If there were such a thing as a national shoe in Australia, it would have to be the ubiquitous flip-flop. I have not actually seen a celebrity in a tux and thongs, but I have no doubt that it has occurred in my absence.  My ignorance of the occasion simply reflects the fact that I don’t get invited to such events.  Aussies love their thongs.

According to Wikipedia, thongs were inspired by the traditional woven soled zōri or “Jonge sandals”, (hence “jandals”). Woven Japanese zōri were used as beach wear in New Zealand in the 1930s. In the post war period in New Zealand and America, versions were briefly popularized by servicemen returning from occupied Japan. The idea of making sandals from plastics did not occur for another decade.

The modern design was supposedly invented in Auckland, New Zealand by Morris Yock in the 50s and patented in 1957.  This claim has recently been contested by the children of John Cowie, an English-born businessman who started a plastics manufacturing business in Hong Kong after the war. John Cowie and his family emigrated to New Zealand in 1959. Despite ‘jandal’ being commonly used in New Zealand to describe any manufacturer’s brand, the word Jandal has been a trademark since 1957, for a long time owned by the Skellerup company. In countries other than New Zealand, jandals are known by many other names.

In Australia they are known as thongs. The first pair were manufactured there by Skellerup rival Dunlop in 1960. Thongs took off in popularity after being worn by the Australian Olympic swimming team at the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956. Thongs now come in a variety of shoe styles other than the traditional flat sandal, such as women’s heels, slides, and wedges.The shoes gained popularity as celebrities started wearing them and high end designers started producing them. Kari Sigerson and Miranda Morrison, founders of Sigerson Morrison, added a kitten heel to flip-flops.

Havaianas is a Brazilian brand of flip-flop that gained world recognition in 1998 after the company developed a style of the sandals for the World Cup that featured the Brazilian flag. Although Havaianas flip-flops have only become wildy popular in the United States in the last five years after many celebrities were seen wearing them, the brand has been around since 1962. The brand’s famous slogan “Havaianas. The Real Ones.” originated in the 1970s as a response to other companies making knock-off versions of the flip-flops. The shoes are known for their comfortable soles and straps. The name Havaianas means Hawaiians in Portuguese.

Sharing a bus trip with ten Australians for eight days taught me the importance of thongs to citizens down under. Unless we were in for a difficult hike over treacherous terrain, everyone wore flip-flops almost all the time.  The swimwear that shares the name was not popular among our group, but then, we were an older crowd. The younger members of our group may have been more demure than the norm, embarrassed into covering up for their elders.

As for the titillating undergarment made infamous by Monica Lewinsky?  I’m not even going to hazard a guess.  You’ll have to find that out yourself.

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