So, I received an email today informing me that the British Birkenstock website birkenstock.co.uk was soon to cease trading from the end of May. Oh no!
You will still be able to buy Birkenstocks (and other foot-loving shoes) online in the UK from thenaturalshoestore.com but the brand’s own website is being decommissioned, which I hope is not a reflection on how the company is doing nor an unwillingness for European companies to stay in the UK.
In any case, Birkenstock are offering a 20% discount across The Natural Shoe Store (non-sale) range with the code: BIRK-SS17-20
I’m a fan of Birkenstocks, and they’re the only slides I seem to get away with (though I wouldn’t do any long-distance in them). They’re what I tend to wear around the garden, and I always have a pair of the excellent wool slippers:
Although I am kind of tempted by the Mahabis slippers. Does anyone know whether these are any good? They’re a lot of money to take a chance on when the Birkenstocks (although not exactly a cheap slipper let’s be honest) suit me very well…
Anyway, Birkenstock, I am sad to see your online presence diminish somewhat (although your website was particularly convoluted and unfriendly), though I am sure The Natural Shoe Store will provide an adequate fix for my arthritic pins.
It’s a rare moment in Shoeslifeblog towers that I sit back and think to myself, ‘well, I seem to have enough shoes at the moment, I do not wish to buy anything right now’. However, recently, that’s how I have been feeling, and I think the reason for this is that, although there are many beautiful shoes around at the moment, they’re not particularly good for dodgy feet. They mainly fall into these categories:
backless slides and mules
strappy sandals that wrap round your ankle
The first two are everywhere, and in so many tempting designs, like these lobster shoes from Kurt Geiger. These would look great with a casual t-shirt and pair of jeans. Oh, how I have been tempted:
The problem with backless shoes is that in order to not kick them off when you walk, you have to arch your feet, and this movement will exacerbate any bone issues you may have in the foot. I do wear backless birkenstocks in the summer, but I’ve come to realise that there are better shoes out there for walking, but the moulded, rigid foot-bed on birkenstocks does a lot to keep your feet supported and prevent arching, so if they work for you, stick with them. Free People have this lovely metallic pair I’ve been eyeing up but there are much cheaper ones available on the birkenstock website and other outlets:
An alternative to the backless loafer is, of course, the non-backless, and I do like the lightening bolt and lobster design on these from Mango, but let’s be honest, they’re not as nice as the Kurt Geiger ones (though half the price, they look it):
Also from Mango, I really like, but have no intention of buying because I know I will be kicking them off all over the pavement, these pompom slides:
They won’t break the bank and really go with the boho–pompom trend that shows no sign of going away. Even if you don’t feel comfortable in a floaty dress made of fabric wisps and embroidery (my boobs can’t do this sort of dress, having a bra ruins the effect), your feet can get in on the boho act:
Ballet pumps are the next big no-no. People assume that, because they’re flat they must be good for people who can’t wear heels. However, if you can’t wear heels because your foot bones are not quite right, ballet shoes are not your friend because they’re so unsupportive. Any kind of pavement-pounding distance means your joints have to be really stable to avoid any over- or under-pronation. The soles are also very thin because of the lack of shock-absorption in the sole and so the cartilage in your joints has to take all the shock (and if you don’t have the cartilage, the bone is taking that shock). They do, however, look very simple and pretty, and they go with anything, so if you know you’re not doing a lot of moving about, or you’re on grass they’re not a terrible idea. Zara has some nice ballet pumps at the moment, I love the interchangeable ribbons (if you can find out how to try them on; this is a real bugbear I have with Zara. Am I supposed to sit on the floor? I can’t just stand on one leg, I will fall over):
And Asos always has a good selection. I like these Charlotte Olympia copies inspired ballet pumps:
The opposite problem to having backless shoes is having too much back. It’s not that I can’t have shoes that go around the ankle, but when it’s the only thing keeping the shoe on your feet it puts a lot of strain on the ankle joint. So, these beautiful Boden sandals, that are just so pretty it hurts, are off-limits to me (Boden shoes not being that comfortable to start with, they are narrow):
And likewise these Kurt Geiger shoes, that look like they have celebratory bunting:
The most supportive shape is to have straps across the shoe too, like on these beautifully simple Cara sandals:
But the caveat is that the straps around the ankle can’t be too tight, in order to give some movement. This is harder with shoes like espadriles or laced ballet shoes, where the ribbon is supposed to criss-cross up the leg rather than pool around the ankle:
It’s not that any of these shoes are off-limits or will damage your feet, you just have to be aware that you might not find them as comfortable as people without foot problems. I certainly have been disappointed by people raving about the comfort factor of a pair of shoes, only to find them lacking support and hurting my feet. I think you have to factor that in the price, because you’re not going to enjoy wearing them as much (though for the Mango velvet sandals, at £20 these are a bargain!).
So, given that it’s nearly June and ergo technically summer, and to be fair we did have a week in which it was possible to not wear socks, I think it is time to talk about summer shoes.
In addition to the approach shoes, Birkenstocks are my other ‘go to’ arthritis shoe. I don’t particularly love it when they are the only sandal I can wear as find their ‘utility’ vibe kills quite a number of outfits (call me old-fashioned, but I love a tea-dress and they need ladylike shoes). However, if it is summer and can dress quite casually, and I know I have a bit of walking to do (or I am sore), these tend to be what I’ll be wearing. When I got married, my arthritis was giving me a lot of trouble, and I quite literally could only wear these or trainers, so I bought a silver pair of Birkenstocks to wear on the day. Of course, they looked hideous with my wedding outfit and, the day of my wedding, I bottled it and went barefoot instead, rather than wear any shoes! Barefoot actually kind of worked, and nobody batted an eyelid, but it helps if you’re known for throwing that boho stuff down too.
So, these shoes and I have a history; even my slippers are Birkenstocks! When I was working as a freelance editor, and I worked at home, slippers were the shoes I wore the most so I decided to treat myself to a decent pair and, having worn them, I don’t ever want to go back to regular slippers. My feet love the arch support, and my joints love not being on a cold kitchen floor (I love a bit of wool). Yes, they are more expensive than regular slippers, but if you wear slippers or house shoes a lot, they are really nice, especially if your feet need comfort after a long day.
In terms of acquisition, Birkenstocks are pretty ubiquitous but, if you live in London or are just visiting, it’s well worth checking out the Birkenstock shop in Covent Garden. You can try the different footbeds, to get the right fit and width, and also see which style suits you best. Personally, I always go for the single strap Madrid, as I find the versions with more straps to be more restrictive and, as the footbed is rigid, this is not good for me as the flex has to come from my ankle.
I am always surprised that a shoe with so little support around the ankle can feel OK to wear, especially as flip-flops are so terrible for people with arthritis; If anyone is wearing flip-flops as a shock-absorbing shoe to relieve knee pain, throw them out. The feet have to curl over to keep them on, and the lack of arch support encourages overpronation. There are better shoes for knee pain, such as the Clarks trigenic shoes. With the Birkenstocks, the arch support and shaped footbed seem to keep my ankle aligned, despite there being a bit of toe-curl when I walk, but there are strappier options if this suits you better:
And then it’s just a case of finding the colours and material that you like (there is a vegan range, and they are very good). The Birkenstock online store has a good selection, but it’s by no means comprehensive. My current favourite being these with the orange sole (I like orange at the moment):
And it pays to look around to see what colours are out there. I couldn’t find these on the Birkenstock website, but I love these Orange EVA ones at Freepeople (even if they are expensive compared the other colours at the Birkenstock website), Freepeople always know how to style something too…
Birkenstocks are also available at Office and Schuh, and I particularly love this copper pair from J. Crew. Yes, they are ridiculously expensive but they are so shiny! And coppery! This may be as beautiful as Birkenstocks get.
My only caveat with Birkenstocks (apart from making any attempt to dress elegantly a joke) is that if you have flat feet, you may find the arch support too high for you. I’ve seen them give flat-footed people blisters on their soles (ouch!), but otherwise invest in a pair.