Starting somewhere around the summer before my senior year of high school, I went through a full-blown hippie phase. I began amassing a collection of Grateful Dead concert tapes (yes, cassette tapes!) and could faux-knowingly debate the merits of first-gen soundboard recordings. Words like “mellow” and “kind” started entering my vocabulary.
I attended jam band shows. Not just the Dead, but Phish, Blues Traveller, Widespread Panic. “Kind” veggie burritos (see, there’s that word again) were consumed. My love of hip-hop didn’t wane, but I could do that stupid noodle dance with my arms.
I also adopted the hippie uniform. My hair grew into dreadlocks after months of not washing my hair and forever twisting my locks. (They smelled horrendous.) My pants were held up with woven belts purchased in parking lots of Dead shows. I had T-shirts adorned with puns of corporate taglines (Fukengrüven, Funkin Gonuts).
What I did not own was a pair of Birkenstock sandals. Before the term sneakerhead was even invented, I fit the mold. And wearing a pair of Birks seemed like a bridge too far. I was crusty, but, man, not that crusty.
It wasn’t the function. I still remember an old science teacher extolling their virtues. I just couldn’t bring myself to wear them. To be frank, I thought they were ugly.
Fast forward 20 years and I—and a chunk of the fashion world—have done a complete 180. I now fully back Birkenstocks and think they belong in every stylish guy’s summer shoe rotation.
It’s funny. I have zero inclination (nor the requisite budget) to attend the 50th anniversary Grateful Dead shows going on this summer at Soldier Field, but my appreciation for the footwear that will adorn many Deadheads feet is at an all-time high.
The biggest reason for my Kerry-esque flip-flop involves seeing Birkenstocks in a new context. The sandals no longer fall under the exclusive purview of unbathed hippies holding up an “I need a miracle” cardboard sign (i.e. me in high school). A quick perusal of street style blogs reveals that Birks have firmly positioned themselves in the world of #menswear.
Seeing stylish guys wear Birks with well-fitting jeans or a suit with a T-shirt instead of just baggy patchwork corduroy pants made me realize how cool they could look. They are more substantial than a pair of flip-flops so they feel balanced in an outfit—not too chunky, not too piddly.
Then there are the colors. In my mind, the Birkenstocks of my youth only came in two colors: dark brown or light brown. Today there are blues, whites, and blacks that give the sandals more of a downtown vibe. Even the traditional earthy palette has been updated with details like a blue sole that makes them feel more current.
Finally, there’s that function my science teacher told me about. Birkenstocks feel great. And the more you wear them, the more comfortable they get. You’d never want to buy a pair of second-hand Birks because each pair is so customized to the original owner. Not that there are many used Birkenstocks out there. The sandals last forever, which also syncs up well with the current attitude of consuming less but consuming better.
I still can’t bring myself to wear Birkenstocks with socks. Socks and sandals, no matter how cool the sandals, is still a faux pas in my book.
But who knows? Gve me another 20 years and perhaps I might come around on that too.