Footwear fads come and go. Last summer it was Crocs (blech). This year, have you noticed the sudden and immense popularity of Roman/Greek sandals? They look fine with shorts or a pretty dress - or a toga - but I keep seeing women wearing them with business suits, which is pretty baffling. It kind of says, "My body may be at the office, but my feet are in a brothel in Sparta!"
But Roman sandals aside, flip-flops are a fashion obsession that just won't fade. Easy to get in and out of, these minimalist toe straps are cheap and flattering, because they don't cut any of the lines on the leg or foot, thus giving the illusion of length.
Unfortunately, however, despite the fact they're permanently in vogue, flip-flops are bad for the feet and bad for the body. Sigh. Sensible shoes are so damn ugly. Not fair.
What the experts say
"The purpose of our study was to see if people walk differently when wearing flip-flops than they do in tennis shoes. There is anecdotal evidence that flip-flops cause foot and leg pain. We didn't look at what would cause problems, but now that we've done the initial research, we can look more specifically at the gait cycle - how the muscles are working, the interaction between the foot and the footwear. We don't want to speculate, but podiatrists say flip-flops provide job security. People in the study took shorter strides wearing flip-flops, and when they swung their leg through, there was an increased angle at the ankle. There are better flip-flops that offer a heel cup and an arch."
JUSTIN SHROYER, doctoral student, department of kinesiology, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama
"Flip-flops are not supportive, not protective, and there's potential risk of harm wearing them for the wrong activities. They're not walking shoes. They're okay for around the pool or going for a pedicure, but they shouldn't be worn for extended periods. Kids should not be wearing them. I don't mind Birkenstocks, depending on the foot. They're solid and have a good supportive bed, a heel cup and a toe protector at the end. Mephisto sandals are similar. So are Naot and Finn Comfort. All are much better choices. With flip-flops, if the arch is hitting you in the wrong spot, that's a problem. People selling these things should have a bit more knowledge about the right fit. Thirty years ago shoe fitters were popular, and your foot would be measured every time you came into the store. Feet change with age, weight, pregnancy and wear and tear."
ROBERT CHELIN, president of the International Federation of Podiatrists, Toronto
"Flip-flops can cause strained arches, a condition known as plantar fasciitis. They don't provide support, and if your feet flatten excessively, you're at greater risk for musculoskeletal complaints. You're also going to have more calluses, in the heel, for example, because there's extra friction. Because flip-flops don't stay on your foot, you use your toes to grab, which can cause a deformity over time. Clutching your toes also over-utilizes the leg muscles, which can cause cause shin splints if you wear flip-flops for a long period
SCOTT SCHUMACHER, president, British Columbia Association of Podiatrists, Surrey
"Flip-flops are terrible. I've developed a series of exercises to help with plantar fasciitis. In a seated position, extend one foot, pulling up on the arch, extending your foot away but curling your toes toward you. Then push the heel away and curl your toes under, again with the thought of pulling up on the arch. After doing this for a while, you can add a resistance by putting a divider for pedicures in between your toes."
MARION HARRIS, director, the Feldenkrais Centre, Toronto