “made in” label in the garments (nor the stickers on all the other things), nor all those essays by Morris.  All this stuff was mass-produced in China and then shipped via a variety of petroleum-eating vehicles to the States.  That’s a lot of machines, a lot of industry, but especially a huge separation between the designer and the maker, which was one of the primary objectives of the Arts and Crafts Movement.  This collaboration has basically shifted the burden of mechanical enslavement from British factories to Chinese ones, as is the case for so much contemporary garment fabrication.  Never has such lovely, lovely florals and paisleys and peacock feathers been such a buzz kill, but that’s what you get when you’re on a budget and you go and develop a social conscience along with a liking for pretty things.

melamine salad plate; Liberty of London for Target  (2010; MoT archives)

Had the designers behind Liberty of London for Target done a little soul searching, and thought back through the heritage that is so proudly and beautifully celebrated in the aesthetics of this collaboration, to the heart of the movement that lives on (in some form) in their products, the collaboration could have been something really special. Of course altering the means by which most of the garments and other goods consumed in the West are fabricated would have affected their price, but how much?  Based on a quick survey of the Liberty of London site and the Target catalogue it’s not difficult to find similar goods that are widely divergent in their price points.  Would a slightly more expensive Target collection have allowed the US retailer to take an astonishing social stand in favor of workers’ rights while making these pretty things availing to a hungering mass of consumers who would still clear the shelves in record time?  And ultimately, would improving the lot of factory workers not be in fantastically good taste?

At the same time, consumers are responsible for this soul-searching as well, and we don’t need to couch this argument in “present economic circumstances” to understand the timeless advice of distinguishing between need and want: Morris told us as much back in 1882:

There is a vast deal of labour spent in supplying civilised man with things which he has come to consider needful, and which, as a rule, he will not do without. Much of that labour is grievous and oppressive . . .

These, I think, are the principles on which the citizen’s resistance to Philistine oppression must be founded; to do with as few things as we can, and, as far as we can, to see to it that these things are the work of freemen and not of slaves; these two seem to me to be the main duties to be fulfilled by those who wish to live a life at once free and refined, serviceable to others, and pleasant to themselves.  (Morris, “The Lesser Arts of Life”)

While Morris is eminently and appropriately quotable for this piece, Taste could not help but adopt Patrick Henry’s words for our title (along with only a few hundred other bloggers and fashion writers who did exactly the same brilliantly creative thing).  But we find it also appropriate to conclude with the words of another revolutionary, Marie-Jeanne Roland de la Platière:

O Liberty!  O Liberty!  How many crimes are committed in thy name!

Unlike Henry, whose defiant slogan was reportedly met with cheers, Madame Roland faced trumped-up charges that lead her to the guillotine.  So we conclude, while surveying our Liberty of London for Target desk accessories and drinking from our Liberty of London for Target cup, and wishing that Liberty of London for Target had designed a coordinating laptop sleeve–perhaps with an interlace pattern of arabesques and guilt.

flip flops

A shoe by any other name . . . will sell for $192 less. (Prada, available at Barney's, $195)

The following is a public service announcement, a call for a new public health initiative, an identification of a public nuisance, a diatribe against a foul practice that has invaded our schools, our churches, even our most esteemed halls of power.  It is a pestilence, and like many plagues, arrives in the warm weather: flip flops.

zōri and tabis (the only acceptable socks-and-sandals combination, unless your name has an umlaut or one of these in it: Ø)

Flip flops are the crummy descendents of much nobler ancestors.  They derive ultimately from the Japanese zōri, the traditional sandal made with a base of tatami mats and a thong of leather, brocade or silk.  They are worn over cotton socks called tabis, designed to accommodate the thong in between the toes. Zōri facilitate the tradition of quickly removing shoes upon entering a house, and allow wearers a similar sensation of walking on tatami-mat platforms as well as tatami mats themselves. These shoes could be the simple footwear for everyday clothes or, in their elevated version (geta), the elegant accompaniment of fine kimonos, and in part account for the tiny sliding steps taken by geisha.

By 1930, zōri were on the decline towards their ignominious later history in which the shuffling geisha swishing through a tea house is replaced by the slap of a sorority girl’s stomp through the mall.  New Zealanders (who should really stick to exporting products like Crowded House and Xena) adopted the woven sandals as beachwear.  Their evolution to the plastic stepchild of today is debated (and why anyone would want to claim this distinction—or the credit for, say, telemarketing, garden gnomes, Soviet anti-tank dogs or instant coffee—is a mystery), but likely occurred in the 1950s.  Of course it was only a matter of time before Americans embraced this new footwear option as the dandy marriage of Yankee convenience and affection for petroleum-based products.

Had flip flops stayed in those settings in which they were first employed, Taste would have no great complaint.  They are a pragmatic choice for negotiating a sandy beach and not messing up one’s more legitimate summer footwear.  They are a lighter alternative to Wellies for trips to the herb garden (and more justifiable if one’s garden is less than, say, 100 fathoms from the villa.)  They also make great sense in public pool and bathing establishments for keeping one’s foot cooties to one’s self, and for avoiding the adoption of others’ cooties.  (Taste is not sure why people go to these places, but as they do, Taste wants you to be careful with those foot cooties.)

flip flops at the White House (insert political joke here; July 2005)

But that’s it.  There is no other place where flip flops are suitable among polite society, for they are the very sign and symbol of all things tasteless.  They serve only the ease (not necessarily comfort, even) of the wearer, which makes them categorically impolite.  Footwear may be a pragmatic necessity but it is also an opportunity—as all clothes are—to engage or to affront.  The degree to which the latter is the case with flip flops was seen a few years ago when Northwestern University’s national championship women’s lacrosse team  (seen at left) sparked a huge public outcry by arriving at the White House shod in flops.  Lucky that you girls have sports or whatever, since in the Championship of Good Taste, it does not appear that you got game.  Except for slippers, there is no easier footwear than a flip flop, and taking the easy way out is never the tasteful option.  Flip flops are to footwear as sweatpants are to a Savile Row suit, as Ikea is to Samuel McIntire, as Dinty Moore canned stew is to Boeuf Bourguignon, as “URAQT” is to “all that’s best of dark and bright/Meet in her aspect and her eyes.”  They proclaim: I just do not care . . . about anything except . . . conserving my exceptionally low level of energy.

In addition, functionally, flip flops are just silly.  Whereas the original, natural-fiber Japanese version wicks moisture and ventilates the foot (helped along with those cotton socks), plastics are nasty near the skin: they are uncomfortable and unhygienic, turning footwear into Petri dishes full of foot germs.  They do little to protect the feet from dirt, rough surfaces and sharp objects.

$1,800: purchase power for one pair from Crystalishious or 600 pairs of flip flops from Walgreens

But worse yet, they are ugly.  It is true that otherwise admirable designers have been able to dress them up and make them more presentable (although we believe that Prada shoe at the top of the page pretty much phoned it in).  Even when ‘designed’ by ‘designers,’ they remain flip flops: even $1,797 worth of crystals cannot convincingly upgrade what is a $3 pair of shoes.  Seriously, if one is going to splash out on a haute designer, shouldn’t it be on hauteness that does not simulate a product that could be purchased at Walgreens?

What the drug store and designer shop versions have in common, at the end of the day, and this is where the flip flop goes really wrong, is that a foot will be put into them, and left exposed.  Feet are not pretty; it is the triumph of a well-designed shoe to enhance and beautify the stumps of bone, muscle and skin that bear our weight all day long.  John Lobb’s Oxford, Manolo Blahnik’s pump: both triumphs of the cobbler’s art.

Even worse than the way flip flops put feet on display when they are worn, most of those flip-flopped feet will find their way out of the shoes in public, as flip-flop wearers all too often slip out of them, as if this is somehow acceptable or forgivable.  It is not.  Rare indeed is the foot that is pretty, impeccably clean (especially within five minutes of walking outside in such shoes), well manicured, hairless and buffed enough, to be presentable virtually naked.  Feet are just ugly.  Even women’s feet, which are a zillion times more acceptable than men’s feet,  are ugly and are best at least partially covered.  Men’s feet should always, at every moment of the day, be covered.  This is a law of nature, of physics, of humanity.  Aristotle dedicated a lengthy section of the tragedy section of the Poetics to the subject of men’s feet.  It’s true.

As summer approaches, Taste makes a final plea to restore dignity to warm-weather footwear.  Gentlemen: forget about sandals; stick to the topsiders and sneakers, thank you.  If you are the kind of guy who can pull off a man-bag (to which we say, well done, sir), you may wear espadrilles.  Ladies: think fabric ballet flats, gladiator sandals, and above all, indulge in one of the great gifts to the world from Catalonia, where they know a thing or two about being stylish and tasteful when it’s hot: the sling back peep toe espadrille wedge.  Magnífico!

yes, and in every color

And please, if you are over the age of eight, do not even ask about those ‘jelly’ travesties.

no, never. not even in purple. no.