Noelle McCarthy: The big Birkenstock question


Model Tilda Lindstam wearing Birkenstocks at New York Fashion Week with Model and TV presenter Alexa Chung doing the same at London Fashion Week. Picture / Getty

Should I buy Birkenstocks? On the one hand, it's a no-brainer.

Birkenstocks are the ugliest shoes around. Dumpy and squat, the shape of a squashed footprint, with those dips at the front, in case you're too stupid to know where your toes go.

They're said to be comfortable, but shoot me the day comfort becomes a factor when I'm choosing footwear. Just because I haven't worn heels of late doesn't mean I lack the fortitude required to do so. Not like the people who wear famously comfortable German sandals. Birkenstocks are for feet that have given up, basically.

Alas, Phoebe Philo does not think so. A few seasons ago, she sent her models down the runway in white Birkenstocks. This was the same Celine show that featured those insane, mink-lined, jewel-encrusted slip-ons that looked like pool-shoes as reimagined by Liberace, or the Marquis de Sade.

It is one thing to take a fundamentally ugly shoe and remake it so it becomes crazy cool, and all the pop stars and fashion editors want it. It's another thing still, to present the original stumpy sandal in all its unlovely glory.

Out came her models in their two-strap Arizonas; next thing you know, Birks are featuring inVogue editorials. This is the genius of Philo. Just like those laundry-bag checks she did a few years ago, she's taken Birkenstocks, the very apotheosis of ordinary, and made us look at them differently.

Differently enough to buy a pair though? That is the question. It wouldn't be that big an investment, they're only €50.

I could go low key with a pair of white Arizonas. Better still, I could accesorise with a pair of bright socks like fashion blogger Ari Seth Cohen did in Auckland recently, I see from photos. Or wear them with long black socks like designer Georgia Alice does?

Maybe it's the state of the world, or the state of my outlook, but I'm craving simplicity when getting dressed in the morning. It's hard to get simpler than a straightforward old clodhopper. I don't quite understand how it is I've developed the desire to wear something the aesthetics of which have long appalled me but, suddenly, the idea of a long silk dress and a sturdy flat sandal is appealing.

This is the fashion industry working sneakily; the subtle influence of the Celine sensibility trickling down through advertising and editorials, slowly accreting in my subconscious until I find myself contemplating going over to the cork-soled dark side.

In any case, I'm late to the party. All of the cool kids have been wearing Birkenstocks for ages. Maybe the smart thing to do is hang on and wait for the next trend in dubious footwear. What will it be? Roman sandals? Corrective booties?

I consider myself open-minded on the subject, but count me out if Crocs start having a moment. 

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