How to Breathe New Life Into Your Old Birkenstocks

When Céline sent fur-lined Birkenstocks down the runway in 2013, I thought huh? and filed it away into my “fashion is so funny, haha” mental folder. Obviously the actual joke was on me (and my filing system), because the sensation that was normcore descended upon the land six months later and quickly picked up speed over the course of 2014. It was the phenomenon that sparked 1,000 think pieces, and at least five times that many orders on from the likes of people who previously would not have touched the endearingly clompy silhouette with a ten-foot toe.

I was soon sucked into the brouhaha myself. A picture of a young Kate Moss smoking a cigarette in her cuffed white jeans and white Birkenstocks called to me like an orthopedic siren, not to mention the photos of people whose style I admired gallivanting around in their own pairs at fashion week. Much like Amelia, who expressed her hesitations vis-à-vis The Birkenstock Debate, I, too, was reluctant to jump on the Birks bandwagon lest the trend die the moment I tasted the sweet, sweet nectar of Kate Moss-approved arch support.

I finally caved in the spring of 2015. I was on the hunt for a comfortable walking sandal and still harbored an unfulfilled craving to dabble in the dark arts of white buckled leather. I assured myself that the trend was not yet dead and promptly placed an order online. I wore them every day straight from May through September. As expected, the trend died shortly thereafter — or rather normcore did, and with it, the fleeting suspension of disbelief in Birkenstocks’ inherent uncoolness.

I trotted them out again for summer 2016, however, simply because I hadn’t found a functional walking sandal that even begins to compare. This subsequent run was quite a bit more furtive than the last. I only wore them on errands or long walks like my work commute, after which I immediately changed into different shoes. I personally didn’t feel done with Birkenstocks (I’d only gotten to enjoy them at the tail-end of their normcore hype, which was my own fault), but the fashion industry had moved on.

Now that a new summer season is upon us, and I still haven’t found a better walking sandal, I’m determined to not only wear them but also(!) make them cool again. No more hiding my love for Birks and their Perks. I’m shouting it from the rooftops of Mott Street, unashamed.

So I challenged myself to style them specifically for zeitgeist potential in 2017, which meant discarding their association with normcore and reimagining from scratch how they would fit into the unique proclivities of today’s style climate.

I used Amelia’s spring/summer runway breakdown as a guide to our current trend climate, and the first outfit began to take shape: colorful stripes on a casual black-tie rocket ship, because dressing up is the new dressing down, even (or perhaps especially) when Birkenstocks are involved. I sprinkled in a black ribbon and gold hoops because I personally can’t get enough of that combo on myself right now and therefore it falls squarely within the scope of this season’s mood board.

Next up, an ode to yellow — the new orange, the new black, the new everything. I added a bucket hat as a nod to the ghost of Birkenstocks’ past and unleashed a pair of pair of high-waist bikini bottoms upon lower Manhattan as a nod to Leandra.

I couldn’t not feature a dress over pants, seeing as it happens to be one of my favorite looks to recently to stake its claim as a fashionable mainstay. I gave it a layer-cake twist and a touch of alien chic, because why not cash in on one trend when you can sample three for the same emotional price?

And last but not least, I conjured a wizard with a country-club membership — my very own Frankenstein, except this one turned out way better than Mary Shelley’s (if I do say so myself). This outfit is essentially what Hermione Granger would wear if she was en route to drink tea and play golf with her in-laws.

So what say you? Have I successfully shepherded Birkenstocks into 2017? Please say yes because I’m about to order a fresh pair.

Modeled by Georgia Hilmer, follow her on Instagram @georgiahilmer. Photos by Edith Young.

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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