Deemed the “hottest shoe of the year” in 2021 by online platform Lyst, Birkenstock shoes are having a moment. They’re more popular than ever! But Birkenstocks have been around for over 200 years, and it’s no wonder this iconic shoe has such incredible staying power. While no one’s ever going to tell you that Birkenstocks are elegant or sleek, everyone knows they’re comfortable, practical, and long-wearing. But mostly, these earthy shoes are good for your feet!
Since 1774, Birkenstock has been an innovator and trailblazer in footwear. So, let’s find out about this amazing company and the footwear they’ve been producing since the late 18th Century. Then, let’s look at 4 ways to wear your Birkenstocks to enjoy them to the max!
“Always Copied, Never Equaled”
Birkenstock’s motto provides insight into the company’s philosophy. Placing comfort and orthopedic integrity above aesthetics, Birkenstock has survived every trend you can name, establishing and then perpetuating itself as a maker of sound, practical footwear that’s “always copied, never equaled.”
The famous footbed of the Birkenstock shoe—deep, flexible, shock-absorbing, and conforming to the foot—was first developed in 1896, making it the first intentionally orthopedic shoe in history. In fact, the term “footbed” was invented by Birkenstock! By the mid-1920s, Birkenstocks were being sold all over Europe.
In 1947, the great-grandson of Johann Adam Birkenstock (the founder) Carl Birkenstock published Podiatry – the Carl Birkenstock System. This would be the first of many publications dedicated to the shoe and the pursuit of happy feet! The Birkenstock company also held numerous seminars for medical professionals to spread the gospel of the ideal shoe for foot health.
But then the 1960s hit and Birkenstock became a household name, finally being imported to the USA in 1973, to be sold at health food stores. Because of the aesthetics, shoe distributors had little interest in the shoes. But all that was to change once the hippies had their way with Birkenstocks, making them a fashion item. Then, the 90s arrived, ushering in Grunge music and Kate Moss wearing a pair of Birkenstocks at the beach. Suddenly, Birkenstocks were catapulted to the massive market presence they enjoy today.
What Makes Birkenstocks So Special?
While Birkenstocks have a unique, niche style appeal (natural and comfortable as opposed to glamorous and uncomfortable) that goes beyond orthopedics, the exceptional quality of this shoe is born in the thoughtfulness with which it’s made. Expressly created for unparalleled comfort and practicality, the Birkenstock is something of a footwear engineering feat.
With a footbed made of cork to minimize impact, arch support in the Birkenstock is where this shoe really excels. Constructed across the bed of the shoe, arch support engineering prevents your foot from wobbling. With the footbed lower than that of other shoes, the Birkenstock cradles your foot protecting it from hazards like uneven sidewalks. The flexible footbed allows the wearer to pursue their natural gait without impediment. This protects the foot and associated tendons, which can be compromised by wearing the wrong shoes.
The shape of the toe box in the Birkenstock shoe is also designed to allow your toes to spread out when you walk. This feature brings your gait increased stability, as your toes aren’t crammed into a narrow toe box, where they can’t do their stabilizing job. Birkenstocks can help you resolve issues in the lower extremities that result from improper footwear. Birkenstock’s arch support resolves stress in the arch of the foot, addressing problems in the hips, lower back, and lower extremities.
These versatile ATVs for your feet are ready to take you wherever you’re going in foot-nurturing comfort, so let’s look at 4 ways to wear yours!
At the Beach
Birkenstocks and the beach are a natural fit! Looking great with everything from cutoffs to a sundress, your Birkenstocks are the sturdy supportive friends you need to trek across those burning, golden sands to your lounge chair.
A pedicure is entirely in order when wearing your Birkenstocks—wherever you’re wearing them—but especially at the beach. It’s OK to get sand on these babies, too. Just brush the sand off your shoes thoroughly. If the cork soles get wet, don’t panic. Set them in the sun to dry and they’ll be fine. Always thoroughly dry your Birkenstocks for this reason. But don’t worry about water stains! EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) is the primary material, which is resistant to water spots and stains of all kinds. Just remember that they’re not water shoes. “Water resistant” does not mean “waterproof.”
At a Festival
While they may not be space cowboy boots, Birkenstocks are your best friend at a festival. These all-terrain shoes keep your feet happy and that’s a key consideration at a multi-day music festival. Because when your feet aren’t happy, neither are you!
Go full hippie, settling into your favorite raw hemp cargo shorts, or slap on a neon romper. Whatever you’re wearing, your Birkenstocks make your festival a comfortable, practical one, even if you’re wearing 3-foot-long hair extensions and a chainmail bikini!
Factoring in the foot stompers lurking around every corner at festivals, your “Birks” will come in handy around the camping area, if not in the thick of the heaving throng. You can always kick them off to dance on the fringes of the crowd, where you can see the foot stompers coming!
Rock Your Grunge 2.0
2023 is the year of Grunge 2.0 and as I said above, grunge in the early 90s rocketed Birkenstocks to a special position in the fashion firmament. Courtney and Kurt ride again in this year’s grunge revival and Birkenstocks are a big part of that.
Slap on a slip dress and muss up your hair (and your lipstick), then slip on your Birks and roll. A flannel shirt tied around your hips or a deconstructed, fuzzy sweater are ideal when paired with the rock-solid comfort of Birkenstocks.
And don’t forget the socks (especially if you’re going for the deconstructed fuzzy sweater). Birkenstocks and socks are a classic look that has been spotted on celebrities everywhere, including Gigi Hadid, so wear the socks—the nubbier the better!
The tiered sundress is a romantic summer look that can move into fall with the addition of a lightweight cardigan. With Birkenstocks, the tiered sundress takes on a whole new meaning, speaking of simplicity and disinterest in anything but slow-moving, unself-conscious comfort.
The same rule applies to a tiered skirt. With connotations of hippie culture, tiered dresses and skirts in cotton and cotton blends are a great match with Birkenstocks. Wear a tiered skirt with a crop top or a breezy, embroidered peasant blouse belted at the waist. Accessorize your tiered dress or skirt with a statement necklace made from shells and other organic elements. A couple of flowers in your hair and a basket on your arm for the farmer’s market and you’re good to go!
With fashion houses like Valentino collaborating with Birkenstock, high fashion is rediscovering comfort as a thing of beauty. And with celebrities and models conspicuously shod in Birkenstocks, it seems that everybody wants in on the stylish comfort of these amazing shoes.
Birkenstocks aren’t just for hippies or Seattle grunge enthusiasts anymore. Birkenstocks have claimed their place in the fashion footwear Pantheon. So, wear yours where you feel like wearing them, knowing Gigi’s probably getting her Birks on too!