I don't reek of Patchouli or listen to the Dead (though that "Shakedown Street" . . .) or Phish (nope), but there is one pair of shoes I own that has outlasted every other pair in my closet: the Birkenstocks that I purchased in San Francisco (ha, ha) in 1999.
I've been sporting the hippie sandals since I was in elementary school. Come to think of it, I might have been the only fourth-grader at the playground with Birkenstocks on—the classic Arizona style with two belted straps across the top of the foot. I had a pretty impressive array, actually: navy, tan and chocolate brown.
No, my parents weren't hippies. No, they did not exactly approve of sending their daughter to parochial school daily in Birks (with socks! What was I thinking?), either.
And yes, I didhave actual Birkenstocks, not the pleather knock-offs you used to be able to pick up at the local shoe warehouse for 10 bucks—I was an expensive child.
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Made by a German footwear company that was founded in 1774, Birkenstocks were once the equivalent of what flip-flops are today. The sandals are most known for their cork- and rubber-contoured insole and footbeds, which is also the best part about Birks: After a month of wear, they begin to mold to the shape of your foot. The shoes are so comfortable that many health-care workers began wearing them in the 1980s.
Sure, you get a certain (whether you think it's negative or not) connotation attached to you whenever you're seen sporting Birks—remember when Dean supporters were deemed "Birkenstock liberals"?—but they can actually lookstylish when done properly. Like when you mix them with casual pieces from your wardrobe to make them look a bit more modern. Remember when the Olsen twins (I know, I know, but hell, they look good) started sporting them three years ago with skinny jeans and oversized tees? Although they opted for the Gizeh style, which features a single T-strap with a buckle that wraps horizontally across your foot that is a twist on the flip-flop, even the more traditional two-buckle Arizona can be mixed into your outfits. Promise.
Birkenstock can be placed among the other "hippie" shoe and clothing labels: Minnetonkas, Clarks (especially their Wallabies), Simple, Patagonia and Tevas. What's funny is that many of the shoe designs considered as "hippie" are made of leather and other animal-derived materials. And none of the above-listed shoes (except perhaps the Minnetonkas) are even fairly inexpensive. Go fig.
At any rate, at least Birkenstock sandals will always look better than Crocs. (To the man in his late twenties purchasing a pair of the bright-red plastic clogs in the Nordstrom men's shoe department on May 16, I hope you are ashamed, sir. And that your friends, family and girlfriend all laugh at you. A lot.)