Rubber slippers are everywhere in Hawai`i, a symbol of the local lifestyle. When did these flip-flops become the national footwear of Hawai`i? Old-timers don’t remember them from their childhood, when prewar kids went barefoot or, on very special occasions, wore real shoes.
Most people don’t really think about it, but one scholar, Edward Tenner, took a close look at the history of rubber slippers and described their genesis in his book Our Own Devices: How Technology Remakes Humanity (2003). Tenner found that Scott Hawaii, a firm which had made rubber plantation boots for local workers, shifted to rubber sandals when faced with shortages of raw materials during World War II. (A company in Brazil claims to have invented the style, inspired by traditional Japanese zori sandals, in 1962 in São Paulo, using rubber instead of woven matting. But you’ll notice they call their sandals “Havaianas.”)
Today, these thongs are found around the world, and may be upgraded with decorative elements or even high heels. Most folks in Hawai`i, however, stick with the basic rubber slipper and wear a pair until they fall apart, a slipper is lost, or someone accidentally scoops up the wrong pair from the pile by the door after a party.