Do 'Real Men' Wear Flip-Flops?

Add flip-flops to crying, whining, wasting words and eating quiche. "Real men," it seems, don't wear flip-flops.

So says hip-hop artist DMX, who recently dismissed rapper Jay-Z's sartorial sense with the comment “Thugs don't do flip-flops.”

But DMX is only the latest man to dis flip-flop wearing fellas, and it seems the world's simplest form of sandal has become the flashpoint in what some say is a long-coming backlash against the metrosexual trend.

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“There is a backlash,” said Jill Siefert, professor of fashion design at the Art Institute of California-San Francisco, who thinks men are edging away from the perfectly matching outfits of yesterday in favor of a more crinkled, grizzled look. “Men don't want to be categorized as metrosexual.”

"Metrosexual," of course, is the once-ubiquitous buzzword used to describe a man who spends an inordinate amount of time and money on his personal appearance.

The metrosexual movement spawned shows like “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” the idea that it's OK for men to get manicures and pedicures and an inestimable number of debates about the relative merits of men's hair-styling products.

However, the aversion to men baring their toes applies even to those who openly embrace the metrosexual lifestyle but have gotten more than their fill of flip-flop fashion.

“The flip-flop thing for men really got out of control,” said Dallas lifestyle guru Steve Kemble, who hosts a segment called “Stylin Steve” on the Dallas FOX affiliate KDFW and is a member of US Weekly's Fashion Police.

“I'm always baffled at what makes men think women will be attracted to them in a two-for-$10 pair of Wal-Mart flip-flops,” he said. “No one wants to look at a man's dirty, hairy, nasty toes. And whenever you see a man wearing flip-flops, 90 percent are not groomed toes — that probably hurt the cause of flip-flops more than anything else.”

Only a few years ago, John, a 40-something man who works in TV news, considered flip-flops and sandals his 10 toes' closest friends. Now he thinks they're simply "too 2003-2004."

“I used to wear them all the time, but I just can't do them anymore,” he said.

In fact, it's not just men who've gotten flack for wearing flip-flops. When several members of national championship-winning Northwestern University women's lacrosse team wore flip-flops to the White House for a picture with President Bush in July 2005, they received angry letters from all over the country (they later auctioned off their flip-flops and gave the proceeds to a girl with brain cancer).

With press like that, it's no wonder flip-flops aren't earning the admiration of men who want to be taken seriously.

"They're not something a man wears," said Matthew T. O'Neill, an emergency-room doctor in New York. "It's baffling to see all these guys walking around wearing them with all the [dirt] that's around here on the streets in this city. This isn't some tropical island paradise. This is New York. Flip-flops aren't combat boots — they're not manly."

"They're non-manly for casual wear," added New Jersey lawyer David A. Brooks. "I wear sandals, but not flip-flops. I use flip-flops as my shower shoes at the gym."

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At least one manly man even took a philosophical stance against the humble sandal.

"I think the cheap ones are non-manly — they are [lacking in] power," said Mark Wright, a business-school student in Cambridge, Mass. "They are physically weak (unlike, say, a boot); they're cheap, suggesting the wearer is poor (unlike, say, a nice Italian shoe); in addition they make no statement and have no character."

While she does think there's a backlash against the metrosexual trend, Siefert came to the defense of the flipped-on flip-flop, saying DMX wasn't taking into account the vast cultural and geographic differences that make the beach shoes a no-no in Minnesota and perennially de rigueur in Southern California.

Advertising “man expert” Rose Cameron, of the Leo Burnett agency, said that if anything, the flip-flop flap is a sign of men "trying to regain their sense of power in this shifting world" and refusing to be perceived as pretty boys.

“Let's be honest here,” she said. “The flip-flop is a frivolous piece of footwear with no substantive purpose in life [other] than as slip-and-go footwear. It's not a performance piece of footwear, and shoes really do make the man. What DMX is essentially saying is flip-flops ain't making that man. The poor little flip-flop is getting trashed by this.”

But Paul Friedman, a 32-year-old New Jersey lawyer, thinks flop-flops can fly — on some occasions.

"The simple, unadorned look says something like 'I just got out of bed to get some coffee and didn't feel like getting dressed up and I had these lying around from last weekend's trip to the beach, so leave me alone,'" he said.

"But when flip-flops start using a lot of leather and are more than just a stop-gap measure until something more masculine can be found, it smacks of a contrived effort to look casual, and is a little feminine to boot. If one doesn't have a sense for these distinctions, I'd say its better to avoid them all together. Did Ronald Reagan or John Wayne ever wear man sandals? I doubt it."

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