The History of Pool Slides


Before designers began showing every possible high-fashion iteration of slides imaginable, before Adidas invented the pool slide category with the launch of its iconic Adilette, the easy-to-wear style was, simply, the earliest type of footwear to exist. As the oldest and most basic silhouette, it’s near impossible to determine the date of its conception, though backless sandals were worn by ancient Greeks (fun fact: the etymology of “sandal” is Greek) and ancient Egyptians, and were constructed from palm leaves, papyrus, willow leaves, and twigs.

The mule, the slide’s closed-toe counterpart, however, boasts an origin story that’s a tad more concrete, with a history that can be traced back to Ancient Rome. By the 16th century, mules were used to describe bedroom backless shoes and slippers in Europe. But slides, despite their ubiquity, lack any kind of substantial documentation that definitively charts their evolution since Ancient Egypt (1300 BC) or Ancient Greece (1000 BC).

In any case, after World War II, Italy saw a boom in small family-owned studios that harnessed the talent of artisans to handcraft made-to-order leather sandals. These Positano-style designs were largely minimal in their construction, with a simple strap or two across the vamp (though some were designed with straps around the heel to secure the foot). By the late ‘60s, the U.S. saw skinny-strap slides decorated with cheery flower motifs and saturated in vivid colors—a happy aesthetic that foreshadowed the free-spirit nature of the forthcoming decade.

Practicality, too, soon found a place in the world of slides. In 1964, German brand Birkenstock, the purveyor of comfort, introduced the first fitness sandal with a deep and flexible foot bed: the Madrid, a contoured cork slide with a single buckled leather strap.

Around the same time, sportswear giant Adidas invented its famous Adilette pool slide after a German football team asked for a style that could be worn in the changing room and showers. Crafted from a waterproof polyurethane-coated synthetic upper and outsole, the three-stripe banded sandal was designed for easy accessibility and protection. And when it was brought to market in 1972, it made itself right at home in the sports world as the athlete’s preferred shower shoe—and eventually, the go-to footwear for those who prioritized comfort over fashion, the most famous being Mark Zuckerberg, who made the Adilette as part of his obstinately non-fashion entrepreneurial uniform in the mid-aughts.

About a decade passed before pool slides made its first entrée into fashion. And the credit goes to Phoebe Philo, who, to the shock of editors and buyers everywhere, sent out luxe fur-lined Birkenstock-like slides on the Céline Spring/Summer 2013 runway, pairing them with diaphanous dresses. That landmark moment would go on to alter the course of footwear in fashion, which had previously favored needle-thin stilettos over flats (much less orthopedic flats).

And just like that, comfort was in. There were other factors, of course, at play, like two of the biggest fashion movements that coincided at the same time in 2014: athleisure (a hybrid of sportswear and streetwear) and normcore (the non-trend trend that revolved around “stylized blandness”). But before it entered mainstream consciousness, rappers had been advocates of the combo since the ‘90s, slipping on white shin-length socks before stepping into a pair of pool slides—a look that’s worn by musicians today, including Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Justin Bieber, and Tyler, the Creator.

Now, in an era of maximalism and ugly fashion, designers have taken it upon themselves to stretch the limits of their creativity and reimagine the pool slide to a more-is-more extreme, blanketing it in fur, trimming it with every sort of embellishment, and splashing it all over with logos.

In 2016, Rihanna released a faux fur slide in pretty sorbet hues to much fanfare. A year later for Spring/Summer 2017, she sent out another equipped with a bow-topped satin band (that promptly sold out and spawned copycats). The same season, for her debut collection as Dior’s creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri branded a pair of pool slides with shiny hardware. For the Spring/Summer 2018 collections, Alessandro Michele decorated a pair of slides with the brand’s iconic gold-tone horsebit detail (a minimalist departure from his usual maximalist ways), while Kim Jones introduced the sandal version of the ugly shoe on the Louis Vuitton men’s runway, sending out strappy LV-branded slip-ons paired with sheer socks. All of this is to say: There’s a slide for every style.


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