DUBAI: There can’t be a more beloved item of footwear in the Middle East than the sandal, and while increasing numbers of Arab men are rocking collectible sneakers with their thobes in 2021, deep down, the open-toed classic will always remain the footwear of choice. The question is, just how should you wear them?
First things first, did you know that the sandal is actually the OG of all footwear? In 1938 a 10,000-year-old pair was discovered in Fort Rock Cave in Oregon, US. That makes it the oldest shoe going. Sandals in the Middle East are always open-toed and have a leather covering across the front of the foot—meaning that there’s no need for a strap at the heel to keep them in place. While in many parts of the region they would evolve from free open toes to a na’l—featuring another piece of leather to separate the big toe—there was also a need to leave room for a sock, so bedouins could wear them as the desert evenings grew colder.
However, when it came to Western fashion, things were a little more complicated and they quickly become the footwear of choice for uncool, suburban dads. Amazingly, what nearly killed it actually saved its life. Thanks largely to the normcore fashion movement, suddenly the sandal was back in the game. Whether it was David Beckham wearing them with sports socks and a Tom Ford suit or Justin Bieber sporting something with a chunky sole, the sandal was reborn. Not that the Arab world needed such a renaissance, of course, here it had always been on-point.
Now, with luxury brands crafting new editions each year—not to mention elevated streetwear options like the impossible-to-cop Yeezy Slides—it becomes clear: The sandal is no longer a dull, lifeless addition to your wardrobe — right now it’s the star of the show.
Here, GQ Middle East’s Fashion Editor, Keanoush Zargham, explains how, when and where you should go open-toed.
“A relaxed, cosy fits work best,” Zargham said when explaining what look you should style your sandals with. “This could range from an oversized tailored suit to a pair of wide slacks with a tank top and cardi thrown on to complete the look.”
While sandals are the norm in professional environments if you’re wearing regional attire, what about pairing them with Western clothes at work?
“That depends on where you work,” Zargham noted. “The other day I wore a pair of Toga Virilis sandals to the office and nobody said a word. Do wear them with socks, though. Nobody wants to see your bare feet in a meeting.
“For price and design Birkenstock is great and very reliable. If you’d like to splash a little more cash, splurge on some Bottega Veneta sandals with intrecciato weaving detail,” he added.
When it comes to slides, the fashion expert says it’s all about how you wear them.
“They’re a little more relaxed, but I love them. Yeezy Slides have become a real powerhouse. Add some socks, a pair of oversized shorts, a relaxed tee and hoodie and you have a great look going on.”