When the warmer months finally arrive after too many freezing winter days, sandals and flip flops quickly become an essential part of any shoe wardrobe.

After reading this sentence, you may be thinking, Wait, aren’t flip flops technically sandals in the first place? You would be right: flip flops are most definitely a type of sandal. But flip flops are more of a sandal exception rather than the rule. Given this fact, there are key differences between your average sandal and your typical flip-flop to consider when shopping for your next summer shoe.

Flip-flops technically fit the standard definition of a sandal, with a mostly open upper that uses straps to secure the sole of the shoe. But if you put a flip-flop and a fancy stiletto sandal side by side, there’s not much else in common between the shoe styles. Technically, they can both be sandals thanks to the upper of the foot, but that’s about where the similarities end.


When completing your summer shoe wardrobe, knowing the difference between flip flops and the general characteristics of your average pair of sandals helps you find the shoe that’s right for you. Equipped with this essential footwear knowledge, you’ll know when to buy a pair of flip flops or when to default to a more traditional sandal silhouette. From your overall budget to your personal summer style, there’s a lot to consider when shopping for summer sandals. To help you through the process, here are the six main differences you need to know between sandals and flip flops – even though a flip flop is technically a sandal.

While flip flops are a type of sandal, sandals include many types of silhouettes.

As the saying goes, not all sandals are flip flops, but all flip flops are sandals. Simply put, sandals comprise a grouping of several summer shoe silhouettes – including gladiator sandals, peep-toe mules, t-strap sandals, pool slides and more – while flip-flops don’t are just one of many silhouettes.

Pool slides.

CREDIT: Julija – stock.adobe.com

By definition, sandals are summer shoes that feature a mostly open upper attached by a single strap or straps to the sole of the shoe. Needless to say, this definition includes flip flops. A thong, also known as a thong, is a type of sandal silhouette marked with a Y-shape shank. The base of the “Y” shank sits between the first and second toe, acting as a source of security for the entire front of the shoe while the rear remains open. Although the two terms are related, they are by no means synonymous.

Flip flops have an open back while many styles of sandals often have some sort of heel security.

All flip flops feature an open, untied back with no heel strap, resulting in that classic “flop” or popping sound when you walk. Sandals, on the other hand, usually have some sort of heel security, often in the form of a strap around the ankle, to help keep the back of the shoe level with the wearer’s heel. This is not a requirement for all styles of sandals. After all, flip-flops, slides, and mule-style sandals all have open backs with no heel straps. Yet, t-strap sandals, gladiator sandals, jelly sandals, stiletto sandals, and strappy sandals all feature some sort of heel securement, making this feature quite common.

difference between sandals and flip flops, slate watercolor sketch on white background, flip flops

Flip flops.

CREDIT: maltiase – stock.adobe.com

Flip flops usually don’t have a heel, while sandals can.

Flip-flops are generally considered hyper-casual shoes with thin, flat, flexible soles. While many styles of sandals, in addition to flip-flops, have flat, thin soles – such as slides and jelly sandals – the style of summer shoes can also feature a variety of styles and heel heights. Stilletto sandals, platform sandals, and wedge sandals are all popular styles of sandals that have some height. Often these sandals are created to be worn with more formal looks, which leads to this next key difference between sandals and flip flops…


Sandals can be formal, while flip flops certainly cannot be formal. Never.

While flip flops are entirely casual and appropriate for off-duty wear, some styles of sandals can be elevated enough to wear with full evening dresses. Shoe silhouettes like stiletto sandals and strappy heel sandals are all high styles appropriate for black tie affairs and dressy occasions. Mule sandals and some T-strap sandals can be elevated enough to wear to the office or to an important dinner party. While it’s unlikely to see a celebrity walking the red carpet in flip flops — you know, outside of the early 2000s — you often see these other types of formal sandals at star-studded events.

Sandals are often stronger than flip flops.

Flip flops are often made of lightweight materials like foam or plastic, which adds to the relaxed, relaxed feel of the shoe. This material composition makes the flip flops very wearable, casual and perfect for putting them on and taking them off without a second thought. Most other styles of sandals, on the other hand, are constructed with sturdier materials, such as leather, rubber, and sturdy textiles. While this construction makes many sandal styles more durable, it also enhances the look of the shoe, which is part of why other sandal styles read as more work-friendly or even formal.

difference between sandals and flip flops, brown shoes sketch fashion glamor illustration in watercolor style isolated element.  Set of fashionable clothing accessories.  Set of watercolor background illustrations.


CREDIT: yanushkov – stock.adobe.com

Flip flops are often the most economical type of sandal.

Given the simple design and inexpensive materials used to create flip flops, you can get a good quality pair for less than $5 sometimes at major retailers like Gap and Old Navy (Old Navy is famous for its annual sale of $1 flip flops). Other styles of sandals, on the other hand, are often more expensive. Given the sturdier construction, elevated materials, and more intricate design, many other styles of sandals start at around $20. As an extreme example of pricing difference, a pair of single rubber gucci flip flops rings in at $360 while a pair of Gucci T-strap sandals are $820. It’s more than double the price, even though both shoes are technically sandals.

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