The flip-flops belong to the family of sandals and is part of the history of footwear. It now represents an essential item of holidays.

Sandals are footwear that have been around for a long time. There is general agreement that it was the Egyptians who invented the first flip-flops: a papyrus sole to which two leather straps were attached. The objective was to protect the arch of the foot from the hot sand. Initially designed for workers, it became a footwear worn by all, including the Pharaoh and his family.

This invention then spread to the Roman Empire where the empresses moulded their sole in gold. It then reached South Asia (India) where they were carved in wood, as well as China and Japan. Flip-flops then embraced local materials and cultures: they were raised and the heel made in rice straw. Called “zori“, they were worn with one-finger socks. They further evolved in the 20th century with the “geta” in which the compensated heel was replaced by wooden clogs. It remained the preserve of courtesans.

The Europeans present in South-east Asia would bring this sandal to their country. On the one hand, it was “repatriated” by French soldiers in the 1950s in an entirely plastic form, and then in leather in the 1970s, in line with the environmental trend of the time. On the other hand, and at the same time, the Americans present in Vietnam called this type of sandal “thong” meaning “strap”.

From that time, it also became a distinctive feature of the Cariocas living in slums but also of tourists. It is in Brazil that the contemporary model of the flip-flop was created: to adapt to the equatorial climate, it was made in plastic printed in a rice grain structure, referring to the historical influences of the sandal.

Two big flip-flop companies emerged at the same time: Sao Paulo Alpargatas and Rider.

Created in 1962, Sao Paulo Alpargatas filed the patent and registered the Havaianas (Hawaii in Brazilian) trademark in 1964 or 1966 (according to different sources). They were printed only in blue and white until 1969 when a chance mistake saw them produced in green which proved to be a great success. This triggered a reflection on the shape and design of the flip-flop reaching a turning point in 1995 when a hibiscus flower was printed on the sole for the first time. The link between Havaianas and Brazil strengthened with the 1998 World Cup when the company added the brand to the Brazilian flag, as an omen of victory. Today the company has established itself as a leader and the brand owns stores in 60 countries. Annual sales hover around 200 to 250 million pairs. Since its creation, between two and four billion pairs of flip-flops have been sold.

Rider was created in 1971 and its business at the time was the production of plastic wine bottles. The Ipanema brands for women or Quicksilver were added to this market leading pair.

They are known by different names in different countries, including “slack” or “slache” in Belgium, “gougoune” in Quebec, “chipchip” in Egypt, and “thong” in Australia. In New Caledonia, an overseas France territory, they are called “claquette”.

The flip-flop is a fine example of the movement of objects, and of their urban and tourist re-appropriation in different social and cultural contexts, contributing to their worldwide dissemination.

Philippe DUHAMEL


  • O’Keeffe Linda, Chaussures. Éditions Könemann, 512 p.