You may be surprised to see that we’re writing about Birkenstocks. They typically get no love on menswear blogs, as the sandal has some unstylish baggage that comes with it.
While we don’t necessarily recommend that everyone get a pair of Birkenstocks, they’re a popular name and they deserve to be talked about. The following guide covers everything you need to know about Birkenstocks including:
You can click on one of the links above to jump ahead to a particular section, or continue below to read the entire article from start to finish.
Quick Buyer’s Guide
Just looking for a quality pair of Birkenstocks? Use the Quick Buy guide to head straight to the retailers. Alternatively, scroll down to discover each one and read more about the style.
See All Bespoke Unit Shoe Style Guides
Featuring the classic and renowned Birkenstock design, this particular version of the Arizona model features a softer footbed. The contoured footbed features microscopic air bubbles, which mould to the shape of your foot creating custom support.
While we wouldn’t recommend wearing them in a blizzard, the Arizona Wool is a very cosy sandal indeed. An excellent alternative to slippers (especially if you suffer from foot conditions), the shearling wool lining and uppers provide warmth and air circulation.
A stylistic alternative, the Big Buckle Arizona is an apologetic and bold Birkenstock. Featuring all the same characteristics as the classic Arizona, it’s large buckles add some zeal to the style.
Want a Pisa this? If you’re looking for a vegan-friendly sandal, the Pisa’s uppers are made from Birko-Flor, an acrylic and polyamide felt fibre with a leather-like texture. A soft fabric lining ensures comfort against the skin while the cork sole moulds against the foot’s shape.
Like the Pisa above, the Rio is made from the same Birko-Flo acrylic and polyamide fibre with a cork sole. If you were to prefer a Birkenstock with ankle support, this would be an excellent choice.
A Birkenstock with a more contemporary slide-style design, the Tema consists of an adjustable textile strap and the celebrated cork sole. A great option for the beach or summer time, they’re a break from the typical Birkenstock design.
What Are Birkenstocks?
Birkenstock is actually a footwear brand, not a style of shoe. While the company has expanded its offerings and now sells all types of casual shoes for men, women, and kids, they’re a household name for sandals. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on their “Arizona” model, which is featured above..
From a high level, it’s a flat shoe with two buckled straps. They’re the subject of some controversy as you’ll learn in this guide. While the Bespoke Unit team is divided on how we regard them, we agree that Birkenstock has earned a place in the footwear universe.
History & Focus On Comfort
If you go back far enough, you’ll learn that the Birkenstock name dates back to a man named Johann Adam Birkenstock. He was listed as a “subject and cobbler” in the archives of his local church in 1774. Over 100 years later in 1896, Konrad Birkenstock (a master cobbler) began to manufacture and sell flexible insoles. Unfortunately, the company offers no history of the 122 years between these events.
It would still be many years before Birkenstock became a full-blown company, but Johann’s legacy set those wheels in motion. In 1932, after many years and family members focusing on developing ergonomically correct shoes, Carl Birkenstock’s “Carl Birkenstock System,” a series of Birkenstock training courses, was endorsed by top podiatrists at the time.
This was the culmination of many years of focusing on ergonomically correct footwear, and the medical community took notice. They were, in a way, the first orthopedic shoes that became popular with us regular folk.
In the mid-1960’s, the shoes were brought to market in the United States, and they’re currently sold in speciality shoe stores.
Today, Birkenstocks are despised by some and cherished by many. In the next section, we’ll explain how to wear them and avoid the common pitfalls.
How To Wear Birkenstocks
It would behove us to mention that Birkenstock sandals in the past have been associated with two sets of people who aren’t known for being stylish:
- Older Men who wear Dad jeans unironically. If you see a guy wearing shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, socks and sandals, he’s probably a Dad and those are probably Birkenstocks.
- Hippies, tree-huggers, flower children, et al.
While we have absolutely no issue with those demographics, it’s certainly impressive to see how the brand is now celebrated by younger men and women today.
In fact the company experienced a renaissance in recent years with a high fashion rebranding. You can still see the results on their website (their collaboration with HighSnobiety further cements this).
Furthermore, the use of natural materials resonates with the fashion-forward hipster movement, which has further added to their renewed reputation.
These are sandals and they are therefore very casual. They can be worn with:
- Casual cotton or linen trousers
Many will insist that Birkenstocks mustn’t be worn with socks. Indeed, combining sandals with sock is often frowned upon by some circles. Furthermore, you may lose the larger benefits of the renowned cork footbed.
However, there are occasions where it’s perfectly fine and proponents of wearing socks and Birkenstocks insist on their level of comfort.
Overall, it’s recommended that you wear clothes that fit extraordinarily well for the most attractive styling results. Therefore, cargo shorts that hang past the knee should be avoided as should jeans with ripped hems. Similarly, oversized or pleated khakis are generally not recommended.
Birkenstocks won’t look right with tailored clothing like suits or odd jackets and trousers. Even if you’re a super stylish man who could make a clown suit look good in public, avoid wearing Birkenstocks with a suit. However, if you do this and somehow it works, we would be very curious to see pictures.
In 90% of cases, this is a daytime shoe. Although they’re sandals, they’re known for being extremely comfortable. As such, you’ll probably be inclined to do a lot of walking in them.
If you’re going out for dinner or something of that nature, we see Birkenstocks as acceptable under the following conditions:
- The venue or restaurant has a casual atmosphere
- You’re in a resort or beach town where everyone is wearing sandals all the time anyway
- The weather is warm enough to justify wearing sandals at night, and
- Your feet are objectively not gross
Otherwise, a lot of Birkenstock wearers enjoy them as an orthotic alternative to slippers. Many people with certain foot conditions like Plantar Fasciitis find the lack of heel support of slippers painful. As such, Birkenstocks are a great solution thanks to the comfortable cork sole and contoured footbed.
Being a sandal, these have limited wear. In temperate climates they can be worn roughly three months out of the year, but if you live somewhere tropical, you can wear them all year round.
- Spring: Basic Earth tones like beige, brown, and olive, only on particularly warm days (after Memorial Day in the U.S.)
- Summer: Whatever color tickles your fancy
- Autumn: N/A
- Winter: N/A
As mentioned above, many Birkenstocks are worn as slippers. Therefore, if they are to be worn indoors, the season will have a much smaller impact on the style. Similarly, don’t forget that some models are insulated.
While this can provide lots of comfort indoors, their open construction won’t make them much better for outside!
Do We Recommend Buying These?
Despite their checked history, Birkenstocks have evolved to become a celebrated and surprisingly stylish brand when worn correctly. However, it is easy to wear them in a way that can look out of place.
If you’re looking for sandals or slippers that offers superior comfort and are made from natural materials, a classic Birkenstock might be a great choice. However, make sure that you don’t slip in to the common pitfalls that we mentioned above lest you are comfortable being associated with other subcultures.
Now that you have learned about Birkenstocks, check out some our related footwear guides for men:
- How To Wear Espadrilles & Best To Buy
- Top Boat Shoes For Men
- Best Casual Summer Shoes For Men
- Most Comfortable Shoes For Men
- Men’s Shoes Homepage
"A great introduction to Birkenstocks. I don't care about the controversy, I'm buying a pair right now!"Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★