Nothing is more depressing than coming back from summer holidays and putting away all your colourful, light summer clothing.
Dust starts to accumulate on the countless handmade pairs of sandals picked up from the tiny shops in Athens’ Monastiraki.
The happy memories of being sized up by a bearded, chain-smoking Greek man and waiting just a little over an hour for some brand new, hand tailored sandals slowly fades when they’re dumped into a mothballed closet.
But, in just a month or two, these almost forgotten shoes will be given another whirl, bringing back the Athenian summer with them.
Greek Australians have quintessentially rocked the Greco-Roman style on their feet for years, and have been dressing their friends in the process.
Most people travelling to Greece will have at least one request from a friend or relative for a pair of authentic Greek sandals and particularly this year, with the gladiator sandal making a comeback into Spring/Summer fashion.
It shows you just how classic the leather sandal is, and how quickly the Greco-Roman style comes back into fashion year in, year out.
Nicolas Ghesquière caused quite a stir on the runways for Balenciaga with his Spring/Summer 2008 collection, introducing the knee high gladiator sandal, inspiring other designers and declaring the gladiator sandal as the ‘must have’ shoe of the season.
Runway looks might have trouble making it into the mainstream, but these sandals, albeit modified versions (the knee-high was a bit much) managed to break through.
Long before runways made the sandal a ‘must have’ fashion item, the humble sandal made an appearance thousands of years ago, and it stuck. Dating back 10,000 years, the sandal managed to make it through biblical, Egyptian, Greek and Roman times and lived on. It became a fashion staple for empires, and was one of the few shoes that managed to break through the gender and class barrier. Sandals were worn by men, women and children, the rich embellished their sandals with precious stones, while the poor used hybrid sandals made of leather and wood.
The Greeks took good care of their feet and adapted footwear for every type of activity. Soldiers wore elaborately laced sandals that provided more protection and comfort, while platform sandals were worn by prostitutes. Some even had ‘follow me’ carved on the sole to entice customers. Betrothed girls and young brides wore sandals made from leather dyed white, a costly process that also showed a family’s stature.
The Greeks easily made a name for themselves with sandal craftsmanship, and had wealthy Romans as regular customers amongst others.
The sandal helped to solidify leather as one of the best materials for shoes. Just think, how many of your leather shoes have outlived their rubber soles?
To this day, it’s one of the most durable and comfortable materials for the human foot. It can breathe easily, while stretching and conforming to an individual’s foot. Of course, there is no universal size, so having the ability to mould and change is a huge benefit.
Today in Monastiraki, at the foot of the Acropolis, you can find one of the original and renowned sandal shops going by the name of ‘The Poet Sandalmaker of Athens’.
Specialising in custom-fit leather sandals and with over 40 different styles to choose from, the store was set up in 1927 by Gheorgios Melissinos. The store is still run by the family, and has had some high profile customers. The Queen of Greece used to visit the store to buy her climbing shoes in person.
According to an American archaeologist who frequented the store close to thirty years ago, Simon, a good friend of the classical Greek philosopher Socrates, owned and ran a sandal store at the exact location 2,500 years ago.
Before the souvenir shops took over, Monastiraki was a shoe district, bustling with traders and the smell of leather wafting through the side-streets.
Once again, the Greco-Roman sandal was predicted on the runways of 2012 in New York, Paris and London for Spring/Summer ’13 collections.
We saw extreme versions from designers Alexander Wang, Proenza Schouler, Versace and Marios Schwab, with gladiator sandals just below the knee to thigh reaching heights.
American designer Phillip Lim introduced a practical take on the gladiator sandal, with a demure brogue style that can even be worn all year round.
But with the warmer months just around the corner, expect to see the gladiator sandal everywhere.
This is a statement shoe and let’s be honest, easier to get wrong than right.
With hundreds of variations, there is a style to fit most body shapes. What has always been baffling is the popularity of sandals that have rigid leather wrapping around the big toe. Nothing will have you buckling in pain faster than tight leather straps digging into soft big toe tissue. Invest in soft, malleable leather, or just avoid it entirely if you’re very sensitive.
The rest – colours, style and leather – is up to you.