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THE ESSENTIALS

The classic huarache, all pumped up

Toss last year's gladiators. This old favorite, done up in heels and bold colors, is the right sandal for today's return to basics.

March 08, 2009|Melissa Magsaysay

Last year's ubiquitous gladiator sandals made city streets look like an ancient battleground full of urban warriors. This spring, however, the look is more relaxed and decidedly down to earth, which makes huaraches a perfect fit.

The traditional handmade Mexican shoes date back hundreds of years and are distinguished by their elaborately woven and layered leather tops. In the 1930s, recycled rubber tires made the soles more durable, and through the 1960s, huaraches spread beyond the working-class men and women who'd always worn them to become a laid-back wardrobe staple for hippies and surfers up and down the West Coast.

"I grew up in Echo Park and remember seeing a lot of people wearing huaraches," says Mike and Chris designer Mike Gonzalez. "I always thought they were really cool and intricate." Gonzalez has interpreted huaraches for spring as a sleek, peep-toe pump with three woven leather straps crossing the top of the foot, bringing a high-end quality to the common shoe. "It's the concept of mixing high and low, to create something that everyone can wear."

Authentic huaraches are still around, and abundantly available on Olvera Street, where several stalls sell them for about $24 a pair. But it's interpretations of the classic that are surfacing as the hot sandal this season, in everything from metallic to rainbow colors. Soles range from the traditional flat bottoms to treacherous wedge and stack heels.

Urban Outfitters and Target are doing relatively traditional versions, open-toed and flat, but giving them a modern twist with color -- playful rainbow straps on the Target version and solid purple and green on the Urban Outfitters shoe.

For a '70s spin, check out the Bella from Banana Republic and the Delanco from Jessica Simpson. Both have wood platform soles, chunky stack heels and woven leather uppers that come in vibrant gold and bright orange, respectively.

If you go for the original -- I bought my flat, closed-toe pair on Olvera for $24.99 -- there are ways to make breaking in the stiff leather a lot more comfortable. Foot Petals makes thin, cushiony Strappy Strips that can be stuck inside a bothersome strap. And if you're prone to blisters, anti-friction balm like the Dr. Scholl's for Her Miracle Shield can also help.

These shoes may be perennials, but this season they also feel like a sign of the times -- practical, pared-down and accessible.

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melissa.magsaysay@latimes.com

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