There are certain unexpected things that can drastically alter our experiences and for Kelsey Osgood, it was flip-flops. Here she takes us on a journey around the world told through the soles of her shoes, showing us that, sometimes, our perception is the epitome of Great Design.
French women, considered by some to be the most enviably stylish group of females on the planet, simply don’t do some things: they don’t get fat, they don’t let their children misbehave, and they certainly never wear flip-flops. Referred to derogatorily as tonguettes after the lip-smacking sound the shoe makes against the heel of one’s foot, flip-flops are thought of trashy, the sort of footwear worn by the most vulgar type of person: the American Tourist. In truth, the flip-flop did become popular in America and Europe when soldiers brought them back from their native Japan after World War I, so in the sense that a soldier is a sadder and more vulnerable version of a tourist, French women are correct.
My senior year of college, I lived and studied abroad in Paris for two months, during which time I wanted nothing more than to simply be French, or more specifically Parisian, which meant I smoked Gauloises, munched languidly on tartare and never, ever wore flip-flops. In fact, I imagined at the time that I would never slip that little piece of plastic between my big toe and my second-biggest toe ever again. Banished to the back of my closet were the Reefs I wore at summer camp and the Rainbows I donned to the beach near my childhood home in suburban Connecticut; in their place went elegant black ballet flats adorned with tiny bows, and canvas Bensimon “sneakers” unfit for even the lightest of athletic activity. It was a religious renunciation of my sweaty, unfashionable, sloppy American roots in favor of the clean, structured, minimalist sartorial values of the French.
But back across the pond, after several years of abstaining, I found myself moving to another new place: this time to steamy Miami, land of thongs for feet AND bums. My job kept me on South Beach for hours, and it was downright necessary that my footwear be ergonomic. I needed to be able to toss my shoes aside when I wanted to run down to the ocean, to slip wet feet into them, or to dip them under an outdoor shower in order to clean off stray grains of sand. Leather Chanel flats just weren’t going to work. I began to amass a collection of flip-flops in order to suit my new lifestyle: printed Havianas from Brazil, floral cloth ones made by Liberty of London for Target, even a pair made out of recycled yoga mats. And so, in this new place with these new shoes, I discovered –– re-discovered –– another self, the one who inched toward surfer glamor, all blond tresses and tanned limbs and clothing treated as an afterthought, something meant to be sullied or shed.
Flip-flops are designed to keep the wearer just shy of free –– without any interference, toes can wiggle, nails can be painted, and with a simple flick of each ankle, the feet are naked and ready to feel bare grass against bare skin. Back in New York, this wannabe beach bum still pulls on her good old fashioned Sanuks, because although the closest beach is an hour away by train, even here, you never know when you’ll need to toss your shoes aside and sprint toward the ocean.