The different sandal types: Reef, thong, birkenstock, and more

Sandals are one of summer’s greatest pleasures but how does one choose when there are so many on the market. What’s the difference anyway?

Every year, it seems, there are more and more sandals on the market and selecting between the various brands can be mind-boggling. Prices can range from a few dollars to over $100 for some brands. Certainly there is status attached to some of the different brands, but what is the story behind the names we hear tossed around? Here is a little history on some of the major players in today’s sandal market.


As the name implies, Reef offers an active-wear sandal that is popular with surfers, skateboarders and beach lovers throughout the world. The company was founded in 1984 by two bothers, Fernando and Santiago Aguerre who had migrated to California from Argentina in the mid 70s. The Aguerre brothers loved surfing and had built a career out of their love for the sport. Reef sandals developed from this connection.

The company, which started with only $4000 in capital and offered only men’s sandals, has since undergone a dramatic transformation. The business continues to expand and now offers both men’s and ladies’ closed and open shoes as well as a clothing line.

The different sandal types Reef thong birkenstock and more 300x300 The different sandal types: Reef, thong, birkenstock, and more

The different sandal types: Reef, thong, birkenstock, and more

Because they are designed for the beach, most of the styles feature a combination of nylon and/or rubber straps. For women, the thong or “flip flop” style is most prevalent and is married to either a flat or wedge-platform heel. These sandals often feature woven, beach mat or Tatami mat insoles for a fun, casual effect. Reef offers a wide selection of different color and pattern combinations that are certain to match just about anything in your wardrobe. They also offer some styles in leather as well.

The men’s line also offers primarily thong styles but with a thicker upper strap than the ladies’ line. For the guys, the variety comes in the different color combinations on the straps.

Reef’s most popular style is the “Smoothy,” and is considered “unisex,” being sold to both men and women. This style has a woven strap with a thick rubber footbed. Reef’s Smoothy sandals are reasonably priced at around $25.00 a pair and can be purchased online from a variety of different sources.

Thong Sandals

Rather than being a specific brand, the thong (or flip-flop) sandal is a distinct style and probably the most popular of all sandal styles. The thong made its first appearance in the 50s as a simple rubber beach shoe and was sold for less than a dollar. Many a child spent entire summers clip clopping around in their brighly colored rubber flip-flops!

It is a simple shoe, two straps converge to fit between the toes, but this style can be dressed up or down to fit any occasion. They can be plain rubber or sequined leather and go from beach to ballroom without missing a beat.

Beach or casuals thong sandals are normally flat soled but for evening, a thong can be tied to a spike heel for a real glamorous effect. But if you are wearing these bare little shoes, pay attention to your feet and make sure that your toes are nicely polished and you have taken the time to moisturize your heels and buff off any dead skin. Your feet are definitely on display in these little shoes and a nice pedicure is definitely an asset.

Recently, little “thong socks” have begun to appear on the market. They are a demi-sock that is worn with a thong sandal and that adds color and/or coverage. These socks circle the center of the foot or go around the heel with a corresponding toe loop. Additionally, one designed has introduced a line of sandals that are designed to look like a thong with an attached sock.


Birkenstocks first seemed to come to prominence in the U.S. in the 60s when they were adopted by the hippies who loved their durability and comfort. But, as the saying goes, “you’ve come a long way baby.” These shoes have long since moved from the health food stores to upscale shops such as Nordstrom, L.L. Bean and Filenes.

The company actually dates back to 1774 with Johann Birkenstock who was a shoemaker in Germany. However, it was his grandson Konrad who invented the first custom shoe with a flexible arch support, an insole that has been the hallmark of these shoes ever since. The shoes were labor intensive, however and, in an attempt to stay afloat, Konrad designed a contoured insole that could be used with less expensive shoes. This insole, which was known as a footbed, was exported all over Europe.

In 1954, Karl Birkenstock, Konrad’s son, began working on a design that would utilize the footbed in a new custom-made shoe. The result of this research was the first Birkenstock sandal, which was introduced in 1964

In 1966, Californian Margot Fraser traveled to Germany on vacation. She needed a pair of comfortable shoes and tried a pair of the Birkenstock sandals. She was sold on their comfort and ordered more. Ultimately, she began selling them at health food stores and outdoor fairs in California. This led to her being named the first and only distributor in the United States.

Over the years, these shoes have fanned out and broadened in appeal. The company’s marketing strategy is simple, however. The shoes do not have to be given a “hard sell.” Their quality, durability and timeless styling remain the draw of the Birkenstock sandal.

Today, there are numerous styles from which to choose for both men and women. Styles range from the “Madrid,” which was the original Birkenstock and had one leather strap across the foot to more sophisticated styles such as the multi-strap Granada. The sandals are available in brown, black and tan. Birkenstock also offers a variety of offshoots that feature strappier, more stylish sandals. All feature the standard footbed however.

Birkenstocks can be pricey, with some styles cost over $100. But you can buy them on eBay or through online outlet houses at discounted pricing. Because Birkenstocks are fitted using European sizing, it is usually a good idea to try a pair before purchasing just to make sure you have the correct size.

Birkenstocks can also be resoled when they wear out. This is another great feature of this shoe. They can literally last a lifetime.


Teva Sandals were made with the water in mind and are the very best you can buy for outdoor sports. Whether you are rafting, canoeing, hiking or camping, these sandals will be the best investment you can make in footwear.

The original Teva sandal was designed by Mark Thatcher who had spent summers working as a river guide on the Colorado River. He went on to work in a research position with Citgo but, after being laid off from his job in 1982 he decided to return to the outdoors and somehow make a living doing the things he loved.

He had long since realized that there needed to be some kind of new form of footwear designed for use in water and came up with a design which has a strap at the front of the foot and two around the ankle. These combine with a rubber sole. He called it the Teva – which in Hebrew means Nature. After finding someone to make the shoes for him, he began selling them door-to-door, offering them to whoever was interested. Eventually, sales took off and this durable sandal became the rage. He continues to design the shoes today and there are more than 140 styles available.

The River Sandals cost around $75.00 retail but they can be purchased on discount sites and in large shoe outlets. They are available in a wide range of colors including specialty combinations made for product promotions.

Today there are knock-offs of Birkenstock, Teva and Reef sandals available on the market. You can have the look but not necessarily the quality. Do some searching online for the brand that you like and you will be pleasantly surprised to find great prices on these shoes in whatever style you may desire. Or, try one of the great new shoe discount stores. They offer all types of sandals and usually have the best brands in stock. Enjoy the freedom and style that sandals can give you. Once winter hits, it’ll be too late!

Posted by on Jun 18 2012. Filed under Fashion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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