We Can’t Stop Wondering: Why Are Birkenstocks so Popular Right Now?

Photo: Getty Images/ Christian Vierig
There are two types of people in the world—people who love Birkenstocks and people who hate them. I'm staunchly in the latter camp. But I have to admit, I'm curious. Both classic Birkenstocks and their high fashion iterations are so popular at the moment, that it begs the question: Why now—more than 50 years after the company sold its first pair of cork-soled sandals?

Style influencers and designers anointing them an "it" shoe a couple years ago has something to do with it. After Phoebe Philo (R.I.P. old Celine) sent her fur-laden versions down the runway in 2012, Birkenstocks began making a comeback. It's not just granola hippies who are wearing them, either—it's celebrities, models, and lots of women who don't work in fashion from Los Angeles to New York City. And things don't show any signs of slowing down—in the last two months alone Birkenstock has rolled out collaborations with high fashion cult-favorites Opening Ceremony and Rick Owens.

There are people, many of whom sit feet away from me in this very office, who wear Birkenstocks religiously, who love them, and who only swap them out for real shoes when a polar vortex hits—sometimes, not even then; they just invest in fuzzy versions or slip their OGs on with a cozy pair of socks. So, in an effort to understand the appeal of Birkenstocks circa 2019, I set up a slack roundtable with a few of my coworkers—video producer Ella Dove, associate fitness and beauty editor Rachel Lapidos, and senior food and health editor Jessie Van Amburg—in an effort to understand why Birkenstocks are so buzzy.

Tamim Alnuweiri: Have you guys ever owned or worn a pair of Birkenstocks? How many pairs do you currently have? How many do you think you’ve gone through in your life?

Rachel Lapidos: Ella, I want to apologize in advance for my opinions. I mean no offense.

Jessie Van Amburg: NEVER owned or worn any, and never ever will

RL: I’ve only owned one pair of Birks in my life. it was the closed toe, round, beige colored type. I literally only bought them—I HAD to have them—because I saw the Olsen twins wearing them. But I will never purchase a pair ever again—I was in high school for what it's worth.

Ella Dove: I currently own four pairs of the exact same style, I have them all because I can’t bring myself to let go of the old ones when I get a new pair—they are an extension of my being. The style is the white Birkencrock.

JVA: BirkenCROCK? I cannot.

TA: Wait what is a Birkencrock?

ED: They are a lifestyle, and yes I coined that term myself. It's the shape of a Birkenstock, the texture of a croc.

JVA: I just audibly gasped at my desk

TA: What is the appeal of the Birkenstock though? Jessie and Rachel, what do you *think* the appeal is? I personally do not get it—from an aesthetic standpoint, they are fugly and from a comfort standpoint, there are so many other shoes that are comfortable but aren't visually offensive

RL: Honestly I'm not sure what the appeal is. I think it’s that BED for the foot that's supposedly the most comfortable thing on Earth.

ED: Well for me comfort, style, and it's my signature lewk…but mostly comfort. And they make my feet look tan.

JVA: I think it plays into that “ugly cool” thing that’s going on right now but that honestly, has always been a thing. Like they’re cool almost precisely because they’re NOT cool. It’s a big power move to wear those, because you’re declaring that you don’t care, which is the essence of coolness

RL: I also think people are very into anything they can slide onto their feet

ED: I also enjoy giving my birks a #birkybath

JVA: Please elaborate, this is fascinating.

ED: Well.. about four times a Birkenstock season (so I would say March through November is Birk season) I fill my bath with hot water, bleach, and baking soda, and send my birks for a float.

TA: Do you wear them even in the winter?

JVA: You have to live in a warm place to wear them in the winter like how could you even wear them today? Even with socks (which is so offensive), you’d get frostbite.

RL: I'm not ok with anyone wearing socks with sandals. It’s like socks with Tevas. It makes me nauseous. Sandals aren’t meant for that.

ED: SO I do wear them with socks but I have rules. I have to be flying or working a long shoot day (indoors).

TA: But you won't just... in public? Do you think that people who wear Birkenstocks know that they're ugly but like them in spite of that or...

ED: I think I’ve grown to love them so much they look cute to me, kind of like having an ugly dog or baby.

JVA: I think there are two types of Birk wearers: people who legit love how they look and people who don’t but don’t care because they’re comfortable. Ella is the former, my grandpa was the latter.

RL: I think lots of people honestly genuinely like them, which….I guess I'm not surprised. People like ugly things. People wear sweaters with bows on them and bootcut jeans, so....

ED: Hey… I love bootcut jeans.


ED: Here’s me wearing my Birks in bootcut jeans.

TA: So are they fashionable because they're anti-fashion???

RL: I’d rather wear chunky sneakers, but I'd wear birks over Tevas.

JVA: I would take Birks over Fila sneakers in a heartbeat.

ED: I actually just ordered a pair of white Tevas because I felt I was abusing my white Birks.

RL: I'm realizing that I’m kind of anti sandal in general. I hate feet—I almost stopped seeing a guy because I saw him in flip-flops. I think owning them is a sin. But that's a different story.


TA: Sandals are the hard-boiled eggs of shoes.


ED: Let the record state that I am in an exclusive relationship with the white, rubber Birkenstocks… I can’t necessarily speak to the sad old leather kind.

RL: I remember when I owned Birkenstocks that after wearing them all the time, the footbed part of them got dark and like….slippery and weird. It grossed me out.

ED: It has pretty much ruined my feet for other shoes. My mother is convinced it's making my feet wider. They have excellent arch support! Honestly, I'm going to bring everyone a pair—I think I could turn you all to the Birk side

TA: I just feel like Birkenstocks are crocs for people who were born before 2000.

ED: Crocs are much worse than Birkencrocs, but I’m grateful there were no memes in the '90s, just wanna be hippies wearing Birks

JVA: I will say for the record Ella you make me almost want to try them, but then I remember that it’s a real feel of -9 outside rn and the idea of sandals make me want to die

RL: My feet will shrivel and hide inside of boots and closed-toe shoes until I die.

TA: The only thing that would ever make me want to try them is if Liberace came back from the grave and wore them with one of his glitter capes on a Las Vegas stage. 

If you're ready to embrace the cute-ugly aesthetic, Japanese socks are the best socks to wear with your sandals and these are the chunky sneakers to get on your radar

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