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In praise of flip-flops: the most versatile shoe ever

Model Gisele Bundchen attends a photocall to present the new "Ipanema" Flip Flop at Grand Hotel Intercontinental in Paris, France.

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Model Gisele Bundchen attends a photocall to present the new "Ipanema" Flip Flop at Grand Hotel Intercontinental in Paris, France.

Oh for God’s sake: Why not a flip-flop?

A comfy bed for the foot, a deftly engineered thong squinched between two toes, no excess, no towering look-at-me-toddling-down-the-street heel, all minimalism, all function, a shoe that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe himself could love.

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Are they casual, too casual for some of the places they appear? Perhaps. Some of you have heard the gently percussive thap-thap-thap of a tardy flip-flop wearer trying to sneak into the back pew of a church on Sunday. Many more have arched an eyebrow as a 20-something techie — outfitted in nerdy glasses, fraying cargo shorts, and flip-flops — saunters through the office, your boss in tow, his attention riveted as if the secrets of the universe were being revealed. Well, get used to it, people. We gave up sock garters and corsets, and the world didn’t end. The paradigm has shifted, and it is gleefully wiggling its toes.

The truth is, amid a profusion of lower-back tattoos, toad-green nail polish, and earlobes stretched to accommodate quarter-size gauges, the unassuming flip-flop seems the least of our sartorial shortcomings. What it needs is a good PR agent, a makeover, a rebranding!

Let’s start with the name. Flip-flop? How is an item saddled with a name like “flip-flop” ever going to flourish, ever transcend the scorn of little minds?

In my day, of course, they were known as thongs. But thanks to Victoria’s Secret and Monica Lewinsky and any number of “Real World” episodes, that’s no longer an option, certainly not one that’s going to burnish their profile.

Perhaps we should call them zoris, as the Japanese do. Zoris, worn with socks called tabi, can be paired with the most elegant kimonos in Japan and no one bats an eye. Traditional geta, the thong sandals made with wooden soles and elevated on short blocks, actually serve to protect the feet from puddles and even snow. Shoes to be worn only on a beach? Hardly.

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Maybe flip-flops need a new name entirely, a fresh coinage. What about something like “glissonds”? Sounds vaguely musical, which could be good, but what guy is going to buy a pair of “glissonds”? Half the market share gone overnight. What about “blippits” or “samdales” (three syllables, emphasis on “da,” as if the speaker hails from Guadalajara)? Or “turray”? A bit like beret, but less snobby and French.

With a new name, the flip-flop is almost there, a clean slate ready for reinterpretation. The design industry has already done the rest.

Today there are trendy platform flip-flops, rhinestone-encrusted flip-flops, flip-flops for brides, Bottega Veneta men’s flip-flops (a jaw-dropping $490 at Saks Fifth Avenue), flip-flops for baby showers, parent-teacher meetings, dinner with the in-laws. Name another type of footwear that is as versatile, as practical, as fun-loving. Obviously, you can’t.

And yet the widespread acceptance of flip-flops in most every setting is dependent on something no PR campaign can control: the careful tending of a nation’s toes.

Many women can disregard this admonition, as the soaking, scraping, filing, and painting of one’s toenails is a ritual often begun in adolescence, if not childhood. But for men, not so much. A monthly trim with rusty $3 clippers pulled from the bottom of a gym bag does not make you ready for primetime, gentlemen.

Dunk your sorry dogs in the tub, grab a pumice stone, and get to work. Callus free, your feet will feel better and look better. And with your nails cleaned and filed properly, your wife will stop recoiling in horror when your foot creeps over onto her side of the bed.

Finally, you’ll be able to don your flip-flops with confidence. Because the fault, dear reader, is not in our shoes, but in our feet.

Hayley Kaufman can be reached at hkaufman@globe.com.

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