To Birk or Not to Birk?


Photo of Lavender Natural Leather Luxor BirkenstockGuy Trebay has a little “Noticed” story tucked in the back of the New York Times‘ Thursday Styles today, called “Even Macho Toes Like to Breathe,” about how Birkenstocks have become hip with hipster guys, thanks to the fact that “a posse of American fashion editors” have been having a moment with the thong style Birk (above).

I was going to write more about cellulite today because it’s been the theme of my week at Beauty U (stay tuned, you’ll get it next week) but instead, I have to drop everything and address this.

As I blogged a few weeks ago, I am a fairly shoe-obsessed person, in fact a reformed Shoe Astronaut — the type of woman who claims obviously uncomfortable shoes are so comfy because she wants you to think she’s just that hot. I’ve been working on this, embracing my love of Converse and other shoes that are comfy while still being cute, and no longer pretending that not-comfy shoes are anything other than an absurd indulgence.

(And I know you non-shoe people out there are like, What the what? How can uncomfortable shoes be an indulgence? When they are this pretty, is how. It’s the same part of your brain that says yes to the third mojito even though you know the hangover is now a foregone conclusion.)

So, okay, yay for me. But Birkenstocks, people? BIRKENSTOCKS. I’m having a very complicated reaction to this news.

Reaction #1: It’s just an indisputable fact that Birkenstocks are never going to shake their Hacky Sack associations. They don’t even want to! They’re too busy playing Hacky Sack. From today’s article: “It was never a goal of ours at Birkenstock to be fashionable with capital F,” said Shelly Glasgow, the director of product development for Birkenstock USA. No fear there, Shelly. And while I respect Hacky Sack-ing and the related fashion choices as a valid alternate lifestyle, I just linked to a $320 Kate Spade shoe. Also I have the hand-eye coordination of a drunk five-year-old. It’s not gonna be me.

Reaction #2: People are either Birk Lovers or Birk Haters and I’m a Birk Hater. Because of the above connotation issue and well, the general fugliness of the original Birks (I mean. What is this?). I think it comes down to the way they make people look all toes. Also, they are particularly popular among vegetarians, and I’m real pro-bacon. One of my best friends, K, recently promised to take a 75 minute train ride from her house to mine in order to smack me upside the head if she even sensed I was contemplating a Birkenstock purchase. Actually I requested that she promise to do this, because I was having a little panic attack (and purchasing a pair of blue wedge sandals to calm me down) after that whole Shoe Astronauts post.

Reaction #3: K, get on the train. Because I’m wavering. It started when I was doing some pulse-taking and figured out that not one, not two, but at least three of my other good friends — who are all extraordinarily stylish from the ankles up — have hopped on this Birk thong trend with glee and abandon. One of them is a lifelong Birk wearer, but the others are more recent adopters and they’re proud of it, thankyouverymuch. Suddenly, the Birk Lovers are outnumbering the Birk Haters in my life, which I guess just proves that this article is right. So now I’m thinking about this thong style with ripped, rolled up jeans and cute tops, and I’m like, well that’s kind of sweet. Ditto just-above-the-knee-length sundresses. What is happening here?!

Reaction #4: Hating Birkenstocks is maybe kinda pointless. I mean, they’re just ugly (and maybe not even all that ugly now that I know they come in lavender, plus, I know, I know, ugliness is totally subjective, aren’t I always the one telling you that?). They don’t hurt anyone.

And the whole love/hate Birk thing is really about finding your social norms and clinging to them, even when they stop making so much sense. I don’t want to be that girl. I’m just not sure I’m a Birk girl. Even if the creative director at Lucky says they’re cool.

Though I admit that’s really helping me out.

Okay, let’s hear it. Where do you stand on Birks? Have they become hip and are you okay with that? Am I being horribly Beauty Industrial Complex-indoctrinated to be so anti-Birk? Or is that okay because it really is a travesty, what they do to people’s toes?

Oh God. I just looked at them on Zappos where you can see all the shoe at all angles, and I have serious concerns about what they do to ankles, too.

[Photo of the Lavender Natural Leather Luxor Birkenstock, from Birkenstock, obviously. PS. I wear a size 6.5.]

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19 Comments

Filed under Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, shoes, week 29

19 responses to “To Birk or Not to Birk?

  1. anne

    Count me in…I’m anti-BIRK …along with
    anti-CROC, anti-MOCCASIN, oh, and let’s not leave out my personal favorite….anti-TEVA!!! I think Jesus wore these! I won’t go out the door with my husband whenever he presents himself fully dressed with TEVA’S on his feet! UGH!

    C’mon people! Is having comfortable shoes really that important?

    Just fugly…plain and simple.

    • I am writing this to come to the defense of the people who have over the past few years have taken to loving the humble Birk. I too in the not too distant past was a Birk Hater. I was the pissed off chic in high school who had a black mohawk…a little bit later the super urban hipster fashionista chic (niether of these incarnations of me would have been caught DEAD wearing a Birk.) Now I am the “You too can look cute as hell and be comfy at the same time- woman.” (Notice that now with the advent of the Birks I have become a woman?) Why do I wear Birks?
      a) cause life is too short to have painful feet
      b)cause when you are 65 and have radical foot issues you will wish you wore something that kept your feet healthy.
      c) cause who gives a crap what hippie connotations they have- you can rock anything you want with pride. If you rock it- you OWN it.
      d) really the comfort thing is out of this world. When my son was five and grew out of his, he actually cried.
      *I do however have limits…I do only wear the Gizah style seen above*
      Try a pair- wear them around the house with the shades drawn…I promise you too will soon come out of the closet and bear your proud Birk wearing feet to the world!

    • Millie

      “Is having comfortable shoes really that important?”

      Yes, yes it is. Not necessarily Birks (though I do love them) but the notion that when dressing in the morning, you (not you specifically, general you) can’t or shouldn’t consider whether or not you’re going to be able to stand up by the end of the day because your feet hurt so much is just ludicrous.

      Also, hi Virginia! I’ve been reading along for a while, but apparently it takes comfortable shoes to get me to comment.

  2. See, I’m not even sure I should join this debate, because I can barely dress myself. I’m like Tina Fey when it comes to fashion: “My hands are up! I’m not even trying!” And my feet are so woefully pain-prone in just about every high heel that I’ve taken to ordering an absurd percentage of my shoes from places like Aerosoles and Easy Spirit. (And even that doesn’t always help.) My wedding shoes were so uncomfortable that the third and fourth toes on BOTH feet were numb for months. Months, I say. So, while I’m not a Birk wearer, I’m not anti-Birk. I’m pretty much pro-comfortable anything, and you’re much more likely to find me in a pair of Reef flip flops or my Mizunos on a day-to-day basis. But then–I’m also on the playground on a day-to-day basis with my 14-month-old, where pretty shoes are more of a hassle than anything else. (Would you want to get sand in your $320 Kate Spades? Walk through the sprinklers?) Yeah, sorry. I would totally Birk it.

  3. HA! Really, that is all I want to say. You know what other thoughts are going through my head (you just admitted to mentally composing an outfit with BIRKS on your feet! I WIN!) and they really don’t need to be shared in a public forum (other than that parenthetical, of course).

  4. Cactus Wren

    I am a longtime Birk lover.

    I am a Birk lover with congenital foot problems.

    I am a Birk lover who in non-Birk shoes has to buy WIDE shoes TWO SIZES LARGER THAN MY ACTUAL SHOE SIZE to get shoes wide enough.

    I am, in fact, the sort of Birk lover who wants very very badly to react to such remarks as “… the general fugliness of the original Birks (I mean. What is this?)” — particularly when the remark is aimed at what were for many years the only shoes I was physically able to wear — with “You know what? Fuck you.”

    I will not so react, of course. But I will have the temerity to point out that for many people, being physically unable to wear most of the shoes available for women is not a matter of mere trivial self-indulgent “comfort”.

  5. NancyP

    Most women’s shoes are poorly constructed and unable to provide the support the foot needs for standing and walking on concrete and other inflexible substances.

    I started wearing Birks when my joints became significantly painful and started making audible clicks. In a choice between orthopedic shoes and surgery, the ugly shoes win hands down. I went to a pedorthist and luckily found that my feet fitted a standard last and that I wouldn’t need to pay extra for custom shoes or custom orthotics. Hence, the Birks. I do have “dress” Birks in standard black and brown leather, but most commonly wear the flexible plastic closed-toe clogs at work because I work in a medical lab, and the plastic clogs can be swabbed down in 10% bleach should tissue or blood land on them.

  6. I was anti-Birks until I turned 30 and realized everything from the knees down hurt a little bit too much after standing in 4-inch heels all day. So I caved and started wearing the Gizehs as commuter shoes in the summer and patent black Dansko clogs in the winter. New York is an unforgiving place for your joints.

  7. Guin

    I love my birks. I have the sparkly Sydney Papillo silver ones and they look great with everything. I recommend that line because the footbed is softer than the traditional birks. They make me feel super cute and look great with jeans or dresses. I also have brown ones with thin straps. I never liked the traditional birk style, though. But seriously? I have never, ever worried about what my ankles look like in them. I have some serious joint and muscle pain when I wear bad shoes, so I don’t. Not weeping from foot pain is pretty sexy.

  8. Elle

    Seriously? Size 6.5 ? Seriously? Birks are not ugly when they’re that tiny. Almost all shoes are cute in itty-bitty sizes. Your options seriously decline when you wear 9.5AAA.

    But — I live in the Pacific northwest, where EVERYONE wears Birks. Except me, that is. They don’t make ’em narrow enough for my feet.

  9. Chandler

    Not to play devil’s advocate, but if wearing pretty shoes makes you feel happy and attractive (and it hurts only your own feet, not anybody else’s), why should you feel bad about it? I don’t think you should feel guilted into wearing something you think is ugly, any more than another woman should feel guilted into wearing something she thinks is uncomfortable. I think the problem with beauty “standards” of any kind isn’t the content of those standards, but the fact they’re coming from external sources, rather than from the consumer herself.

    (BTW, all the stuff about Hacky Sacking is freakin hilarious.)

  10. Birkenstocks are on my Must-Buy list, but I just find them so expensive that it’s tough.

    So are these babies:
    http://www.sanuk.com/product/341036/SWF1066/Sidewalk_Surfers_%28All%29/DEL_MAR

    Yes, I love comfy shoes.

  11. Char

    So, I am kind of confused by this post. I am not one to comment, in fact, this is the only blog I have every actually followed, but I find your attitude a contradiction of your goal with this whole project.
    I don’t wear Birks personally, but my definition of irresponsible shoes is something that is going to destroy your toes. I see a lot of 19 and 20 year old girls with feet that look like vulture talons from being forced into tiny high heels. In my opinion, that is fugly.
    I guess your point is that if everything can be beautiful, everything can also be fugly? Or is it only shoes with you? That doesn’t seem to get us anywhere. Maybe someone should start a blog called “Wear the Damn Birks”.
    Did I miss something?

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  13. KNB

    I think the whole idea here is that (as said above) if anything can be pretty, then yes, the converse is true, that anything can also be, subjectively, unattractive.
    I, for one, don’t like Birkenstocks. I was peer-pressured into them in 7th grade, found them uncomfortable (i know, weird. maybe i have mutant feet) and stopped wearing them.
    Also, I don’t find FLATS or SANDALS on the whole unattractive…but there is something about the look of Birks that is quite…crunchy. And I am all for the modern technology, making them great for people with feet/walking issues…but couldn’t all that cork be covered? to not look like cork?
    That’s just my two cents. I don’t like them. But I have friends who wear them, and I think they are just swell.

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  15. Sarah

    I really have no idea what you’re talking about 🙂 Here in Canada, Birks are extremely popular! From the most fashion-savvy to the not so fashion-savvy.

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