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Invasion of the flip flops: an anti-flip-flop rant

Members of the Northwestern University championship women’s lacrosse team caused a stir by wearing flip-flops duringaWhite House visit in 2005.

David Bohrer/The White House via AP

Members of the Northwestern University championship women’s lacrosse team caused a stir by wearing flip-flops duringaWhite House visit in 2005.

Let me set the scene for you: It was a deliciously warm evening and I was having a perfectly lovely dinner in the South End. I was seated at an outdoor table with a close friend, catching up over a flickering candle. The combination of the warm breeze and the glass of prosecco was melting away residual stress like a bathtub full of Calgon. Then I heard the dreaded noise: Thwack, slap. Thwack, slap. Over and over.

Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff)

A couple wearing flip-flops decided that the appropriate footwear for fine dining was rubber sandals that smell like a tire fire. Naturally they were seated next to me. The gentleman crossed his legs, revealing an absolutely filthy foot in the moonlight. His companion, otherwise well dressed, had feet that looked like she spent the day in the nearest creek panning for gold.

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It’s something that I truly can’t understand — like the scientific formula for Silly Putty or the appeal of the Kardashians. Why are more and more people choosing to wear flip-flops as replacements for actual shoes?

Before you start dismissing these as the ramblings of a curmudgeon, let me be clear that I’m all for flip-flops at the beach, or for an afternoon of walking around the Cape. They’re great for children. They have their place, but that place is not in the city, the workplace, or at a nice restaurant. Flip-flops are the invasive species of footwear.

essdras m suarez/ globe staff

I reached my limit when a friend recently asked me for advice on what kind of flip-flops were best for walking around New York City.

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The answer was easy: “None, unless you enjoy the tickle of pigeon droppings and gravel between your toes.”

I’m ready to defend my petty sartorial grumblings with some hard facts. Not only are flip-flops damaging aesthetically, they’re also damaging physically. According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, cheap flip-flops or prolonged flip-flop wear can result in an increase in tendinitis, stress fractures, and other foot injuries. You can find a list of APMA-approved flip-flops on the organization’s website, but I suggest you go to Zappos
.com and buy yourself a decent pair of shoes instead.

“With excessive walking due to the lack of support of a traditional flip-flop, there is a greater risk of inflammation of the arch of the foot and the heel — plantar fasciitis,” James Christina, director of scientific affairs at the APMA, told me.

But more than hurting feet, I worry that flip-flops are eroding what’s left of society’s standards of respectful appearance. I’m not saying that men should be wearing suits and penny loafers, or women should be strutting in expensive and uncomfortable stilettoes at all times. There’s no longer anything I can do about sweatpants emblazoned with buttock messages, pajama bottoms, pajama jeans, Snuggies, Slankets, or (shudder) Crocs. But I’m ready to do my part to drive flip-flops back to the beach.

This is what “Project Runway” fashion sage Tim Gunn once referred to as “The slobifaction of America.” A man in Oregon has a less delicate way of saying this. Troy Torgerson started a blog called I Hate Flip Flops (www.ihateflipflops.com). We conversed through e-mail and he raised important points about these loathsome slabs of rubber. “They’re lazy,” he wrote. “They don’t make anyone look good, and how can you out run a zombie wearing them?”

Zombies probably have fewer germs than flip-flops. Last week a biochemist told New York magazine reporter Jason Feifer that well-worn flip-flops are “full of bugs. It’s totally disgusting.”

I’m not worried about zombies or microorganisms — at least for now — but I am selfishly worried about another peaceful dinner interrupted by noisy, dirty footwear.

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.
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