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BY DESIGN : Not Your Father's Seersucker . . . : . . . Or His Sad-Sack Sandals


A thin line separates fashion from folly. The man who wears sandals may find himself tramping firmly upon it.

Few other articles of clothing carry such unfortunate cultural baggage among American males, evoking images of fat uncles and European tourists with chalky white legs. When men's sandals began appearing on fashion runways in Paris and Milan in recent years, the battle lines were quickly drawn.

GQ found the footwear "very rakish with shorts or even a tieless linen suit."

Esquire fired back with tongue in cheek: "Never wear sandals of any kind."

In relatively short order, open toes and thick leather straps have made their way from the runways to the street. They were led into the fashion fray by the athletic sandal, a newcomer whose rugged sole and crisscrossing canvas straps appealed to traditionally reticent American man.

Building upon the sales of all those sporty Tevas and Nikes, a variety of fancier styles has arrived at stores in time for summer.

At Barneys New York in Beverly Hills, shoe department manager Anthony Pagliuso is steeringcustomers toward Cole-Haan's calf-skin sandals to go with, say, a Donna Karan blazer. Such style insists upon fine hosiery to bring out the texture of the leather.

"Now that men are becoming more comfortable with wearing sandals," he says, "the dressy styles are gaining in popularity."

The trusty fisherman sandal has returned, too, along with the sober if not slightly kinky biblical versions. You know the look: thin leather soles topped by thick, interlocking straps. It's enough to inspire visions of Charlton Heston in "The Ten Commandments." Bass offers both a "Samson" and a "Goliath" model.

Birkenstocks have also reared their ugly soles and, as with a few other styles, are being worn with white socks.

The less adventurous man can opt for Ecco's "Alpha" sandal, whose rubber sole and closed leather upper are merely evocative of a sandal, or a classic woven huarache that shows not so much toe or heel. Genera sells a version of this Mexican classic.

"Just try it," Pagliuso says. "If you like the way you look, then you look fine."

And if not, try shaving your head and wearing seersucker.

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