Cool, classic comfort

European espadrilles put some style into a light, bright summer shoe


July 10, 2005|By Tanika White | By Tanika White,Sun Staff

When you think of European fashion, you tend to think audacious and avant-garde. Shockingly chic!

But not all Euro-styles are cutting-edge. Consider, if you will, the espadrille.

With its roped or jute sole and traditional canvas upper, there's nothing risque or fashion-forward about this Mediterranean summer shoe. In fact, the espadrille is decidedly casual. Downright comfortable.

And no matter how fashion trends come and go, the espadrille survives as a classic choice for women who want something light to wear on their feet in the warm months of summer.

This summer, the espadrille is back again, and shoemakers all over the globe are having fun with it.

"Everyone just kind of takes whatever the trend is and then inserts their fashionability into it," says Tara McBratney, fashion director at CosmoGirl magazine. "It's a great thing because no matter who you are, you can wear it, because it comes in so many versions."

Susan Flinn, vice president of Baltimore-based shoe retailers Barefoot Tess, said she found a pair of decades-old espadrilles in her mother's closet. Flinn has been wearing them this summer, to much acclaim.

"They are a true classic," says Flinn. "And there's so many different styles and fashions, they can appeal to everybody."

From Flinn's mother's classic-canvas look to today's wedge-heeled embellished styles, any espadrille is in. But the updated, modern versions are all the rage.

These days, an espadrille's foot-covering upper can be made of leather, satin, or even a funky Lurex. There's flowers, sequins, ribbons around the ankle. Wedge heels, ballerina flats, and Mary Jane styles. A company called Sugar Shoes is even doing espadrille boots.

"These aren't your mama's espadrilles," says Kelli Delaney, editor in chief of Celebrity Living Weekly, which has shown pictures of Britney Spears, Nicollette Sheridan and Jennifer Aniston wearing the shoes. "High-end people are making their own versions of espadrilles: Christian Louboutin, Michael Kors. They go from the typical canvas, closed-in version to strappier laced versions. There's all sorts of styles and colors."

The versatility of the shoe makes it an easy choice to wear with almost any outfit, said Gregg Andrews, a fashion director at Nordstrom. Shorts, cropped pants, a sundress, jeans: any casual summer ensemble looks great with a lightweight shoe like an espadrille.

"They're familiar but they look new. It's not the same old redo. Things are fresher; they look updated. So it makes it easier for a woman to incorporate into her wardrobe," says Andrews. "When they're pancake flat, they look great with a pair of shorts or a peasant skirt. Or they can go up to a 3-inch-high wedge heel, which looks great with a sundress or with a tailored cotton suit."

Many women like wearing a wedge-heeled espadrille because it adds height without sacrificing comfort, and style without being too glammed-up for a summer's daytime outing.

"A lot of celebrities aren't very tall, which fans don't really know, and they don't want to wear flats around during the day because they know they're being photographed all day," says Delaney. "So this is a good way to still look casual and not overdressed and still get a few inches of height. And they are way more comfortable than wearing stilettos all day."

Like many women of her generation, 19-year-old Mary Dalanon is discovering the comfort of espadrilles for the first time this season. As she tried on different styles at the Nine West store at the Mall in Columbia, the Baltimore student admired the many style options the classic shoe offers her.

"The style goes well with the whole Bohemian trend, like the big, beady skirts and stylish capris." Dalanon says. "There are basically so many to choose from with all the many colors, and plus, I love to wear them to get a little more height."

No matter how high you wear your espadrille, or how many accoutrements you add to it, keep in mind one important thing about the shoes' soles. If it's not a jute, rope or macrame material, then it's not an espadrille.

"The term espadrille means sewn to a rope, jute or indigenous, natural fabric or material. They were designed for a regional climate and the type of work a person did," says Wendy Wolther, designer for Sugar Shoes of Irvine, Calif. "So they're traditionally a spring and summer shoe."

But the espadrille is such a popular trend this summer, Wolther is already thinking about how to bring the look into the fall season.

"I'm doing some with big paillettes and big sequins," Wolther says. "You can get away with a lot of flash because the bottom is so soft and natural. So we're really tricking them out for fall."

Sun staff writer Crystal Sayles contributed to this article.

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