A decade ago if you asked anyone what they thought of Birkenstocks their answer would’ve probably included some contrarian remark about either dead heads, frat bros, or both. For at least some of us though, these connotations are now a thing of the past, as we have entered into a new era in which Birkenstocks are not only acceptable, but dare we say stylish.
First produced in Germany in 1774 by Johann Adam Birkenstock, the brand’s signature slip ons have been celebrated for centuries as some of the world’s most ergonomically advanced footwear. When they were introduced to the U.S. in the sixties, they were immediately polarizing, as those that adopted Birks praised their comfort, while those that disparaged the shoes wrote them off as being plain old ugly. The shoes outdoorsy fans could care less about their critics, and Birks became an integral part of this culture, which in turn actually helped to make the shoes fashionable as mountaineering style has become popular during the past few years.
As pioneering shops like Nepenthes and Unionmade have begun to carry Birks, it has become quite clear that the shoes are now desirable not for their practicality but for their aesthetic. Of course, these are not the strapped sandals that most people associate with Jerry Garcia and poor hygiene, rather the #menswear approved Birkenstocks include more subversively stylish models like the Boston and Amsterdam, which are a closed toed, mule style shoe. These styles have become particularly popular in Japan, where Birkenstock Japan (which organized similarly to Red Wing Japan which operates with a much higher degree of autonomy to the mother brand) release some of the most sought after designs in the world. The American workwear, by way of Japan look doesn’t seem to be losing steam anytime soon, and so we would imagine Birkenstocks’ popularity will only grow from here. Just go easy with the patchouli. —JG