Flip-Flops, Footwear Of Pharoahs

For many Americans this summer, the next best thing to sinking one's toes into the sand is sliding them between the straps of a pair of flip-flops. Charles Osgood noted the flip-flop frenzy on CBS News' Sunday Morning.

Flips-flops are being seen everywhere this summer, from city sidewalks to the fashion runway. But Tim Gunn, style guru of the hit television show "Project Runway" and Chair of Fashion at New York's Parsons, The New School for Design, says if you think the current flip-flop frenzy is just a fad, he has some news that may make your toes curl.

"I have to say, I think they're much more than a trend," Gunn says, "and I think that they are so fully embedded into the culture that they're not going anywhere, and if anything, the number of wearers will expand. Once one experiences a certain degree of comfort, one doesn't want to go back to anything that's binding or constraining."

In fact, history buffs take note: the flip-flop is one of the first types of footwear known to man. The pharaohs wore them. So did the ancient Indians, Assyrians, Romans, Greeks and Japanese.

Only in the 20th century, with the cheap mass production of rubber, did flip-flops really become the world's favorite shoe, if only because people couldn't afford anything else.

Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, notes that "after World War II, as billions of people were moving from being barefoot to wearing shoes, this is the basic type of shoe they wore in any sort of warm continent."

She finds it "fascinating that something so ancient could be considered, in a way, the most popular form of footwear today, in the 21st century. Its very simplicity seems to make it extremely modern."

But even Steele was taken aback the first time she saw people wearing flip-flops on city streets. They seemed, she says, "so inappropriate."

If flip-flops once seemed inappropriate for urban streets, they've certainly come a long way.

Today, women's flip-flops come in dazzling colors with dizzying price tags. A pair by designer Deborah Evans, hand-embroidered with Swarovsky crystals, costs $175. Dolce and Gabbanna has a fancy pair for $850. A pair of Havaianas embellished with thousands of gold feathers and more than 400 diamonds costs $17,000.

At that price, maybe they should at least be called "sandals." Gunn suggests that "once it becomes embellished and dressed up, people start to refer to it as a sandal. So they take it out of the flip-flop genre." That may be hopeless, he says: "Once a flip-flop, always a flip-flop."

In any case, cheers to the humble flip flop, the very sole of good taste for almost any occasion.