My (reluctant) journey back to the Birkenstock

July 1, 2014

birkenstock collage_ modern legacy kaitlyn ham_ we the people jessie bush_ jcrew lookbook_ afterdrk Sabrina Meijer The whole 'ugly shoe' phenomenon in high fashion and the subsequent resurgence of Birkenstocks is no longer new (after all, the informal kick-off with Celine's fur-lined pool slides was spring 2013), but it wasn't until a year later that I have finally come over to the dark side - also knows as, the Arizona sandal. Yes, I had the 'training-wheel' Gizeh Birks for years, but thinking back to those thick, two-strapped, black suede monstrosities I wore in high school with ill-fitting acid-washed denim and flannel shirts à la Kurt Cobain had me ready to break out in hives. Really? Were we going back there? Funny thing is, the more I saw these fashion bloggers and cool Europeans rocking them (see above) in ways that felt nothing like the Birkenstocks I once knew, I started to wonder why I was fighting so hard. These ladies actually looked pretty darn chic, so who's to say I wouldn't as well?

Sure, they're not the most attractive, slimming shoe in the footwear universe, but there's something distinctly European (in a good way) about them and these days, they seem more often paired with a Celine handbag and leather shorts than gypsy skirts and dreadlocks. I mean, how cool does this girl look? It's fashion without trying so hard. Add to that the comfort factor for all the urban trekking I do and the comparatively easy-on-the-wallet price tag here in Deutschland, I figured it was a bandwagon worth jumping on.

Not that I was ready to go all in right away. I spent some time fighting hard against the original ugly shoe - the Birkenstock - by trying a myriad of possibilities that might spare me any associations with their previous life, at least in the US, as a schleppy, hippie shoe. First up was Zara's all-black, patent leather version with pretty buckles.

zara black patent leather two strap sandal
The look was all-right, but everything else was all wrong. The fit was terribly small and the stiff, sharp edges cut into the skin of my foot just walking around my apartment. At 69€, it was just too much for such an under-performing shoe. I'm young enough to want fashionable footwear, but too old to settle for shoes that require adhesive bandages just to keep from looking like an Edward Scissorhands victim. Back they went.

And so I tried again, this time with an & Other Stories chic and simple pair.

and other stories black leather two strap sandal
Once again, they fell short of my inflated hopes. They looked OK, but as far as style went, I just couldn't shake the Calvin Klein ca. 1992 vibe, so I felt rather dated in this version. Ultimately, the deciding factor was quality. They smelled so strongly of chemical rubber and squeaked horribly with every step I took. So, I struck out again.

After more online photo stalking to convince myself and receiving a generous coupon for an online shoe store, I was won over by the pull of the masses and conceded in trying a pair of the original, throwing caution into the wind and opting for the white that is trending right now.

birkenstock white birko flor arizona
At first, I couldn't get past the vast amounts of white surrounding my not-so-small feet and the resemblance to medical professionals' footwear. But the more I tried them on - and after some very crucial adjustments to bring in the width from Fred Flintstone-esque to a more reasonable and nearly feminine silhouette - the more I started to feel these were what I had been looking for all along. It didn't hurt that they were half the price of the previous ones I tried, not to mention a mere fraction of what these are going for in the US right now (tip for those in Germany: avoid the inflated prices of fashion website and stores, these can be scored for much less elsewhere).

Much like Chucks or Vans, I think these are comfortable classics that, no matter if they're trending in the fashion world, they will always have staying power. Now that I'm 100% on board, I'm ready to dive in with some black pairs as well... (I can practically see my mom shaking her head from halfway around the world already)

If, like me, you are apprehensive about the trend, there are all kinds of variations and knock-offs that can help ease the transition...

black ugly shoe sandal collage_ vagabond clarks UK whistles sam edelman

Vagabond Erie slides | Clarks Romantic Moon sandal | Whistles Holly sandal | Sam Edelman Adora sandal

Here's to the summer of the Birkenstock and comfortable feet!

top image credits (clockwise):
Kaitlyn Ham of Modern Legacy
Jessie Bush of We The People
Sabrina Meijer of AfterDRK
J.Crew spring lookbook


  1. I love my Birkenstocks - just slightly concerned now as I bought a pair of black "Florida" and not "Arizona". Hope that doesn't make me uncool straightaway :-)

    1. I think it's all in how cool you make them! ;)


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