A few weeks ago, I got a text from a friend visiting his parents in Arizona. "OMG, I forgot how absolutely splendid flip flops are," he wrote.
I looked out the window. The final snow of the year (I prayed) was busy making its way out of the sky. "Gross," I wrote back, because I'm not what you'd call a "fun" friend.
"Gross?" he asked.
Having successfully clouded his carefree flip-flop time with sartorial doubt, I did not respond. He has since clarified that he doesn't particularly give a shit about my or anyone else's opinions on his footwear, which is the right attitude—they are your feet (I assume), and thus you should do what you want with them.
We last weighed in on this important topic three years ago, and revisit it again today because this is the internet—no one remembers the Most Important Viral Rabbit from yesterday morning, much less in 2012, when Williamsburg was still a backwater slum and One Direction was still in its diaper.
No one is arguing that flip-flops don't have a rightful place on the beach, or even other cities on the west coast. (Most Californians will be buried in their Reefs, and no volume of sneers sent from the east will change that.) But this is New York, where the streets are paved with syphilis and the fragments of 1,000 rat skulls, where we breathe human skin just by standing on the subway, much less allowing our feet to come in contact with it.
What are the perils of flip-flops, from a health standpoint? A biochemist told a writer for New York Magazine that, based on a sample of his skin collected after a some time spent wearing 'flops, his feet were found to be "full of bugs"—with approximately each inch of skin containing around a million microorganisms, "roughly the equivalent of raw hamburger meat."
Horrific, yes, but not deadly. Washing with soap and water removes 99 percent of organisms, meaning you're fine as long as you practice sound hygiene.
But it's not just about your skin. If you're an everyday 'flop user, know that you might eventually have some problems—prolonged usage can lead to stress fractures in your bones, since crummy sandals offer little cushioning. "The feet are the foundation of your whole body. This is the base of the skeleton," Jackie Sutera, a podiatrist in the city, told the Huffington Post. "It's a domino effect...the rest of your joints and bones have to compensate.”
That leaves us with the implications of flip-flops as fashion. In order to get an accurate sampling of New Yorkers, I polled 100 percent of the people sitting within 10 feet of me:
Jen Carlson: Flip flops are always okay as long as the person has washed their feet/clipped their toe nails somewhat recently. I'm also fine with cargo shorts. And cargo shorts and flip flops. So what do I know.
Rebecca Fishbein: I have no problem with flip flops at all, though I will only wear them if I am stumbling into the grocery store to buy a quarter pounder bag of pretzels. HOWEVER they are really bad for your knees and ankles, says a 2009 survivor of a particularly violent case of Runner's Knee.
Ben "Sylvia Plath" Yakas:
i am a man
i wear flip flops to get bagels sometimes
they hurt my feet if i wear them too much
it's weird seeing people wear them on the subway
i know nothing of fashion
i am a man
Nell Casey: I think anyone should feel free to wear whatever footwear makes them comfortable so long as it's not in an "inappropriate" setting like going to dinner at Per Se. And dirty feet still look gross in fancy sandals, so I don't know why the flip flop genre gets the worst rap.
Emma Whitford: I can't help but disdain them in the city. Mostly on men, but that's totally subjective and not fair to men, so I'll lump in the ladies too. My uncle calls sweatpants "give-up pants," since they give off such a strong vibe of not being ready for the day/sunlight. I dub flip flops "give-up shoes."
John Del Signore: Any male who wears flip-flops in NYC is not a man and should be sent back to the provinces. This is Capital City, not Shelbyville.
Chris Robbins: It's easy to mistake New York's Freedom To Make Choices That Are Shunned In Lesser Cities (Stay out late! Follow your Dreams! Marriage is Death! Street meat!) for encouragement to act like a rotten child (Have all of your meals brought to your door! Honk at nothing! Four-day Halloween! Cocaine!). Flip-flops outside of a beach setting aren't just gross, they signal a kind of depraved insouciance, as if we really are living in a "luxury product," or Equinox's locker room.
So now you know, again. You may wear your germ-riddled cripple shoes at the beach, at the gym and nude within your own apartment, where the only judgment you will incur is that of your spying neighbor and haughty cat. But if you go outside in them, prepare to take some heat. This ain't Arizona.