I never saw anyone wear flip-flops as primary foot wear when I was growing up. The only instance where one would wear them was in the showers after gym class. They were called shower shoes. Where I grew up in North Central Illinois, there was no known history of flip-flop footwear worn outside the showers. Even when I bounced down to Daytona Beach for a while just after graduating high school in the early 70’s, I can only remember sandals and all the different varieties thereof. Maybe some people wore shower shoes to the beach, I just can’t remember.
I’ve learned since then that flip-flops first became popular when soldiers returning from WWII brought them back to the U.S., Flip-flops and then became popular in casual settings during the 60’s. They just never made it to the isolated stage where I was living among between corn and bean fields.
It wasn’t until I arrived in Guam in 1974 that I discovered that they were the most popular form of footwear on the island…and could be worn for any occasion. So cool! My first recollection was learning that they were called Zories by Guam residents (originating from the Japanese zōri). My first pair were constructed of bamboo ( woven soft rattan) upper soles with rubber bottom soles and featured blue felt covered foot straps and I thought they were the neatest things ever. They were so stylin! Although flip-flops actually originated as early as 4,000 B.C. in ancient Egypt, I did not know it or could I care less. All I knew is that I was on a beautiful beach in the middle of winter wearing the coolest footwear ever while all my friends back home had frozen toes.
Did you know there are many other popular names for flip-flops such as thongs, go-aheads, slappies, slides, step-ins, as well as a variety of other names the world over?
My fascination with flip-flops continues as I go about my everyday life here in the Philippines as I hardly ever wear regular shoes. Even when I am riding my motorcycle, I am wearing my riding slippers. I know this goes against every common sense bone in my body, but the “When in Rome” syndrome applies to almost everything here. And actually, when riding the bike through water puddles after a rain, the water actually feels warm when it splashes on the feet (if you wear tennis shoes, they’re likely to get wet, dirty, and likely ruined). Even at formal events is common to see people of all ages wearing flip-flops here. Flip-flops to a Filipino is like water to a fish…got to have them!
I am amazed at how many varieties and styles there are, but most Filipino locals (men) wear the simple shower-shoe type while the ladies are more conscious of style. They are cheap and expendable. As a matter of fact, you can find single flip-flops’ laying around just about anywhere….washed up on the beach or on someone’s roof. Almost everywhere you look, you can spot a lonely flip-slop, once an integral part of an active pair of feet, but now lost or separated from its partner, and all alone. At the market, entire sections of a vendor’s stall or sometimes the majority of the floor space at a local store may be dedicated to only flip-flops.
There are even flip-flop franchises that can be had such as Flip Flop Shops®, the authentic retailer of the hottest brands and latest styles of flip-slops and sandals. While the average Filipino can not afford to buy designer flip-flops, there may never be a time when it will be a practical decision to buy expensive ones. On a recent visit to my sister-in-laws house last week and when we arrived at the front terrace to the house, there was a sea of flip-flops covering the ground. If I had to guess I’d say there were easily 18 pairs of slippers…all just flung about everywhere. Upon really close inspection, and while there are no two pairs of slippers that looked exactly alike, I can easily see though how a case of mistaken identity could forever alter the departing shoe inventory. In the case of mistaken identity, one pair of slippers that wind up on the wrong pair of feet could result in a chain reaction…I mean you can’t go home with no shoes. One pair of cheap slippers is as good as the other I suppose…as long as they fit.
I know there have been times when friends and relatives have left wearing a different pair of slippers than the ones they arrived in. Anyway, I just realized today that I happen to own about 6 different pairs of flip-flops (and nowhere close to the number of shoes my wife owns) and not by design. I do not remember how I came to own so many, but as many times as you seem to come and go here, it’s nice to have a pair of slippers at the ready….front door, back door, front gate, back gate, and so on. Even when living in such a warm tropical climate, footwear is a necessity for protection from the environment and things that go “ouch”. The fact that you are always kicking them on and off (and when others occasionally make off with your pair), it’s nice to have a back-up and even back-ups to the back-up. Some will get wet, some will get muddy. Some will look ratty and others will be for going out. In days of old, I could get by with one pair, but not here in the Philippines. In many parts of the world you can measure a man’s worth in many ways. Here, I guess you can almost measure it by the number of flip-flops he owns.