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Understanding sandals and the ankle-strap

July 5, 2012

As you recently read right here, I’ve bought myself some nice flappers for the summer.

Despite the fact that I love them, as an all-purpose sandal, they fail. The choice of style has its ups and downs, so I’ve been mulling over my decision and thinking that perhaps I need A) another pair or B) think more strategically next time.

For those of us who haven’t really given a thought about how such matters can affect your day, I decided to offer us all a little quick and dirty summary of sandal eye tricks.

Let’s start where we left off: my pair of awesome UGG Australia leather flat sandals. Don’t get me wrong- I love them. But they’re not all-purpose if you’re the kind of gal who works with what she’s got and fudges the rest.

These leather sandals here below are similar to the ones I picked up- they are basic dark leather with defining wide straps, one straight across the toes and the other wrapped around the ankle:

Martin Margiela sandal, $158 at

The thing with this sandal is that it will clearly define the ankle, which is to say place a horizontal line across the leg and effectively cut the line of your leg from hip to toe. This visual effect reduces the potential to appear to have long legs- or just average legs. Yes it can and will make you look shorter.

This is really important to keep in mind if the wearer isn’t that tall (and all these visual basics we’re exploring today apply to pumps, etc.). There are ways to wear the ankle strap (we’ll get to that) but you’ll find it looks best on a maxi-length skirt/dress, ankle-length pencil trousers, and the like. It also works with short lengths- above the knee- where you’re already showing a lot of length, and the taller and slimmer you are, the better. But that’s just not realistic.

It sounds like discrimination but wouldn’t you rather know? The eye always tracks this way, noting interruptions in uniformity and assembling proportions based on these delineations. What makes the ankle strap look hard to pull off with a knee-length skirt (as I’ve found) is that the ankle strap (in the case above and in my own sandals) is not only wide (a very strong line that ‘cuts’ the line of the leg to the foot and robs you of skin real estate that gives length) but also suspended higher up on the ankle thereby shortening the leg, and on top of it all it’s dark, which reinforces the division of leg from foot. So it can really reduce the appearance of the length of the leg (and it does).

Ankle straps are lovely and fun, there’s lots of variety, too, and knowing how they play with your body is good to know, don’t you think? And if you love ankle-wrapped sandals and want to wear them- well there are ways to get around the visual play issue. (Not caring is one of them.)

We will do this in two parts: in the first we will briefly look at styles of sandals and in the second part, we’ll do some hands-on comparative analysis. Fun, eh?

Part 1: Sandal Styles

Now this below is a much easier way to wear an ankle strap: first of all, it’s not a suspended strap, it’s in a neutral shade, has a long thin t-bar running as a thong (which is a vertical line that extends the line of the leg), and the tone-on-tone bling works to reinforce this line.

Classic Grecian-inspired sandal, $50

This one below is also not as ‘cutting’ to the ankle because although the straps are very dark, they lie on top of the foot, not around the ankle. The back strap is a good idea for sandal stability:

Brown leather by Golden Goose

Below we have a sandal that shows us how the ankle strap can be nearly not there: in nude, very thin with a delicate barely-there buckle. The cut-out of the sandal is super fun and because it’s in light tan leather, it will blend with the foot and elongate the leg:

Stella McCartney swirl sandal, $460 at

Ah, the classic thong. Well this one’s not really a classic because it has a bolder woven t-bar area, but as far as lengthening the leg, this is pretty good. No ankle strap means that you get more skin mileage for sure:

Pasqualetti sandal at Aldo- very easy to wear. $20.99

The gladiator-inspired cuff is really great, but again, here you’ll be cut off at the ankle. Yes that long sexy braid that thongs in between the toes and climbs up to the top of the cuff gives a nice line, but the heaviness of the cuff and its colour make it quite prominent. With anything that firmly defines the ankle, better to pair with wear long garments or extra-short.

I love this sandal but I hate looking squat. I know I’m over 5’9″ but it’s amazing what little things like a bold ankle cuff can do. Get these anyway and wear them with the right outfit- they’re only $28 on sale at Aldo

Part 2. Comparative Analysis

Here we have a good example of how it all comes together. Nude or near-nude sandals in thin straps nearly disappear, which gives greater length to the leg, and metallics nearly always count as nude. In the first image we see the downward V shape of the sandal, giving the wrapped ankle that much more length on the leg. The multiple straps on the toe define that area as the cut-off line, so all-in-all, this sandal will always give a long leg.

In the red-striped dress and brown sandal combo, we see that the t-bar helps give the leg line continuity but the strap, although thin and not even raised to the ankle, is dark and cuts the foot. Because we dressed our model in a maxi length dress, it doesn’t really matter and in fact, looks great.

Gap striped dress, $80. Note how the silver nearly disappears, the V-shape and t-bar thong extend the leg, and the top toe straps define that point as the cut off line

See the difference here?

Here below is a classic example of the wide ankle strap raised and in a bold colour, so the eye goes straight for the ankle strap. This in fact makes our model’s legs appear shorter, or shall we say, colour-blocked in two parts in this case. Her leg to toe is broken up in zones, and the nude toe strap is wide but nude, so it disappears. It looks pretty with her dress because the hemline is above the knee. Put her in a knee-length or just under the knee and she has no legs.

Cute orange dress at Gap, $65

A similar dress below (same length) and worn with more neutral-shaded sandals and a thong shape with thin ankle strap makes the leg look longer, with the colour and size focus on the thong-shape at the front which reinforces the leg line:

See the difference?

And now for the flip-flop.

It really does deliver when it comes to lengthening the line, but colour defines where the line is cut, which in a thong sandal, hardly matters since it’s all continuous to the near tip of the foot:

Thong style is really an endless stretch of skin. Old navy flapper style dress, $33

Same dress, different colour and different sandal (below).

Here we can really appreciate how the strap works- even though it’s super skinny, it’s a dark-hued horizontal line that disrupts the flow. The thong t-bar helps keep some length but it’s nothing like what other sandals can do.

Thin and dark – it’s a line that cuts the foot, and with a short dress, it’s okay

When worn with short length, the ankle strap doesn’t rob you of leg since you’re making up for it above the knee. Sneaky, eh? Gap shorts, $49

Images courtesy of featured retailers.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 7, 2012 7:39 am

    I loved this post. It made me evaulate my own sandal selection with the added bonus of realizing I have not neary enough :) A good read, thanks!

    • July 7, 2012 9:38 am

      Thanks! Glad it was helpful. Yes good stuff to keep in mind, I’ve always bought strategically and in this summer sandal case, I should perhaps get another pair…. And they’re all on sale now anyway ;).


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