Sandals: Country Trends

Figure 1.--Sandals in boys' sizes are now not available in larger sizes. As a result, older boys have to wear adult styles. Most boys, however, now wear sneakers (trainers).

The popularity and style of sandals has varied over time from country to country. Sandals have been particularly popular in Europe, but there are substantial variations between countries. English boys commonly wore closed toe sandals, but American boys did not like sandals of any kind. French boys wore them, especially in the summer as did Italian boys. Sandals were always popular in Italy, with some differences in the time and in the regions. German boys wore sandals in the early 20th century, but the NAZIs discouraged them in the 1930s as unmanly. After World War II, however, open-toe sandals became popular in Germany. American boys finally began wearing them, first in Califiornia and then throughout the country when sports sandals appeared in the 1990s.


Closed-toe sandals in America were referred to as "T" strap shoes. They were not very popular with boys who in the 1920s began to wear sneakers for play. They were worn to some extent by little boys in the 1920s, mostly with dressy clothes. This was most common with affluent families. Most boys wanted to wear sneakers for play and thus sclosed-toe andals never caught on for leisure wear as they did in England. Some little boys did wear them, but agin mostly affluent families. I notice fashion magazines referred to Ilalian sandals when describing boys closed-toe sandals. I think this simply refers to quality footwear made by Italian companies which appealed to affluent mothers. The design looked much like the classic British school sandal. The style in America is mostly worn by girls.


A Australian contributor to HBC reports, "When I was a student at All Souls' School (Charters Towers, Qld. Australia) we had to wear sandals with closed toes, even up to year 12 level, that is, if we weren't wearing shoes. That was at the end of the 1950s. and early 60s. We wore long school socks with them. I suspect it was because shoes could get very hot during summer, and sandals were cooler to wear. The closed toe sandals were probably a compromise." Closed-toe sandals, however, were never as popular in Australia as in England. More Australian boys went barefoot in the milder Australian climate. In additiion, many Australian boys looked at closed-toe sandals as a little boys shoe style.


We have only limited information on Austrian sandals at this time. As far as we can tell, footwear trends, including sandals, in Austria are essentially the same as in Germany. Our limited number of Austrian images makes it difficult to assess Austrian trends at this time. We see quite a number of Austrian children, bith boys and girls, wearing strap shoes in the early 20th century. These seem to have been worn as both strap shoes and sandals. We also notice "T"-strap shoes. These seem to have been more of a sandal or leisure wear style. As in Germany. there seem to have been some social-class connotations. As our major source of information is black and white photography, we are unsure about colors at this time.



Today the term sandal has the context of a casual shoe to be worn for play or holidays in warm weather. This was not always the case. Initially it was used to describe an open work shoe made with strips of leather rather than a solid piece. Strap shoes may be most associated with English boys becise of A.A. Milne's Christopher Robin (and in recent years Disney). We do not have a detailed chronology of English sandals yet. We are beginning to understand the chronology betterin America becausewe have a good bit of evidence from clothing catalogs. We do not yet have this information from England. We do know that that after World War I in te 1920s that British boys who hd been wearing heavy boot-like shoes were commoly wearing sandals. English boys wearing sandals had various approaches. Many boys during the summer would wear them without socks. A few schools adopted the sockless aproach, but most required knee or ankle socks. Many schools required sandals for everyday school wear, both in summer and winter. Outside of school sandals were most commonly wore in the summer, especially in France. British boys wore the for play mostly during the summer and might refer to them as sand shoes. Many boys would wear them to school year round and, as a result, they became known as school sandals. There are two basic kinds of sandals: closed and open-toe sandals. The most common type was closed toe sandals. They came in both single and double bar styles. The single bar sandal with a center strap became popular for schoolwear. There were also open-toe sandals which became popular after World war II, although more for adults than children. We also note I think in the 1960s that sandals began go be made to look more like shoes with a very wide center strap. This style was especially popular with boys. Sandals were made in different colors. Our assessment is somewhat limited here because many available photographs are black and white. The most common color was various shades of brown, similar to shoes.


French and European boys commonly wore strap shoes, but this was primarily with dressy outfits. I am not sure when boys began to wear closed toe sandals for casual wear. I think probably the 1920s-30s, but this requires additional research. I do know that closed-toe sandals were veing widely worn by French boys by the 1950s, but primarily during the summer. The styles were less standard than in Britain and included styles with single bars, "T" straps, double bars, and a cariety of others. As in England, they were worn much like boys now wear sneakers, but also could be worn for more formal occasions. At least by the 1960s they had become less popular for boys. As soon as sneakers appeared in the 1960s, they quickly replaced closed-toe sandals which are now rarely worn except by very little boys and girls.

Figure 3.--German boys after World War II commonly wore sandals during the summer. Geman boys like this boy photographed in the 1970s generally wore the open toe style.


Sandals were also popular in Germany. Boys in the early 20th century wore much the same sandal styles as in England and Germany. While not as common as in these countries, many German boys did wear them. Sandals declined in popularityduring the 1930s. Note tha while English and French photographs during the 1930s often show boys wearing sandals, German images of boys wearing sandals are much less common. It is especially rare to see Hitler Youth boys wearing sandals. After the War sandals were again widely worn by German boys. German boys wore different styles than the British ones. From the 1950s to the early 70s nearly every German boy wore them, but from the mid-1980s on boys began to look on sandals as girlish. Some mothers liked the style, however, and insisted on their boys wearing them during the summer.


Hungarian boys wore sandals, although HBC at this time has very limited information. A boy in a 1969 wore closed toe sandals. It appears to have been a minority style, but was worn. HBC at this time does not know if closed or open toe styles were more common.


I believe sandals were popular in Italy, but have little information at this time. One HBC contributor agrees. He reports that it seems sandals were very much more common in Italy than America. Italian movies during the 1940's to the 60's seem to show any child not yet a teenager wearing sandals. Even some older boys wear them. An Italian reader confirms that indeed sandals have been commonly worn in Italy and still are in the 2000s, although not as muxg as in the past.


Japan for some reason appers to be a coyntry where sandals are not popular.

(The) Netherlands


We have very little information at this time on Sweden, but do note a Swedish boy wearing double-bar sandals, probably in the 1910s.


We do not have much information about Swiss sandals. We do note Swiss children wearing closed-toe sandals after World War II. A good example is Kidergarten children in St. Gallan.

Unidentified Countries

We have found many photographs with boys wearing sandals where the country is not indicated. We often can guess the country by the rest of the clothing and the background. Ethnicity, houses, cars, landscape, and other items are often very useful in figuring out the country. In many cases this leads to a counytry with a fair degree of confidence. In other cases the country involved is not at all clear or at least not definitive. This is escpecially the case in Europe. Clothing trends including footwear are very similar in some countries and very destinctive in other countries. Some countries are fairly easy to identify. Others are very difficult to destinguish. There are about 40 countries in Europe and sandals were widely worn in many of those countries during the 20th century, some more than others. Some of the major countries Like England, France, and Germany are fairly easy to identify. Smaller countries are virtually impossible to identify. Readers my be interested in the indicators we pick up on to try to identify the country when it is not indicated.


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Created: May 10, 1999
Last updated: 9:30 PM 10/15/2016