Would YOU spend £300 on summer's ugliest shoe?

Would YOU spend £300 on summer’s ugliest shoe? Birkenstock sales soar despite being the Marmite choice of a heatwave

  • Birkenstocks are fast becoming the lockdown shoe of choice thanks to heatwave
  • The thick-soled sandal will survive a day at the office or a day touring in the heat 
  • The brand has launched a line of primary-coloured Birkies that are enticing 

How do you feel about Birkenstocks? I know you’ve got an opinion, because the clumpy German sandals with the cork and rubber footbed are the Marmite of summer footwear.

You either love them or hate them.

Personally, I’m a lover. I bought my first pair in coppery brown back in the early 2000s (always the double-strapped Arizona style. The single-strapped Madrid is for wusses, in my opinion). Since then I’ve owned them in black, white and navy and sleek metallic.

Charlize Theron donning white Birkenstock. Birkenstocks are fast becoming the lockdown shoe of choice, with sales at John Lewis up 44 per cent last week

They add a minimalist base to tailored trouser suits, shirt dresses and floaty midis. I’ve worn them to the office when I worked on a newspaper fashion desk and to fashion shows in London and Paris.

And it seems the events of this spring have finally tipped the balance in their favour. Birkenstocks are fast becoming the lockdown shoe of choice, with sales at John Lewis up 44 per cent last week. Other stores report increases of 140 per cent since March.

With prescient timing — now we’re all stuck at home longing for a fashion fix that won’t make us look ridiculous when we take the dogs for a walk — the brand has, in the past month, launched a line of primary-coloured, upgraded Birkies that are extremely enticing even at upwards of £300, compared to the usual £60 or so.

The brand has, in the past month, launched a line of primary-coloured, upgraded Birkies that are extremely enticing even at upwards of £300, compared to the usual £60 or so

It’s the first time the traditional brand has offered a ‘deluxe’ option, although it tested the water with some designer collaborations. Last year, the firm successfully partnered with Valentino and it’s now teamed up with New York fashion brand, Proenza Schouler, for a collection in saddle-stitched leather and Velcro.

So should we really shell out £300 for a Birkenstock?

They do have serious fashion cred. ‘An exclusive, luxury line, far away from trends,’ says the brand’s website. But they are actually bang on trend, catnip for fashionistas in unusual colours and materials and based on the three most popular classics: the Arizona; Madrid; and the cross-over strapped Siena.

Still, the only obvious differences to the regular sandals are the enticing colours and the cork soles now being covered in leather, which does make me question why they cost quite so much.

Of course, as a fashion lover I still want a pair. Every time I see the custard yellow Arizonas online, I think, shall I?

The new line is the first time the traditional brand has offered a ‘deluxe’ option, although it tested the water with some designer collaborations

Admittedly, I have worn lots of expensive shoes that are designer homages to Birkenstocks, by the likes of Simone Rocha and Isabel Marant, and I’ve willingly paid a few hundred pounds for them.

But the appeal of Birkenstock to me has always been that it’s a high quality, democratic brand for every woman (man and child).

As one of my friends said, in our heated discussions on the matter: ‘£300 for Birkies! God, no, that’s the opposite of what they’re meant to represent isn’t it?’

True. But I also really, really like those ‘Blazing Yellow’ Arizonas. ‘Modest luxury in lusty colours’, it says on the website, and I’m definitely lusting.

The thing that keeps people coming back to Birkenstocks is that they’re so comfortable. They haven’t been around for 250 years — the orthopedic brand was founded in 1774 — for no reason.

After Birkenstocks, other sandals can feel thin and hard to walk in. They will survive a day at the office or a day’s touring while you’re on holiday.

And they are, in many ways, the ideal shoe for these housebound times. The thick-soled sandal is a sturdy upgrade on the slipper, yet still airy. They’re the easy shoe to slide your foot into before your long trek from the front door to the bins, and the quick-fix solution at ten seconds to eight on a Thursday evening when you realise you should be outside clapping for the NHS.

You can’t persuade everyone, of course. My 11-year-old daughter, who dreams of tottering around in six-inch metallic sandals cannot abide them. ‘They’re so ugly!’ she says. But she’ll learn.

Despite their ‘ugliness’, their practicality and their comfort, Birkenstocks are cool. U.S. designer Rick Owens has even gone as far as saying: ‘Basically, Birkenstocks are like jeans, functional and sexy. Maybe Birkenstocks are even the sexiest shoes ever.’ Sexy? Mmm, I’m a fan but even I’m not sure Rick’s going to convince anyone of that.

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