Back in the ‘90s, I was a child captivated by a variety of trends, including tie-dye, scrunchies, bandanas, and overalls (I had the exact ones that Michelle wore during the Full House episode where Comet runs free through the streets of San Francisco). One trend I never took part in, though? Birkenstocks. I never wore Birkenstocks.
As I got older and became semi in charge of my own aesthetic, my mom would tell me to try the clunky slide sandals.
“They are the most comfortable shoes,” she would say. But I would ignore, failing to disassociate the shoes with images of college-aged kids in mismatched clothing wearing them with socks on their way to class. This was just not my vibe. I was put together. I was trendy. I was on top of things (was I though?). Birkenstocks were not for me.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a resurgence of ‘90s fashion. The era of grunge and laid back style has risen again on the heels of a platform sandal, and as a child of the ‘90s, I have been living for it. Some comebacks I have fully embraced, like tie-dye and headbands, but others I have avoided. Namely, overalls, as they just don’t look very good on my curvy, 5”2’ frame (if only I was this honest with myself as a child).
Along with the fads I once loved becoming cool again, came the trend I never thought I would take part in: Birkenstocks.
Last year, after decades of avoiding them, I caved and decided to buy the ugly-chic sandals. Thousands of people were giving them rave reviews on Nordstrom’s website, and I had seen some pretty fashionable people rocking them. They even came in a copper metallic color that kept screaming out “buy me” from the product listing online. I had to close out of the Google Chrome tab in order to hear my own thoughts again. That’s how badly my mind was trying to convince my feet to slip themselves into these shoes.
I ended up loving the classic Arizona Soft Footbed Sandal so much that I bought another pair: the Yao Slide Sandal. After over a year of owning these shoes, I can safely say that in my thirty one years on this pandemic burdened Earth, Birkenstocks are the most glorious thing to have ever touched my feet. Here’s why.
Why are Birkenstocks so comfortable?
Birkenstock sandals have wide, contoured footbeds that mimic the shape of your feet over time. As an owner, I can attest to the fact that walking on the soft footbeds in all their arch support glory is like carelessly galloping through a sea of cumulus clouds (the fluffy ones).
If you think I’m exaggerating, first understand the pain that years of wearing women’s shoes have inflicted upon my life. The amount of blisters I’ve had to deal with, the bunion pain that has led me to leave events and social gatherings early, the throbbing pain in the bottom of my feet after standing too long, the blood that has dripped onto the heels of many sneakers—sure it has all shaped me into a strong person well-equipped to deal with such shoe pain, but the whole time that was happening, I could have been (literally) shaping a pair of Birkenstocks to deal with me instead.
How to break in Birkenstocks
Unlike other shoes, Birkenstocks care about you. They listen to what you want, and then they process and absorb the information until all of a sudden the sandals are made for your feet. Other shoes, however, are in it for themselves. They insist that your feet go through an insane amount of agony before getting to a place where your feet do not bleed out while wearing them. This adjustment process is what I like to call shoe initiation.
Initiation for most shoes lasts one to two weeks, and once complete, comfort commences—or at least what one thinks is comfort after multiple agonizing wears. With Birkenstocks, though, initiation is short, sweet, and for the most part, pain free. I honestly felt more comfortable breaking in my Birkenstock sandals than I have while wearing other shoes I’ve owned for multiple years.
This is not to say Birkenstocks are always comfortable the second you put them on your feet. The second time I wore the Arizona sandals, I walked three miles straight. Usually that long of a walk does damage to my feet with sneakers, so I was a bit nervous to trek such a far distance in new sandals. After the fact, though, I was surprised to find that I was only left with a blister from the front buckle, and my feet ached for a few hours after. This is because of a few things: 1. The copper color comes with hard, clunky straps that can press on the top of your feet if the straps aren’t adjusted properly (not all Arizona sandals come with hard straps, and you can always add more room if they’re too tight); 2. This was my second time wearing them; and 3. I had just gone on a three mile walk.
Since then, I’ve barely gotten any blisters from the Arizona or Yao sandals—and I often opt to wear them as walking shoes during summer and while traveling over sneakers.
How do Birkenstocks fit?
I have bunions on both of my feet due to years spent squeezing into narrow footwear. I can feel the discomfort I underwent after long nights out in said narrow footwear just by thinking about it. The minute I would get home, I would throw my shoes off and jump in bed, knowing the throbbing pain in my feet wouldn’t go away until later the next day or after. With Birkenstocks, I’ve never dealt with this.
Granted Birkenstocks are casual sandals and cannot usually make appearances at formal and semi-formal events, they are still fantastic to wear during long days (and later in the night at formal occasions when you can ditch heels for flats—I’ve thrown them on during wedding receptions). A big reason for this is because Birkenstocks have a lot of room. While they do come in a wide size, the regular sizes are perfect and still roomy for my bunion clad feet.
While both are roomy and oversized, the Yao sandals are a bit more fitted. However, they still have a ton of room and the plush, thin straps are a bit more comfortable than the hard, leather straps on the Arizona sandals. As I said before, though, not all Arizona sandals come with those straps.
Arizona vs Yao: Which ones are best?
I own the Arizona sandals in Copper Leather (the rose gold color) and the Yao sandals in New White. While I wear both a decent amount, I am currently loving the Yao sandals for most activities (I now define ‘activity’ as anything I do when leaving home: grocery shopping, walk around the neighborhood, etc).
Because the Yao sandals have thinner straps, they’re easier to walk in. The clunky, hard straps on the Arizona sandals sometimes rub against the top of my feet after long walks, which is not ideal. I do prefer wearing the Arizona sandals when going to the beach or pool, though, as they are roomier, and the white straps on the Yao sandals could easily become stained and dirty. However, I really need to stop wearing $100+ shoes to the beach, so this should be a non-issue.
Last thing: If we are going to start classifying Birkenstocks as classy (which in 2020, we are!), the Yao sandals are also a bit classier, making them perfect for pretty much any summer outfit. Especially during a pandemic where the majority of activities require casual attire.
How much are Birkenstocks?
The Birkenstock Arizona Soft Footbed Sandal costs between $99.95 and $134.95 depending on the color and style (the Copper Leather color I own is $135.95). The Birkenstock Yao Slide Sandal is between $99.95 and $109.95 (the New White color I own is $99.95).
While those are quite pricey, Birkenstock does make more affordable sandals—and people love them. The budget version of the soft footbed sandals are the Birkenstock Essentials Arizona Waterproof Slide Sandal, also known as the Arizona EVA sandals. Made with a rubber-like texture, they still have a contoured footbed and adjustable straps. These shoes retail for $44.95, which is less than half the price of the classic Birkenstock shoes, and on Nordstrom’s website, they have a nearly perfect 5-star rating from over 1,600 reviews. They also come in a variety of colors, although many of the colors and sizes are often selling out so you have to browse different retailers to really weigh your options.
Where to buy Birkenstocks
There are a variety of trustworthy retailers that carry Birkenstock sandals, which is great because if you can’t find a certain style, color, or size, you have plenty of places to look. Some retailers also carry different styles and colors than others.
In addition to Birkenstock’s official website, some of our favorite retailers that sell Birkenstocks include:
Both the Arizona Soft Footbed Sandal and Yao Slide Sandal are available at most retailers above. I purchased mine at Nordstrom.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.