The sandal is the simplest form of foot covering, consisting of a sole held to the foot using a configuration of straps. Sandals can be utilitarian and bought from a street vendor in Bombay for a few rupees, or a work of art, designed by Manolo Blahnik and selling for several hundred dollars from a high-end boutique. Sandals have been made from every possible material-wood, leather, textile, straw, metal, and even stone, and have graced every echelon of society in almost every culture of the world.
Sandals are the oldest and most commonly found foot covering worldwide. Archaeological examples, uncovered from the Anasazi culture of the American Southwest, date back 8,000 years. These plaited and woven sandals provided a flexible protective sole and utilized a simple V-shaped strap.
Sandals are most commonly found amongst the peoples of hot climates where searing sands and rocky landscapes, inhabited with poisonous insects and thorny plants, necessitated the development of the most basic form of foot covering. Hot, dry climates generally precluded the use of a closed shoe or boot, something that would develop in colder, wetter climates. However, historically, sandals are not found exclusively among the peoples of hot climates.
In Japan, geta, wooden-soled sandals, are worn with fabric socks called tabi that keep out wetness and winter’s chill. Similarly, natives of Eastern Siberia and Alaska wear fur boots that originated in antiquity as sandals tied over fur stockings. At some time in history, the fur stockings were sewn to the soles, creating a boot, but the sandals’ straps remained, sewn into the sole seam and tied around the ankle.
While most sandals made for the global market of the early 2000s are usually manufactured of synthetic or recycled materials, such as tires, some indigenous materials are still employed for local markets. In India, water buffalo hide is commonly used for making sandals or chap-pli for the Indian marketplace. Metal and wood have also been used in India to produce paduka, the traditional toe-knob sandals of the Hindu: the soles were often stilted, limiting the surface area of the earth trod, protecting the tiniest and humblest of life forms. Similar stilted wooden-soled sandals can be found in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and as far west as Syria and Turkey, although the knobs are replaced with straps ranging from embroidered fabric to simple twisted fiber loops. Syrian wooden sandals, often inlaid with silver wire and mother-of-pearl, were dubbed kab-kabs after the sound they make when being walked in. Although the use of these styles is not influenced by Hinduism, their origins were most assuredly from the Hindu toe-knob sandal.