Flip-Flops: Are They Proper Footwear?

Flip-flops are a sandal with a Y-shaped strap between the large toe and the second toe. They have different names depending on the country where they are worn, but they are often called thongs or sandals. Even though they have been accepted in casual settings, they are shunned in formal ones. Flip-flops should not be used for long walks or sports.

Key takeaways:

The word flip-flop is a type of onomatopoeia, which means saying the word mimics its phonetic sound. In other words, saying flip-flop sounds similar to walking with them.

History of flip-flops

Flip-flops have been traced back to 1500 B.C.E. when the Egyptians used them. At that time, the sandals were made from palm leaves and papyrus plants — a material also used for writing surfaces.

The modern flip-flops became popular in the United States after WWII when the soldiers returning from Japan brought home zori, the traditional Japanese footwear worn with a kimono or yukata. Later, in the 1950s, they were brought back from Korea.

In the 1960s, flip-flops became popular with California's beach lifestyle, worn with beachwear and shorts. Since the start of the 21st century, their popularity has greatly increased; people now wear them with long pants and semi-casual attire.

Flip-flops went mainstream in 2011 when President Barack Obama was the first president photographed wearing them while he was vacationing in Hawaii.

Are flip-flops proper footwear?

There’s not a straightforward answer since many factors need to be considered. It depends on the setting (casual or formal), rules, and other factors.

Setting: casual vs. formal

Even though flip-flops have become acceptable footwear in casual settings, many restaurants, bars, and theaters will allow you to wear them.

Where flip-flops may not be appropriate

Flip-flops are unacceptable in formal settings, like weddings and business meetings.

In addition, there are places where the rules don't allow flip-flops as a form of footwear, such as restaurants and athletic clubs.


Many restaurants have dress codes that do not permit flip-flops; these food establishments want the customers to be appropriately attired for their dining experience. The dress code varies depending on the restaurant and its target clientele.

Athletic clubs

Athletic clubs (gyms) often have rules against wearing flip-flops for several reasons:

  • Safety concerns. Wearing flip-flops leads to hazards such as feet getting caught in equipment, slips, falls, or weight equipment dropping on your toes.
  • Hygiene. There is much sweat, dirt, and bacteria present on gym floors. Using flip-flops can add to this unsanitary environment.
  • Stability. Flip-flops have an unstable support system and can easily lead to injury when performing athletic activity.
  • Energy spent. You get less benefit from a given workout since more energy is used to stabilize your feet.

Other considerations for wearing flip-flops

There are other factors that determine when flip-flops are not proper footwear and should not be worn.

  1. Walking long distances. Flip-flops have little support and do not absorb shock very well. If walking long distances, wearing flip-flops can lead to sore feet, ankles, and legs.
  2. Uneven terrain. Flip-flops offer no lateral (sideways) support. If walking on rocks or uneven surfaces, injury can result.
  3. Wet weather. Flip-flops do not have the best traction — you can easily slip.
  4. Cold weather. The toes and feet are among the most likely places to develop frostbite; wearing flip-flops can accelerate this process.
  5. Sports. Flip-flops are a terrible choice for all sports. It is always best to wear footwear designed for that sport or activity, like running shoes for running, tennis shoes for playing tennis, hiking shoes for hiking, etc. If you are still deciding what kind of footwear to choose, we can help you learn what kind of footwear is best for you.
  6. Driving. While it is not illegal to drive in flip-flops, it is not advisable — it could lead to a motor vehicle accident. In addition, flip-flops can come off the foot, getting stuck behind the brake, clutch, or gas pedal.

Complications from wearing flip flops

Even though flip-flops are fun and easy footwear, medical complications can result from their use, including:

  • Fungal infections (athlete’s foot), especially in warm weather when the foot is sweating.
  • Blisters, especially between the large and the second toe.
  • Sprains and strains, especially of the foot and ankle.
  • Abrasions and cuts can lead to an infected foot.
  • Fractures (broken bones), especially the toes.
  • Heel and arch pain from poor support.
  • Achilles tendon strain and rupture.
  • Slips and falls.

Flip-flops can be light and easy to slip on. Nowadays, they can be worn in most casual settings. However, there are times when they can't be worn due to rules, and other times just not recommended.

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