WORDS BY STEPHEN YU
‘Ugly shoes’ may have garnered a big enough following in recent years to legitimately be called a trend, but there’s one chunky sandal that was here long before the rest – the Birkenstock. This previously much-maligned little shoe found itself at the forefront of the fashion world back in 2012, when Phoebe Philo’s fur-lined reinterpretations were seen on the Céline SS13 runway show, sparking a revival that was adopted by stylists, editors and influencers worldwide. Collaborations with high-fashion darlings like Rick Owens and Valentino only cemented the sandal’s position as the late bloomer of ‘it’ footwear.
But slip your feet into a pair of Birkenstocks and you’ll wonder why it took them so long to get there. Environmentally friendly before it was trendy to be, and super comfy thanks to the cork and latex footbed, the Birkenstock is the shoe your feet have been crying out for. And best of all, Birks look great with almost everything, whether you’re dressed up or dressed down, feeling feminine in flowy dresses or formal in tailored trousers.
How best to dip your toes into the oh-so-comfy world of the Birkenstock? We’ve enlisted the help of the fashion world’s most stylish Birk fans to help bed you in. With their expert tips on how to clean Birkenstocks and the answers to your most serious and pressing questions like, ‘Do Birkenstocks run big?’, these six stylish women will have you singing the sandal’s praises in no-time. So whether you’re a recent WFH convert, a die-hard fan, or a first-time purchaser, our Birkenstock size guide has something for everyone.
Fashion and beauty editor at Teen Vogue, from New York, USA
My first pair of Birkenstocks were the Arizona Birko-Flor sandals. When I moved to NYC, flip-flops felt too precarious and dirty to wear in the city, so I was looking into alternatives that were more durable. I love how boyish Birkenstocks are and how classic the design has become.
I'm wearing my Birkenstocks today with this asymmetric JW Anderson dress. I love the draping, colour and fabric of the dress; it's subtly feminine yet cool and easy-wearing at the same time, so styling it with Birkenstocks makes sense. They're in total harmony with each other. Birkenstocks definitely have this clunky ruggedness to them, so by styling them with a midi dress it highlights and complements the shape. I don't want to hide my Birkenstocks; I want them to play just as big a part [in my outfit] as the dress. I also love wearing Birkenstocks with a midi dress and some colourful socks.
Sizing & Fit:
They're true to size, really comfy and require no break-in process. I would advise you to follow your EU sizing for them and make sure to adjust the straps to the right size on your feet to avoid any blisters – the strap size is important in helping them stay on your feet and reducing any friction.
They're so low maintenance. I wear them around NYC every summer and it's the same pair that I've had since college. I love how beat up they get and how easily you can clean them – I usually just take an old toothbrush and some soap to them at the end of the season.
My very first pair of Birkenstocks were Arizonas in a soft natural suede. I bought them from The Natural Shoe Store on the King's Road in London while I was doing work experience at The Guardian, just after I graduated.
Today at home I'm wearing them with beautiful Genevieve Sweeney wool socks, Levi's skinnies and an old Rouje cardigan. Birkenstocks really come to life for me in the summer – they’re the perfect sandal and will often be the only pair I take with me on a trip away. They are fantastic for walking around and exploring, and just as great at the beach as they are in the city. When at home during the rest of the year, I love a pair of fluffy-on-the-inside Boston clogs or Arizonas with cosy socks, which is what I've been wearing during lockdown for comfort and ease. My latest pair are the Big Buckle Arizona sandals in rose gold and I'm also now eyeing up the black Big Buckle Basel clogs for some couldn't-be-more-perfect at-home shoes.
Birkenstocks go with everything from casual jeans and shorts, to pretty summer dresses and cute jumpsuits. Basically, I'm a complete convert.
Sizing & Fit:
Before pregnancy, my feet were a little smaller so I took a ‘regular’ fit size UK4 in Birkenstocks, but these days I'm a ‘regular’ UK5. If you have wide feet then the wider fitting ‘regular’ fit is key – your feet will mould better with the sole as there’s more room. I find the ‘narrow’ fit isn’t as comfortable and doesn't look the way I like it to. It's worth checking this when buying, bearing in mind that overall they do come up a little large.
I love them for their sturdiness and how low maintenance they are. My Birkenstocks have taken a lot of wear over the years, from walking through the salty sea to long mountain walks, and they’ve weathered extremely well.
I got my first pair of Birkenstocks some 10 years ago in white leather with silver hardware. I wore them to death.
I’m wearing a fun floral pyjama-style set from Misa Los Angeles. I love the juxtaposition of the softness of the PJ’s with the more utilitarian aesthetic of the black leather Birkenstocks. I love to wear my Birkenstocks with either boyfriend jeans or denim shorts and a white tee or shirt, but I also like to mix it up and wear them with feminine dresses for a cute and comfy daytime look.
Sizing & Fit:
I find Birkenstocks run true to size and they’re super comfortable as they were designed with the shape of your foot in mind. For your first pair, I would say go for the leather style in a classic colour like black, white or beige. Once you’re hooked, add more fun shapes and colours to your collection.
Birkenstocks are very sturdy shoes, so on the whole they’re super durable and low maintenance. The suede versions do require a little extra care but the leather styles have lasted me for years and just need a little wipe.
Style blogger from Portland, USA
I actually had a pair of Birkenstocks when I was younger that were my mum’s and I loved them; they're so comfy and great just to slip on. I've always been attracted to the leisurely look of them.
I love styling them in multiple ways. I’ll pair them with feminine pieces to dress them up or to make a dress look a little more casual, or with more masculine clothing then throw in something more feminine. They work so well with basics, too – I’ll wear them with trousers and a simple top. It's such a simple, casual look that’s always classic. It's honestly hard to go wrong with Birkenstocks.
Sizing & Fit:
I think they fit a little large, which I prefer as I can wear them with chunky socks when it cools down. But if you want to wear them with bare feet, I’d still suggest going with your normal size.
They're super low maintenance, especially the pair I’m wearing now. I can easily rinse them off to keep them looking nice for longer.
Fashion journalist, stylist and blogger from London, UK
I bought my first pair of white leather Birkenstocks six years ago to help accessorise my summer wardrobe. They’d become a fashion staple, plus they also worked seamlessly with my favourite outfits.
I’m wearing a black silk slip dress with an oversized cream blazer with mine today.
I like to contrast them with something relatively dressy like a dress or with a pair of minimalist cropped trousers and a shirt or blazer.
Sizing & Fit:
Birkenstocks are true to size and very comfy. If you’ve never worn a pair before, it might take you a little while to get used to their wider form. Take them out for a couple of practice spins when you first get them.
This pair has a brown suede exterior and gold buckles. I use a small suede brush to remove any stains, but overall they’re easy to look after and are very low maintenance.
The first pair I got were the Rio model in black about 10 years ago. I just love how classic and timeless they are. I think what initially attracted me to them was that I’d seen them on Alexa Chung and I love her style, so I felt it essential I get my hands on some, too! Since then, I’ve had so many pairs. I’m such a fan of the brand as they’re such great quality and are now a wardrobe staple for me. I'll be wearing them until I'm old and grey.
Honestly, I rarely come across an outfit that my Birkenstocks don't go with – they're such a classic staple. Here, I'm wearing Khaite blue jeans, a black linen shirt and a Bottega Cassette bag in caramel for an everyday casual look, but I would also pair my Birks with dresses, too. I’d say that Birkenstocks complement my style really well – they work with jeans or dresses, and I love to keep a maxi dress casual by adding some Birkenstocks, rather than anything too dressy. I also wear Birkenstocks on holiday with denim shorts and an oversized linen shirt, and I’ll pair them with a floaty summer dress on a hot day in London for the ultimate comfy yet cool look.
Sizing & Fit:
I'd say they mostly fit true to size, so go for your usual size. They might need a little breaking in at first, but once they adjust to your feet they become so comfy. If you’re looking to buy your first pair I would advise you to go for something classic like the Arizona style as they’re comfortable, go with everything and you’ll wear them all summer (and maybe even all winter with socks).
It depends on the style, but generally Birkenstocks don't require a lot of care. The Arizonas I’m wearing are full leather with a leather inner sole; I just use a bit of leather polish on them now and again to keep them looking good. For styles with the classic cork inner sole, just give them a rub with soap and water every so often then let them air-dry naturally for 24 hours before wearing again.