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When was Birkenstock founded?
The iconic brand goes back centuries, dating back to 1774 and the forward-thinking Birkenstock family from north-west Germany. News of the first contoured sole spread quickly across Europe and the UK.
The sandal design was honed further and a Californian woman, Margot Fraser, “discovered” their brilliance in 1966 on a visit to Germany. She started importing the shoes, which were a huge hit with the flower-power generation of the late 60s and 70s, who prized both comfort and style and rejected the buttoned-up attitudes and fashions of their parents’ generation.
Birkenstocks boomed again in the early 90s, gracing the feet of indie and grunge fans who enjoyed laid back West Coast vibes. In the 21st century, “birkies” are here to stay, a footwear classic that works everywhere from the beach to the boardroom. You can style them however you like, and there’s no more comfortable way to get your 10k steps.
What are the popular collections of Birkenstocks in 2019?
Arizona – the absolute unisex classic. Embrace the chunky look – these have a muscular, masculine feel to them, but they’ll also look amazing on women, teamed either with cropped jeans for a laid-back feel (they’ll make your ankles look dainty…) or a more feminine looking floaty dress for balance. The Arizona style has been an integral part of the brand since the 70's, which means you shouldn't be paying full price as the popular style is regularly discounted in the sales by retailers.
Madrid – designed for women, with one big, bold, buckled strap, these are the shoes for laid-back summer days. Wear them with skinnies and an oversized shirt for chilling out in the city, or kick them off as you settle into your sunlounger.
Mayari – the Birkenstock take on thong sandals, this women’s style is one for summer nights and showing off a flawless pedicure. We love the metallic stones versions!
Zurich – With a single, ultra-wide strip, these sandals are a bit different and make quite the statement. They’re for men and women, but we can see these working particularly well on guys who work in a creative office.
Gizeh – a minimalist classic, this women’s toe-post style is a real all-rounder. The simple t-shaped strap comes in a huge range of colours and designs, from the sober to the whimsical – meadow flowers, anyone?
Are there unisex styles of Birkenstocks?
Yes, and the classic androgynous look is key to this brand’s charm.
Many styles are made for men and women, such as the iconic Arizona, classic Milano, stylish Boston clogs and Ramses, which are a slightly chunkier version of the Gizeh.
Moving away from the core styles, the Tokio slingback clogs also have men’s and women’s versions. They all have quite a different look, but are easily recognisable as Birkenstocks – with solid, bold styling that can be ultra-casual or laid-back smart when paired with linen trousers or similar.
Some styles only have a women’s version, such as the Mayari – one of the strappier, more complex styles - or Gizeh, or the wedge-soled, strappy Lana. A more unusual style is the asymmetric Yao, which comes in a variety of (mostly vegan) colours.
How do Birkenstock sizes fit?
Birkenstocks are designed to be roomy – comfort and proper arch support are key to the brand’s genesis and its appeal. For those with broader feet, this is music to our ears – and don’t forget you can adjust the straps on most models to get a bespoke fit.
Men’s birkies typically come in M width, for regular to wide feet. If you are a woman with broad feet, you might benefit from choosing a “men’s” style (in reality, they’re all unisex and look fantastic on either sex).
N width is for narrower feet, and this sizing will suit you if you find your feet moving from side to side in M width sandals. Some women’s styles like the Gizeh or Mayari run narrower, so it’s also worth checking these out.
Do I want the original or the soft footbed?
Wearing Birkenstocks feels a bit like standing on sand – it moulds and builds up support where you need it.
The traditional footbed – the idea of comfort that inspired the Birkenstock family over two centuries ago – supports every muscle of your feet, from the toes, through the arches, to the deep heel cup. This will be ideal for most of us – it might sound odd, but firm support is actually generally more comfortable (think about how you feel after a night on a too-soft mattress…).
They don’t need to be “broken in” as such, but, if you aren’t used to wearing this style of shoe, it’s sensible to wear them for short distances and around the house for the first day or so, before putting them fully through their paces.
Those of us with more sensitive feet might prefer the soft footbed, which features distinctive blue writing on the inside of the shoe. This is like walking on a cloud: the cork footbed is softer and has more give, meaning perfect comfort from day one.
A lot of the styles, like the classic Arizona, come in a soft footbed versions. They offer additional shock protection for walking on hard surfaces, will adjust to your foot shape more quickly, and can accommodate a slightly larger foot – worth bearing in mind if you’re between sizes.
Oh no, I got my Birkenstocks wet! Are they ruined?
Your birkies weren’t designed to be worn in the rain, but let’s face it, this is the UK, not California – these things happen!
If they’re clogs like Boston or Tokio, stuff them with newspaper and let them dry naturally.
For sandals, just keep them in a dry place – not on a direct heat source like a radiator, which could lead to the cork shrinking – and just let the water evaporate. Use Birkenstock Stain and Water Repellant before you wear them again, and they’ll be as good as new.
What are Birko Flor and Birkbuc?
Lots of Birkenstock models are now available in these highly sophisticated synthetic materials. They are highly durable, easy to clean, and completely cruelty free.
Birko Flor is synthetic leather, made from polyamide fibres to give an authentic look and feel.
Birkbuc is basically synthetic suede, which looks just like the real thing but is easier to care for.
Are there vegan Birkenstocks?
You can avoid wearing leather and suede by choosing synthetic uppers or, for models that are certified as vegan throughout the manufacturing process, you have a wide range of some of the most popular models to choose from.
There are vegan Arizona, Gizeh, Mayari, Madrid, Florida and Toulon sandals as well as Boston clogs. The vegan range is “produced with animal-friendly, ecologically-sound and sustainable materials” such as a cork-latex footbed, synthetic Birko-Flor straps, and sturdy EVA soles. Both men’s and women’s styles are available.