The AnOther Guide to Wearing Birkenstocks

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Photography by Timo Wirsching, T-shirt by Carhatt, white crepe skirt by Le Kilt

We explore the ultimate styling possibilities for this classic shoe

PhotographyTimo WirschingStylingIanthe WrightPhotographic EditorHolly HayTextAnOther

Much of our adult lives are spent trying to build the perfect wardrobe, searching for ultimates in everything from brilliant basics to supremely satisfying workout clothes. It can be challenging, and requires rigour and dedication. One can get distracted – giving in to that item that you know, deep down, is never going to be an ultimate, providing a short-lived thrill. Securing a place on that ultimates list has to be a pair of Birkenstocks: a design classic, favoured for its ease, simplicity, practicality and luxurious comfort.

The history of this iconic shoe can be traced back to 1774, when Johann Adam Birkenstock first registered as a shoemaker in the small German village of Langen-Bergheim, founding the family business which was to become a highly regarded supplier of orthopaedic footwear. It wasn’t until 1964 that the first sandal was developed; named the Madrid, it featured the iconic footbed, precisely contoured to stretch and flex naturally, resulting in maximum comfort and improved circulation for the wearer. For over 200 years, the Birkenstock principles have remained the same: health and wellness, quality workmanship and materials, and a respect for the environment. Every pair is still lovingly crafted in Germany.

The AnOther editors are regularly challenged about their personal style tips, from athleisure to elevated basics. Unsurprisingly, Birkenstocks in all their guises feature as a regular staple at AnOther HQ, from high summer through to the depths of winter (there’s a shearling-lined Birkenstock, of course). Here, we explore the various ways to style a Birkenstock – from chic sock pairings to sports luxe.

Birkenstocks worn with raw indigo denim… recommended by Maisie Skidmore

Describe your personal style in three words... Many functional layers.

Your earliest Birkenstock memory? My mum was an ardent lover of Birkenstocks throughout the 90s. I have very strong memories of trying to match my own toes to the indentations hers had left. I’m delighted now that we can finally share.

How do Birkenstocks make you feel? I’m a firm believer that the more comfortable you feel, the more spectacular you look, regardless both of the outfit and of where you wear it. In this, Birkenstocks are utterly unrivalled.

Favourite way to style Birkenstocks? I love the utilitarianism of raw indigo denim; it’s so strongly rooted in the history of workwear that to reappropriate it now, for my decidedly un-strenuous daily routine, feels quite luxurious. Worn with a huge turn-up to show some ankle, and a grounded in a black slip-on shoe, it’s elevated to new planes entirely.

What are your Birkenstock shopping considerations? A style which will hold up as well for a day running around London as it will hiking over hills in search of abandoned beaches on holiday.

Your dream Birkenstock wearer? I like the idea of Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly hiding a pair of black leather Arizonas under that Givenchy gown.

A fantasy journey in Birkenstocks... Safari! I’d cross Zanzibar in an open-top car wearing neutral linens, a bush hat and a cork sole and never even need to change my shoes.

Birkenstocks worn with socks… recommended by Holly Hay

Describe your personal style in three words... Casual, monochrome, unsexy.

Your earliest Birkenstock memory? I went to contemporary dance school every Saturday between the ages of nine and 16. When I was 11, I spotted one of the scary but cool older girls wearing white, one-strap Birkenstocks with thick sports socks. I couldn’t think of anything better.

How do Birkenstocks make you feel? Like myself.

What are your Birkenstock shopping considerations? Should I finally go for something that is not black or white? Can I get away with wearing them with socks? More recently: would my fiancé mind if I wore Birkenstocks with my wedding dress?

The ultimate Birkenstock tip? Sheepskin-lined. It will change your life.

A fantasy journey in Birkenstocks... Down the aisle (too late, damn it).

Your essential foot care tip? Pumice every time you shower.

Birkenstocks worn with bare ankles and a statement earring… recommended by Hannah Tindle

Describe your personal style in three words... Overly large earrings.

Your earliest Birkenstock memory? Going to folk music events with my dad when I was young.

How do Birkenstocks make you feel? That sensible footwear can be equally as empowering as the highest pair of platforms.

Favourite way to style Birkenstocks? I like to wear Birkenstocks with anything that shows off the ankles – so a cropped trouser, or skirt. The juxtaposition of a sturdy sandal next to a slender ankle is rather alluring.

What are your Birkenstock shopping considerations? The colour and material of the upper. My go-to choice is usually white leather, but I was very drawn to this pair, which feel particularly reminiscent of Japanese minimalism.

The ultimate Birkenstock tip? Don’t shy away from wearing them with men’s clothes.

Dream Birkenstock wearer? Mary-Kate and/or Ashley, accessorised with a coffee the size of their own heads.

A fantasy journey in Birkenstocks... A stroll around the Noguchi Museum.

Your essential foot care tip? At night-time, after soaking in bath oils, slather your feet with an intensely hydrating balm and put on a pair of cashmere socks. By morning, the texture of your feet will almost mimic that of the socks.

Birkenstocks worn with luxe sportswear… recommended by Ianthe Wright

Describe your personal style in three words... Junior mister department.

Your earliest Birkenstock memory? Buying the one-strap in Neal Street aged 13 and wearing them with boy jeans, slung Britpop low.

How do Birkenstocks make you feel? Planted.

Favourite way to style Birkenstocks? A nod to late 70s sportswear mixed with the look of a really chic lifeguard.

Your dream Birkenstock wearer? I reckon Pina Bausch would’ve looked pretty cool with her long straight hippy hair sliding on a pair of Birkenstocks post-performance.

Birkenstocks worn with chic casuals… recommended by Laura Bradley

Describe your personal style in three words... Never too ‘done’.

Your earliest Birkenstock memory? I made friends with a super cool German girl on holiday when I was 13. Her whole family wore brown Birkenstocks. We became pen-pals (for a while).

How do Birkenstocks make you feel? I always think of Birkenstocks as the ultimate friend: trusty, reliable, never lets you down. They bring balance to every look.

Favourite way to style Birkenstocks? With something super comfortable, but still has an air of chic. I love navy silks and cashmere worn with a stalwart pair of Birkenstocks. Long sleeves worn over the hands add a 90s feel.

What are your Birkenstock shopping considerations? I always thought I’d only need one pair of Birkenstocks: the black two-strap. Now, my shoe shelf is bursting with pairs, from navy and cream suede to black and silver. I always fall for a brand that sticks with the classics, and offers a half size. Every pair has a story – I can’t bring myself to throw any away. I really need a shearling-lined pair.

Your dream Birkenstock wearer? I have two. Prairie and Homer in The OA.

A fantasy journey in Birkenstocks... Anywhere where there’s oysters.

Your essential footcare tip? Buffing isn’t just for fingernails.

Hair Jose Quijano at The Wall Group using ColorProof; Make-up Mona Leanne using MAC Cosmetics; Model Alice Gilbert at Elite Models; Manicure Tinu Bello at One Represents using Orly – Made in LA; Styling assistant Naoise Farrell; Photographic assistant Luke Johnson; Project Manager Lucy Uren; Production Beth Mingay