According to a scandalous article in the right-leaning New York Post, President Obama was caught flip-flopping. No, this had nothing to do with his decision to keep the Bush-era tax cuts in place for the wealthiest Americans. This particular flip-flopping incident had to do with the Commander in Chief being photographed in public wearing—gasp—flip-flops!
Obama was caught wearing the über-casual footwear during his recent winter vacation in Hawaii, arguably the flip-flop capital of the world. A smattering of presidential historians couldn’t recall a time ever before when a U.S. president had been seen in public wearing a pair of thongs. That’s 44 presidents over a span of 234 years, in case you are keeping count, until the flip-flop finally got an in-public presidential seal of approval.
Some pundits said the casual statement made Obama “look like a man of the people.” One even went so far as to suggest that the style was apropos in these recessionary times. “His advisors probably like that it’s an informal and inexpensive shoe,” he opined, not surprisingly, in a left-leaning publication. Really? It seems like a stretch to suggest that wearing flip-flops was an effort to subtly convey a message to all Americans that the president feels your pain. Moreover, I find the assumption to be insulting to those Americans who are finding it difficult to even afford a new pair of shoes.
I have faith that President Obama has more class and tact than to stoop to such pandering. Rather, I believe Obama’s flip-flop choice is right in step with a macro fashion movement that has been sweeping America for the past two decades or so. Sheepskin boots, wellies, slip-on clogs and flip-flops—they are all a part of footwear fashion’s growing Utilitarian party. It’s a platform built on versatility, comfort and practicality, all of which are in step with a casual revolution. Whether you’re a Tea Party member or chaining yourself to a Redwood, utilitarian footwear crosses party lines. These everyday footwear staples “play in Peoria” and are readily endorsed by those residing in deep blue states.
Such notable Utilitarian party members include former president George W. Bush, who has been photographed wearing Crocs. In this particular incident, Bush was wearing the brand’s black Cayman clogs after a mountain bike ride—an ideal lightweight, comfortable après sports shoe, if ever there was one. And let’s be real: Bush in Crocs is a far more authentic reflection than when the man with Connecticut blue blood roots sports cowboy boots. On the other end of the political spectrum, Oprah continues to be an advocate of the comfortable attributes of Uggs, and she has converted legions of her viewers to the brand by featuring it regularly on her annual Favorite Things list. Swinging back to the right, Sarah Palin has been filmed wearing wellies (Chookas, to be exact). During an episode of her popular reality TV show about life in Alaska, Palin wore the colorful waterproof boots while lake fishing. And now Palin’s polar opposite—the current leader of the free world—is a member of the same fashion party. Who would have thought that these two would ever be on the same page about anything?
But that’s not to say the Utilitarian party doesn’t have its share of detractors. Plenty scoff (they’re members of what I call the Fashionista party) and consider the drawbacks to these styles to be self-evident: They are flat-out ugly and unsophisticated, revealing the underbelly of America’s general lack of fashion sense. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion; this is America, after all.
I, for one, back President Obama’s most recent flip-flop statement. Would you prefer he replicate an infamous Richard Nixon footwear faux pas instead? Our 37th president was once photographed while walking along a beach wearing socks and wingtips. I don’t know about any of you, but I find that to be more telling about the man’s mindset than Obama’s practical decision to wear comfortable, breathable footwear while vacationing on a tropical island. No need to, er, flip out about this particular issue. —Greg Dutter