There was a moment at the Céline spring 2013 show in Paris last fall, as models shuffled out in cozy fur-lined slip-ons, when a collective sigh of relief rippled through the fashion crowd. "That silhouette was universally considered ugly," says Vogue.com contributor Katherine Bernard. "But Phoebe Philo's luxe reinterpretation of a Birkenstock got me thinking. It's like the most comfortable sandal in the world is having a stylish renaissance." With its squishy cork footbed, roomy toe box, and thick buckled straps, the sturdy, sensible sole has been embraced by others besides Bernard. In fact, fashion editors in these very hallways have been bringing their secret love of the jolie-laide shoe into the light of day. "I've been wearing them around the house forever, but recently I've taken fancier versions out into the world, too," says Associate Accessories Editor Jorden Bickham. "When my husband sees them, he says I'm lucky that we're already married, but honestly I think it's so much more sexy to be slightly underdressed, like you're not trying too hard."
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The image that best typifies the look-fresh-faced, carefree, and Birkenstock-shod-is that of a young Kate Moss shot by photographer Corinne Day back in the 1990s. Moss is the picture of alluring youth in a crop top, cropped jeans, and double-strap sandals. "That photo is one of my favorite pictures; my screen saver" says Fashion Assistant Emma Morrison. Having sported them as part of her camp counselor uniform in college, Morrison still has a soft spot for the classic tree-hugger shape, known as the Arizona, even though she also wears Giambattista Valli's metal-studded take on the shoe.
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Yet there are those who argue that the newer, streamlined versions are the chic way forward. "I remember when I wanted to wear my suede Arizonas on a family trip to New York, and my mother turned to me and said, 'Are you crazy? You can't wear Birkenstocks in New York! You look vulnerable!' " says Vogue.com contributor Jane Herman Bishop. "So I don't wear that style anymore. They remind me too much of my high school self." She favors a more elegant T-bar shape known as the Larisa, that has all the foot-slimming properties of the T-strap-the longtime favorite of comfort-seeking fashion girls, including the Olsen twins-but with the coverage of a traditional two-strap. Morrison and Bernard, on the other hand, have been scouring eBay for discontinued styles that come even closer to the Céline version. Their reasoning? A bulky shoe is actually more flattering on the leg than you would think.
Whatever the shape, the rules for wearing them in a stylish way right now apply across the board. "It can't look like you've had them for years like in the old days; otherwise it reads hippie," says Bishop. "A fresh pedicure is a must." She suggests metallic leather or polished patent styles over the traditional beige suede for a more elevated feel. And it helps to counterpoint the look with a tailored pant, or ladylike dress. As Morrison puts it, "There's nothing better than a really pretty dress with an ugly shoe."
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