There’s really no stopping what’s coming — that much Caitlin Taylor knows.
And so, with summer in sight, she can offer only this final plea as the weather warms and men feel increasingly emboldened to don a pair of sandals or flip-flops.
“For the love of all that is holy,” says the 36-year-old writer from Hamilton, “make sure your toenails have been cut since the last presidential inauguration.”
Such visceral reactions have become something of an obsession. Twitter is littered with 280-character rants, mostly by women, about men in sandals, and publications from Deadspin to The Wall Street Journal have tackled the question of whether the look on men is ever acceptable.
Not since cargo shorts, it seems, has a male fashion choice generated such strong feelings.
To a certain extent, complaints about men and sandals have bubbled up each year around this time, as designers featured sandals for men on runways and, somewhere along the line, the term “mandals” entered the American lexicon.
But with fashion trending increasingly casual and men’s sandals sales rising, the grumbling has grown more pronounced.
The nature of the complaints runs the gamut, from laments about men’s seeming lack of awareness regarding when and where sandals are appropriate, to the not-always-pleasing aesthetic of the male foot.
“The hairy toes, the long toenails . . . ” says Michele King, a teacher on Cape Cod.
But it’s not just the look, King says. It’s the signal that sandals, in the wrong setting, can send.
A man in sandals “can’t run, he can’t climb, he can’t carry boulders,” she says. “It’s a message of leisure, and I submit to you that a man who is dressed for leisure will quickly find himself in peril.”
In this war on mandals, almost no style is safe.
“Be honest. Do men that wear flip flops in public deserve rights?” writes the Twitter user @love_me_maeb.
‘The hairy toes, the long toenails . . .’
Sandals with socks?
“A fashion war crime that should be tried at The Hague,” says Taylor.
Even Birkenstocks, those timeless cradles of cork and leather, aren’t above reproach.
“Birkenstocks are like a well-groomed mustache you wear on your feet,” writes Leslie Horn in a piece for Deadspin’s “Adequate Man.” “They make a statement, all right, but likely not the one you intend.”
A generation or two ago, King says, this sandal saturation would’ve never flown.
She remembers a time when men would go to great lengths to avoid exposing their feet to the masses, even in socially acceptable locales; her grandfather, for instance, would arrive at the beach wearing socks and black tennis shoes — and remain in them for the duration of the day.
No longer are men so modest about their feet.
In recent years, fashion experts say, men’s sandal styles have made great leaps, and over the past three years, the men’s sandal industry has seen growth in both units and dollars.
“Percentage-growth wise, it’s growing at a faster rate than women’s sandals,” says Beth Goldstein, an industry analyst for fashion, footwear, and accessories for the NPD Group. “It’s smaller, obviously. But it is growing.”
And as a result, some women argue, men are finding new and exotic ways to abuse the look.
Not a fan of sandals on men in general, Emma Parkinson, a senior English major at Boston University, takes particular exception to the recent prevalence of jeans and flip-flops favored by many of her male classmates — including one who has been sporting the look since January.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” Parkinson argues. “You’re cold enough to wear pants, why don’t you wear shoes that cover your feet?”
In fairness, says Matt Serbra, deputy fashion director at GQ magazine, men haven’t always done themselves a lot of favors over the years.
“I think the context in which men and sandals have usually been shown is sort of one where there isn’t a lot of thought behind it —
Which is not to say that sandals on men can’t be tastefully done.
Celebrities from Zac Efron to Bradley Cooper have donned flip-flops with no notable blowback. And locally, Cardinal Sean O’Malley has managed to make sandals a part of his regular look — though, in fairness, the vow of poverty affords a certain leeway in matters of physical appearance.
Even so, style experts insist, proper precautions are essential.
Never in office settings or nice restaurants. Never in sub-65-degree weather, or at church.
No “scraggly toenails or feet,” says Damon Bassford, who manages Holiday, a fashion boutique on Charles Street. “They need to be pedicured and nice and clean to rock a sandal.”
As a resident of the Cape, King has had ample opportunity to consider the mandal phenomenon.
Despite her general distaste for the look, she believes there is a time and place for every man to wear sandals, and she has come to develop a general rule of thumb — a sort of radius of mandal acceptability she hopes can become the norm.
If you don’t happen to find yourself within a quarter-mile or so of a large body of water, she says, “stick to shoes.”Dugan Arnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @duganarnett.