Function or Fashion?
How about both! Let’s talk adult feet, in particular open shoes….…aka sandals, flip-flops, slip-ons, sling-backs….
With summer well under way here in the UK and Europe if you haven’t gone barefoot chances are you’ve opted for a shoe that has built in ventilation!
For ultimate foot health and function we know we should be looking for footwear that is;
- wide in the toe box for the toes to be able to spread and prevent bunions!
- flexible to allow for the foot to move freely and respond to the ground below
- flat so we can stand and walk as our body is designed to do
Of course properly designed minimal or barefoot shoes meet all of these criteria. You might think that many styles and types of open summer shoes also tick the ‘minimal’ boxes and you may well be right. However, an open toe box and flexible sole isn’t the whole story and when it comes to more open styles of summer shoe we also need to think about alignment and attachment.
I am talking about the alignment of the upper part of the shoe. This is often where the fashion lies – colour, styles, accessories and so on, and where sometimes function gets a little blurred or lost!
Let’s quickly look at the human foot to understand where I am coming from. Kick your shoes off and look at your feet. Do you notice that your pinky toe is shorter than your 1st and/or 2nd toes?
If you look at the foot skeleton you will see two red lines showing how our toes bend. The straight line across the 1st and 2nd metatarsals (long toe bones) and an oblique line showing the angle of metatarsals 3-5.
We push off (toe-off) through our big toe (the end/head of the 1st/2nd metatarsals) so that makes sense to have a bend straight across the foot. Then if you look at the blue line this shows the flow through the foot from heel strike at the back of your foot through to toe-off. Can you see how our weight follows the oblique red line and then the horizontal one?
Lift your toes and you should see creases similar to the red lines – except if your 2nd metatarsal is longer than your 1st . This is found in some people and it’s called a ‘Morton’s foot (named after Dr Morton of course!) and usually does not cause any problem.
So what does this mean? Yes, footwear needs to be flexible in the sole to bend where our foot and toes bend, and this should be the same for the uppers. The uppers should NOT restrict our foot’s natural movement – unless you don’t intend to move!
The photo at the top of this post is of my foot in a Xero sandal, and a friend in a fashionable sandal. Which foot do you think can function as a foot better (bend and toe-off)?
And how about these two? Captured while I was waiting to catch a plane whilst on holiday (and the motivation for this blog!)
The other key issue is how well the upper is attached to the sole unit. There is a debate as to whether flip-flops, sandals and even sliders where the upper is only attached on the toes are good for your feet. They can create a gripping action in the toes to hold onto the shoe, this can change the dynamics of how you walk and this can, in turn, create problems and pain. To avoid this it is always better to have a shoe where there is a good attachment around the heel as well as across the toes.
So Back to Function or Fashion?
The question is – are there any sandals out there that are fashionable and functional?
The answer is YES.
Keep in mind when you are next purchasing your pair of summer shoes:
- shop or measure your feet in the afternoon,
- check for width, flexibility and flatness, and
- check that your toes can function
There are a number of companies producing shoes for better foot health, one company that showcases these is Happy Little Soles – head over and check out their range for both men and women, boys and girls (there is even more reason to look after their growing feet).
For fashion and function I’m wearing Be Lenka’s Ladies Promenade, pictured below, whereas for walking and hiking you’ll find me in Xero Ladies Z-Trail (top photo) or Z-Trek. The rest of the time my feet are free!