Plastic Shoes

Man-made materials invented in the 1940s created a new chapter in fashion history by replacing natural textiles, such as leather and cotton, in many fashionable garments. The new materials were advertised as "miracles" because of how easy they were to care for: no shrinking, no staining, and no need for ironing. Plastic shoes were among the most popular clothing items made from these new materials. They were shiny and vibrantly colored, or even clear. The newness of plastic combined with its easy care and waterproof qualities made plastic shoes a favorite form of footwear.

Plastic shoes were mainly formed as sandals. Early women's styles included sandals with wooden wedge-shaped soles and plastic straps. A popular style called the Peek-a-boo featured a wide plastic strap over the front of the foot with a small opening at the front to show some of the woman's toes. Children's styles were sandals made entirely of plastic and either fastened with buckles or snaps. Plastic shoes' brilliant colors triggered another fashion fad. As part of a trend toward coordinating outfits that was part of the American Look, women began painting their fingernails and toenails the same bright colors as their plastic shoes.

Even though plastic shoes do not breathe, or let air in to cool off or vent, leaving feet hot and sweaty, their popularity continues to the present day. By the 1980s both children and women wore soft plastic sandals called jellies. Taiwan exported 520 million pairs of plastic shoes in 1983, nearly enough for one out of every nine people on the planet. Plastic flip-flops and plastic shoes remained popular into the twenty-first century, with some designer sandals costing more than one hundred dollars a pair.


Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion from Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.

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