Thongs, Flip Flops, Slides, and Sandals - What's the Difference?

Thongs, Flip Flops, Slides, and Sandals - What's the Difference?

Flip flops, sandals, slides and thongs. We know that these all fall into the “comfy shoe” category, and they all seem like great choices for the beach, yoga, or a quick run out to do errands. But what exactly is the difference between each of these terms?

Let’s start with the umbrella term: sandals. In the U.S., sandals refer to any shoe that are open to the elements and are held onto the foot with straps. Therefore, flip flops, thongs, and slides are all considered a type of sandal, but a sandal could also be a pair of Birkenstocks, a gladiator-style shoe, strappy heels, a pair of Crocs, and a number of other styles.

There are sandals for every occasion. For instance, a strappy wedge heel could be dressed up with a nice evening gown, or a pair of outdoorsy hiking sandals could be packed for a camping and river-rafting trip. There are even slippers with straps that could be considered sleepwear sandals.

Now that we’ve got that established, let’s unpack an American classic: flip flops. These of course are the flat-soled shoes secured by a y-shaped front strap, and include no heel strap or support. The main thing keeping flip flops on your feet is the grip of your toes on the strap, although the strap will rest on the top of your foot and give a little extra stability there.

Named for the sound they make when someone wearing them walks around, they have been a staple in American beach couture since the 1960s. However, the earliest recording of flip flops dates back to ancient Egypt.

There is a cultural divide when it comes to flip flops---older generations still see them as strictly casual wear meant for the beach, while more and more young people are finding it acceptable to dress flip flops up and include them as evening wear.

Interestingly, these versatile shoes have funny different names in a variety of settings. In Australia, for example, the flip flop Americans know and love is called a thong. Yep, thongs are just another name for flip flops.This can be the root of hilarious mix-ups, as in the US “thong” is the name for g-string style underwear. You can see how strongly Australians feel about their thongs in this article in the Sydney Morning Herald. In South Africa, flip flops are called “slops” and in the UK they are generally just referred to as “sandals.”

The ever-trending slides, too, are a kind of sandal. Slides are similar to flip flops in that they have a flat sole, but instead of a y-strap, slides have a single, wide strap that crosses the front of the foot near the toes. Because this strap is wide, elevated, and does not sit firmly on the skin, they can be easily slid in and out of (hence the name “slides”) and because there is no strap that goes between the toes, slides can be worn with socks. Slides are popular in the sporting world because they can be worn after sports practices when an athlete no longer wants to wear his or her cleats, and thick football or soccer socks can fit into slides without hassle.

No matter what kind of sandal you wear, there are benefits and drawbacks to the popular shoes. The benefits are that sandals allow your feet to breathe. When we don’t let our feet breathe, bacteria and sweat can build up, causing athlete’s foot or just plain smelly feet. Sandals allow the air to circulate so your feet remain dry and clear.

Sandals also allow for ease of access, so you can pop them on and off and be ready to go in seconds.

Sandals often tend to be waterproof and quick to dry, making them the perfect footwear to bring to the beach or to explore damp environments like riverbeds or waterfalls.

One drawback to sandals is that if the straps are ill-fitting or made of cheap plastic, they can rub on the skin and cause sores. To prevent this, look for sandals that have leather, nylon, or neoprene straps. These are better quality and lessen the chances of rubbing. You can find each of these kinds of straps in the inventory at

When you’re on the go, out in nature, or even just hanging at home, you’re going to want a pair of quality sandals nearby.