MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Of all the controversies to hit the nation's capital this summer, the most fashionable would have to be the debate over flip-flops. Not the political kind. We're talking about the fallout over summer footwear. NPR's Luke Burbank explains.
LUKE BURBANK reporting:
The genesis of Flip-flopgate dates back to May when the Northwestern University women's lacrosse team won the national championship.
Ms. KATE DARMODY (Senior Midfielder): We were in the locker room, and we were having, like, a postgame talk. It was just one of those things that she had us, like, all pumped up with, like, `And we're going to the White House!'
BURBANK: When the coach told senior midfielder Kate Darmody that the team would be getting a photo op with the president, she knew it would be one of the highlights of her young life. There was just one question--what to wear. So she headed to an Ann Taylor store and bought a dress.
Ms. DARMODY: But when I realized that I bought the dress, it was going to be hard to find shoes that matched it, so I went back to the store and got the matching flip-flop sandals that went with it.
BURBANK: Darmody and a number of teammates wore flip-flops for the photo. The picture made its way into a Chicago newspaper. And maybe because July is a slow news month or just because editors loved running the headline Flip-flop Flap, the story took off.
Ms. DARMODY: I never thought our shoes would make national headlines. It's kind of interesting to have random people on the street recognize you as the flip-flop girl.
BURBANK: Phone lines lit up on talk shoes around the country. Was it OK to wear flip-flops in the White House? One reason the topic generated so much interest is because, frankly, so many of us own a pair or two.
Mr. MARSHAL COHEN (Fashion Analyst, NPD Group): Flip-flops, for three years running, have been continuing to increase year over year.
BURBANK: Marshal Cohen is a fashion industry analyst for the NPD Group. Over the past few years, he says he's been watching a casualization of American fashion. The largest growth segment has actually been men, who now find the footwear more acceptable. Derek Warburton is one of them--and how.
Mr. DEREK WARBURTON: I'm wearing a pair of Louis Vuitton leather flip-flops. I have flip-flops from every major designer. From, like, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, everyone's doing them now. They're the hottest thing in fashion.
BURBANK: Warburton probably spends more on flip-flops than you do on your entire wardrobe. The Louis Vuittons he's wearing today--a cool $300. Warburton is an image consultant in Miami Beach. Through his company...
(Soundbite of telephone ringing)
Mr. WARBURTON: (On telephone) Atomic Funk, may I help you?
BURBANK: ...he tracks fashion trends and says right now it's all about flip-flops.
Mr. WARBURTON: You know, it used to be just low end. And now, everyone, like, high end is doing it. When I go to New York or LA or wherever I go, even in Europe, everyone's wearing sandals.
BURBANK: But not like in Miami Beach. Here almost every man, woman or child flips and flops their way down the sidewalk. So it's only natural that at Van Michael's Salon, owner Leslie Monsell(ph) is herself sporting a $300-pair of Jimmy Choo flip-flops. She says for years, her employees had been begging her to let them wear the sandals to work.
Ms. LESLIE MONSELL (Owner, Van Michael's Salon): And I was always no, no, no because I thought that, you know, it's not really appropriate for a service provider to have open-toed shoes. Well, we finally broke down today because they just really, really, really, really wanted it.
BURBANK: After four years of saying no, Monsell finally changed her policy the day of our interview. You could call her reversal a--well, you get it. But, says Monsell, with freedom comes responsibility.
Ms. MONSELL: That was part of the rules, too. It's like, `If I ever see ugly toes, girls, that's it. No, you're not wearing sandals anymore.' Got to have pretty toes.
(Soundbite of people talking)
BURBANK: Standing outside the salon on Miami Beach's Lincoln Road, one of the trendiest streets in America, Derek Warburton also wants to remind the 27 million Americans who bought flip-flops in the last year to take care of those newly exposed feet.
Mr. WARBURTON: I mean, trim your hair a little bit if you're a man or a woman.
BURBANK: You don't want to look like a hobbit.
Mr. WARBURTON: Right. Exactly. Exactly. The hobbits were very last year.
BURBANK: Consider yourself notified. Luke Burbank, NPR News, Miami.
NORRIS: I'm Michele Norris. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.