It’s summertime, which means the sight and unmistakable sound of flips flops are everywhere in America, from sea to shining sea. They’ve been around so long that perhaps we’ve started to think they’ve always been here. But when were flip flops invented? And by whom?

Well, they certainly weren’t invented by Americans, but we’ll get to that. The history of flips flops actually dates back to well before the founding of the United States. And many different cultures have dabbled in the manufacturing and wearing of flips flops, or at least footwear so similar to flips flops as to be indistinguishable.

Here’s a rundown of when flip flops were invented, as well as how and when they arrived in the U.S.A. (And be sure to check out the flip flops timeline infographic at the bottom of this page.)

Thong Sandals in Ancient Cultures

The earliest known thong sandals appear in murals and other artwork made by the Ancient Egyptians around 4000 BC. The oldest thong sandals you can see today date back to 1500 BC. They are on display at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Md. Check them out in the photo below.

Ancient Egyptian sandals that date back to 1500 BC. See them on display at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, MD.

Different cultures used different approaches to thong sandals, including the placement of the toe strap. While Ancient Egyptians placed the toe strap after the big toe, just as we do today, the Romans placed it after the second toe. The Mesopotamians placed the strap after the third toe.

Where else were ancient cultures wearing thong sandals? The Masai people that today inhabit Kenya and Tanzania wore pairs made of rawhide. The people of India wore thong sandals made of wood. And the people of Japan and China wore sandals made of rice straw.

GIs Discover the Zori

After World War II, GIs returned to the United States with traditional flip flop-style shoes popular in Japan called “zoris.” Sensing an American market for zoris, Japan’s Hiroshima Rubber Company began manufacturing them using its eponymous material.

The Hiroshima Rubber Company manufactured rubber zoris much larger than usual to fit the larger feet of Americans. Soon women began wearing them with their bathrobes. And then children began wearing them outdoors. And eventually all Americans began wearing rubber zoris, most often at the beach or other waterside venues like swimming pools.

Flip Flop: The Obvious Name

Rubber zoris were called “jandals” at first, a combination of “Japanese” and “sandals.” But soon the rubber zoris were known simply as “flip flops,” a named that emerged almost reflexively as the rubber zoris made a flip-flop sound as they slapped the soles of people’s feet.

As flip flops became more and more popular, companies began to manufacture them in bright colors and wild designs. By the 1960s, flips flops had become a summertime staple, as well as a year-round fixture in beach communities throughout California and other coastal areas.

New Flip Flop Companies Emerge

Rubber was one of Japan’s only thriving industries after World War II. Rubber tree plantations proliferated in the 1950s as manufacturers needed more rubber to feed the demand for flip flops and other products.

But a Brazilian company that soon claimed leader status in flip flop production. Havaianas first began making rubber flip flops in 1962. Its EVA- and PVC-free formula set the company apart from the crowd, as did its trademark textured sole pattern. Havaianas created the pattern to look like the rice straw used to make traditional zoris.

Flip Flops in the 21st Century

In the 1990s, a new and higher-end style of flips flops emerged. These new flips flops featured leather construction and higher prices. People began to wear them in cities and places where there was no beach or pool.

Today, in the 21st century, Havaianas is still in business, and it pumps out about 220 million pairs of flip flops each year. In 2015, Americans spent a total of $2.6 billion on flip flops.

Some say that flip flops are too prominent today, that they’re worn in places where flip flops have no business being worn. This is especially true for men, who tend to have smellier, more gnarly feet that no one wants to be exposed to — especially when in close quarters, like on a cross-country flight.

If you’re one of the many who think flip flops are out of control, we’ve shared the best alternatives to flip flops in a previous post. What do you think: Are flip flops worn too often and in too many places? Let us know in the comments section below, or use our contact form to reach out to us directly.

 

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