WASHINGTON – What's topless,strapped with a thong and liable to make part of your body numb?
It's a pair of flip-flops being worn through the snow,of course.
Students and young people are spending more time slipping into the slabs of rubber or leather punched with a toe-strap,as opposed to lacing up the cumbersome shoe,causing the market for flip-flops to explode in the past five years.
The sandals,once reserved for a sandy day at a sweltering beach,are increasingly being worn through the autumn and – sometimes – into the winter,as students accustomed to them balk at the thought of bending over to tie shoelaces.
But as fall weather settles in,the popularity of tropical footwear begs the question: When,exactly,is it too cold for flip-flops?
“I'll wear them until my feet freeze,” said Brian W. Ackerman,a sophomore studying international affairs at George Washington University here,who was sporting a brown pair. “I hate shoes. I only wear them when I absolutely have to.”
Ackerman's goal is to wear flip-flops through the fall term before he heads home to Clearwater,Fla.,for winter break. When Ackerman returns to Washington in January,he said he may have to don regular shoes through February,especially if it snows.
“But I'll always wear flip-flops in the dorm,” he said.
With students like Ackerman embracing flip-flops,the sandal industry has seen a sales boom in recent years,as familiar shoe and clothing companies also enter the niche market.
“It's fashion,” said Foot Locker spokesman Peter D. Brown. “It's just what's in right now.”
Foot Locker's flip-flop sales have spiked in the past year,Brown said,although he declined to give specific numbers because of industry competition.
He added that no one brand has dominated. “It's more of a look that's just gotten to be very popular,” he said.
Rainbow Sandals,which produces 500,000 pairs of flip-flops a year,has seen its sales double each year for the past five years,said manager Jasmine J. Nelson.
Flip-flop sales heat up in March,peak during the early summer and taper off by September,Nelson said,adding that Rainbow sells only 20 percent of its sandals between September and March.
If you're a diehard flip-flop wearer who wants to keep your toes off the amputation table,you might be interested in Flip Flop Socks. A kitschy name for the traditional Japanese tabi sock,it has an indentation separating the big toe from the others – and making room for the thong strap.
Flipflopsocks.com,which has been in business for three years,does the bulk of its sales during the fall and winter and markets to the “hundreds of thousands” of people who wear regular socks scrunched by flip-flops,said company owner Michele Baer.
“The people who are wearing flip-flops don't want to put shoes on,” Baer said. “People prefer to war flip-flops all the time now. They hate to put on shoes.”
Some flip-flop enthusiasts also say they prefer to weather a storm in sandals. “I'd rather wear flip-flops in the rain,” said Kristina M. Harvey,from Cape Cod,Mass.,wearing a pink pair on a forebodingly overcast day. “Otherwise,your sneakers just get all wet.”
Harvey,a junior studying biology at GWU,said she's going to stop wearing her sandals in the next few weeks. “I'll just decide when it's too cold,” she said. “It's kind of too cold to wear them now,actually.”