*** sandals: English sand shoes (closed-toe sandals)

Sandals: English Sand Shoes (Closed-toe Sandals)

English sandals
Figure 1.--Sand shoes were commonly worn by British boys as play shoes through the 1950s.

The English sand shoe is a closed toe sandal is a type of closed-toe sandal with a horizonatal bar and a vertival bar at the center, a design referred to as a "T"-strap shoe in America. In England sand shoes were worn in the days before the current popularity of sneakers (trainers) as comfortable play clothes, especially during the summer. Boys eventually began to wear them to school. In fact they were so commonly worn to school that they are also known as school sandals. They have continued to be worn as school shoes long after British boys stopped wearing them as play shoes.


Strap shoes were commonly worn in the 19th Century. I do not begin to notice informal sand shoes until the 1910s, especially after World War I (1914-18). Boys and girls wore single bar straps shoes throughout the 19th century. These tended to be dressy shoes rather than play shoes. The also did not have the center "T" bar. This did not appear until the 1910s and did not become popular until the 1920s. Sand shoes were quite commonly worn during the 1920s-50s. Photographs of British boys, even younger teenagers often shw them wearing sandshoes. Their popuklarity began to decline in the 1960s, except for school wear. British boys turned more to sneakers which were not permitted at most schools.


The sand shoe was an informal play shoe. They were mostly commonly worn during the summer, but they were also worn in the winter as well. They were most commonly worn by boys wearing short pants. The same style was worn by girls. I have not yet been able to obtain the promotional literature for thse sandals. Presumably it was considered healthier and more comfortable to have well vetilated shoes.

Sand Shoes

HBC has received some comments from well-informed English conntributors. Some are not familiar with the term "sand shoes". One British reader tells us, "When I was a boy growing up in the North East of England, the term "sand shoe" (also known as "sandies") referred to white plimsols. HBC has noted the term from British books published in the 1920s and 30s. Unfortunately I do not recall the specific literary references. I do hope to eventually include some on this page. I believe that our British contributors are not familiar with this term because it was not commonly used after the 1930s. By the 1940s the style had become so associated with school wear that they were most commonly called school sandals.


The sand shoe was a closed toe, buckle sandal. It was open between the toe and ankle except for a narrow side and center strap. The true sand shoe always had te narrow straps. The sandals commonly worn by English boys with wide center straps were school sandals and not as commonly worn for play. By the time the sandal with the wide cebter strap appeared in the 1960s, British boys, except for very young boys, were no longer wearing sandshoes for play. The sandal with a wide center strap was a style of school sandal. While boys and girls wore the same style of sand shoe, girls did not as commonly wear the school sandals with the wide center strap. The sand shoes often has little perforationsd in the closed toe area, presumably to increase vetilation.


The basic school sandal worn by boys and girls looked quite similar. HBC is not sure if there was any difference besides colors (and the names) between boys and girls sandals. A HBC contributor reports, "I didn't pay much attention to girls' sandals but I have a vague recollection of girls' styles being narrower and more pointed at the toe end than boys' styles."

HBC wonders if school sandals were clearly marked as boys or girls sandals? Or were they simply marked as children's sandals, using a gender neutral term? One British oberver imdicates, "I don't think sandals would be marked as specifically boys or girls. What I was trying to say was that the kind of styles worn by boys could also be worn by girls, but sandals in blue or red or white would only be worn by girls because their appearance alone marked them out as being particularly female. I don't recall anything marked as 'children's sandals' though the sizes available would obviously dictate the age of the intended wearer."


Sand shoes came in many colors. Red ones were popular for younger children. Older boys most commonly wore brown sand shoes, often with a redish tent. Some lighter colored brown shoes were worn.


English boys wearing sandals had various approaches. Many boys during the summer would wear them without socks. They were also worn with boy ankle socks and kneesocks. The kneesocks were particularly common during the the cooler winter moths. European boys often wore sand shoes during the summer, but it was in England that they were commonly worn year round.


Sandshoes were mostly worn by boys wearing short pants. They were also worn with a wide variety of other garments.
Summer: Sand shoes were often worn with casual summer clothes, often light short sleeved shirts, as they were most popular during the summer.
Winter: Sand shoes were often also worn with warmer clothes because in England they were also worn during the winter. Thus many images show boys in sweaters and shorts with sandshoes. As they were a casual style, it is less common to see boys wearing suits with sand shoes. Some boys did wear them with suits or blazers worn as part of a school uniform--but henerally not with a suit when they dressed up at home.

Country Differences

Sand shoes appear to have been primarily popular in England. They wdere not, however, nearly as popular in Scotland. Sand shoes were worn by English boys from a wide diversity of social backgrounds, although by the 1960s it was primarily the wealthier boys who were still wearing them. They were also worn in other countries. French boys wore them. but mostly during the summer. I believe the same was true in Italy. American boys, except the very youngest did not wear them--they were considered sissdy shoes by most boys. This was perhaps because they were widely worn by girls. The only exception was for wealthier boys whose parents were influenced by English and European fashion.

Personal Experiences

Many of the personal experiences of English boys include memories of wearing sand shoes. This is especially true of the memories of boyhoos from the 1920s-60s.

School Sandals

The sandshoe and school sandal were esentially identical until the 1960s. The style of a vary narrow center bar was sandard. Beginning in the 1960s boys were wearing sandshoes less for play, prefering the increasingly popular sneakers. School sandals began to appear with a much expanded center bar. This style by the 1970s had become more popular and by the 1980s had replaced the narrow center bar style. The narrow center bar did not disappear entirely. It was still commonly worn by girls and a few private prep school.

Strap Shoes

A similar style to closed-toe sandals were the single bar strap or Mary Jane shoes. This style, however, has more varied uses. It could be used as a formal dress shoe in either black or white patent leather. AS a dress shoe it was commonly worn with white socks or stockings. On the other hand, colored versions, especially red, were used as little boys play shoes.


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Created: June 5, 1999
Last updated: May 20, 2002