Jandals: What Are They?

Jandals. It’s a term meant to describe a sandal: that much we know. But it’s a contraction of “sandal” and what, exactly? Some will claim that Jandals are “Jesus sandals.” Others claim they’re the less holy “jail sandals,” while a third group argues that “jandals” is a contraction of “Japanese” and “sandals.” Is it one? All three? It’s time to settle the debate once and for all.

Let’s start with the Jesus style sandals. These are a good contender for the term Jandals. These bad boys really do look like ancient relics from olden times. These are made by Pali Hawaii, though they have taken off in popularity all over the mainland, and if you take a college tour you’ll be sure to see many twenty-somethings sporting these simple shoes. The most popular styles are usually understated brown shades but Pali Hawaii Jandals are also available in many bright shades as well.

They’re made with a soft, flexible plastic and because of this are completely waterproof. You can’t walk on water with these, but you can walk in water and not worry about getting your shoes wet. But are Jesus sandals the real Jandals?

Pali Hawaii gets a Jandals point for having copyrighted the term, but the folks of Urban Dictionary have their own definitions they stand by. On the slang site, there is only one definition that describes “jandals” as Jesus sandals, and it is toward the bottom of the list. The overwhelming amount of responses come from New Zealanders who argue that Jandal is in fact a contraction for “Japanese Sandal.”

It makes sense that Jandals would stand for Japanese Sandals, especially in New Zealand. According to New Zealand's government history site, a businessman from Auckland, New Zealand named Morris Yock was a trader who spent some time in Asia and was inspired by the Japanese footwear called zori. Zori are like modern day flip flops but made of straw or wood. Inspired by this and sensing that the simple shoe would take off in New Zealand, Morris started manufacturing them in the ‘50s in Auckland and named them “Jandals,” for “Japanese sandals.”

Therefore, Jandals in this sense are flip flops, the flat sole with the Y-strap, or as one Urban Dictionary contributor defined, “what you damn Aussies call thongs!” This seems to be the consensus among most of the contributors to the definition of Jandals. The most popular definition says that Jandals are “a ubiquitous New Zealand rubber sandal, equivalent the Australian rubber thong or US/UK flip flop,” giving an example of “I’d wear ya Jandals mate, the showers are pretty chancrous.”

But although the New Zealanders have made a fairly good case for “Japanese sandals,” there’s one more candidate to consider. This, of course, is the “jail sandal.”

We’ve all seen movies and tv shows depicting sad, shuffling inmates wearing orange jumpsuits and thick-soled, slipper-like sandals. Some might say that “Jandals” refer not to flip flops inspired from Japan nor to Jesus-style sandals, but to something altogether different: sandals inspired by convicts.

Jandals in this context does not refer to a specific style of shoe necessarily, but refers to any sandal worn by prison inmates. For example, some jandals might have two straps while some would have just one, like a pair of slides. Jail sandals are also a bit different in structure to the other Jandals discussed here. They are usually made from a soft EVA foam (a synthetic, soft and squishy flexible plastic foam), making them comfortable to walk on. They’re also waterproof, odor proof, wear-resistant, and slip-resistant. Better than all of this though, is the fact that these shoes cannot be used as a weapon by prison inmates---they’re hard to cut through, and too soft to cause any harm. 

Modern “jandals” in this regard are quite the step up from the prison uniforms of old. In the 19th century, before national prison standards and dress codes, prisoners often were not issued footwear at all, instead being forced to walk everywhere barefoot. In Oregon in the 1860s, prisoners were forced to wear the brutal “Prison boot” or “Oregon boot,” which was a work boot with a 50 pound weight attached from the sole of the shoe to the prisoner’s ankle. While the papers at the time claimed this contraption had “a fair degree of comfort,” it left several prisoners with permanent limps and other damage.

Though modern "jail sandals" are actually quite comfy, this version of "jandals" are decidedly less popular than Pali's Jandals and the classic flip flop, but who knows? If the Crocs had their moment in the sun, maybe jail sandals will too.

So let’s review. Kiwis from New Zealand claim that not only did they invent the term “jandal,” it doesn’t identify to a typical sandal at all, but rather the classic Y-strapped flip flop.

Young people, among whom the Pali Hawaii copyrighted Jandal has become a closet staple, claim that these Jandals are the one true Jandal.

Another group, seemingly only vocal on Urban Dictionary, claims that Jandals are “jailhouse sandals worn by tweens who think they’re hipster and have never been to jail.”

Which of these “jandals” do you think is the one true Jandal? Perhaps this breakdown of the definitions has influenced you, or perhaps your mind will never be changed. It probably depends on your age and location on this good green earth. Maybe this is the first time you’ve ever heard the term “jandal.”

Whatever the case, we have our own opinion. Jandals are Jesus sandals made by Pali Hawaii. They’re perfect for bringing to the beach, and if you get a pair in one of the bright colors they offer, you won’t lose them in the sand or surf. Plus, their rising popularity means that you can go from surfing to shopping without changing your footwear. The flexible plastic is comfy and won’t break or rip. Flip flops aren’t Jandals, they’re flip flops over here in the US. Get with the program, New Zealand! And we don’t really want to show off our new shoes if they’re called jail sandals. We prefer Jesus sandals. But that’s just us. Whatever you think of when you think of Jandals, we hope you go on the best adventures with them.