Saturday, September 4, 2010
A brief history of the plastic thong
After the Second World War it was important to build up the economies Asia countries and help them become self sufficient. One of the first industries to boom was the footwear industry with mass-produced plastic sandals becoming a major export. By the fifties new moulding techniques for rubber and plastic were introduced in Taiwan and elsewhere which allowed cheaper shoes to be turned out in their millions. Traditionally wooden sandals were the footwear of choice for millions of ordinary people in Asia. Simple sandals (sandal from the root ‘sandis’ meaning board) consisting of foot platform with toe and sometimes heel attachments (thongs) were known to exist in Stone Age times and are thought to represent one of the first shoe designs. Different cultures used whatever raw materials were to hand to craft the simple foot cover. Wooden sandals were worn in the Middle East and India (these are clearly depicted on sculptures, temples and in Sanskrit writing, circa 3000 BCE: rice straw sandals in China and Japan; rawhide sandals in Africa and papyrus (paper) sandals were worn in Egypt (circa1500 B.C.E.). In Persia sandals were crafted from wood and had a toe separator between the first and second toe with no thong. Platform soles were worn in bath houses and harems. Often the wooden sandals were intricately inlaid with pearl and other semi precious stones. By Biblical times sandals were commonly worn throughout much of the known world. Wood was hard wearing, readily available and preferred by some religious sects e.g. Hindus, who would not wear leather. It remains unclear whether these sandals were indigenous to India or taken from Persia (or vice versa). Trade between the Western and Eastern civilization was well established in antiquity and it is expected fashion exchange took place along the Spice and Silk routes. So it is possible the thong sandal was taken to the Far East from the Mediterranean but also as likely the reverse is true. No one really knows. Traditionally the Japanese wore two styles of traditional sandal i.e. the zori and the geta. Zori were flat bottomed sandals originally made with straw sole and leather thongs and held between the first and second toes. These are also known as Tatami Sandals. These were widely used in Japan from at least the Heian period (794-1185) although there is no history beyond this to indicate whether these were indigenous or imported to Japan. The Japanese geta is a wooden platform sandal held to the feet with a flexible thong (sometimes rope or a black velveteen fabric) that goes through the base of the sandal, up between the big toe and the second toe and then the two ends go over the arch back toward the middle or back of the foot. Getas are worn barefoot whereas Zori and Tatami sandals are worn with tabi, which is white cotton foot covering (like socks) with a split toe, between the big toe and the other four toes for the sandal thong. In 1956, the Olympic Games were covered on television for the first time and the eyes of the world fell on Melbourne, Australia. When the Japanese swimming team came to the pool side they wore getas. The ceremonial procession became a camera spectacle which was broadcast all over the world. The fashion for plastic flip flop sandals soon followed thanks to a Hong Kong based shoe manufacturer, John Cowie who had previously had seen Getas, Tatami and Zori sandals on a visit to Japan. He took advantage of the new plastic industry and started to mass produce plastic thongs. New Zealander, Maurice Yock then took them to New Zealand and patented rubber thongs calling them Jandals (a combination of Japan and Sandal) in 1957. Plastic sandals were mass produced cheaply in Japan and became a stable post war manufacturing industry especially when they started selling all over the world. New Zealand sales rocketed and soon Australians wanted to wear the casual sandals they had seen on the Melbourne Olympics. Other parts of the Far East wore variations on the thong type of sandal and these are considered unique to these regions. In Singapore the thong attachment is a strap across the top of the foot which follows the metatarsal heads. This is known as the Singapore Slide and the design later became incorporated into the Scholl Exercise Sandal. In the Philippines the wooden platform was decorated with intricate and ornate carvings. The US troops posted to the Pacific eagerly took home the carved platform sandals as souvenirs and many believe this was why sandals became popular in the US after the war. By the mid to late 50s in UK and Western Europe the new plastic flip flops from the east were a must for all package holiday tourists visiting the sun kissed beaches of the Mediterranean. In the 60s cheap shoes found popularity among many low social economical demographics including populations previously used to wearing straw espadrilles. In South America the plastic pluggers were called Havaianas (pronounced ha-vie-yon-ahs) or flip-flops. In recent years the humble flip flop has become staple fair for the elegant fashionista. The normal construction of the plastic thong usually has the thong attachment riveted to the plastic base. This is called a 'single plugger' thong. Due to an apparent fault in the production line a double rivet was madfe and the thongs were chrisitained "double pluggers." To the best of my knowledge out of all thong wearers across the globe its only Australia the Double Plugger holds sartorial sway.