The carefree style has a surprisingly hard-working history.

Updated July 02, 2020
Advertisement
Arthur Elgort

Espadrilles are the undeniable, eternal It Shoe of summer: they’re breezy, like your favorite sandals, but they don’t require a pedicure, as with your old-faithful sneakers. Considering its uber-stylish modern interpretations, with dressy suede uppers and playful embroidered daisies, it’s hard to imagine a time when the espadrille was anything beyond a leisure shoe designed for resort stays and weekend beach getaways. But the espadrille has quite the storied—and spirited—history.

Espadrilles have been around since the 1200s, the footwear of choice in the Occitania and Catalonia regions of the Pyrenees mountains on the Spanish and French border. Named for the plant from which the fiber soles were woven, espadrilles were a shoe of the people, worn by infantry in the king’s army and other members of the working class. “Espardenyas,” a version with ribbons that tied around the ankles, were worn by Catalonian dancers. 

Fast forward to the 1930s. Beyond serving as the working class’s shoe of choice—and perhaps because it had long been the working class’s shoe of choice—the espadrille became the go-to footwear for revolutionaries from Catalan and Basque Country (a now-autonomous community in northern Spain) who were fighting for independence from Spain. There was no confusing the revolutionaries, in their woven kicks, with the fascists, who marched in standard military boots.

But it wasn’t just freedom fighters wearing espadrilles. Spanish cultural icons like Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí wore them too, launching them into popularity in bohemian circles, while the likes of Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly, and Cary Grant cemented them as a mainstream style synonymous with leisure that’s still beloved today.

In interpretations both classic and modern, the iconic espadrille remains as versatile as the men and women who’ve worked, danced, and marched in them since their debut in the 13th century. How’s that for soles with soul?