Given a supermodel-off-duty aesthetic ruled, ’90s fashion is synonymous with insouciance and minimalism. Liquid-like slip dresses, hair-thin spaghetti straps, and low-slung track pants — no-fuss fashion ruled the epoch. And, likely due to the sheer simplicity of the styles, many of the decade’s signature staples remain just as popular now, 30 odd years later. Consider minimalist sandals, for instance. The sleek, anti-statement shoe is an iconic signature of the 1990s, and it’s currently experiencing a cyclical reboot on 2022’s trend circuit.
From flat, lace-up silhouettes to heeled, multi-strap heels, minimalistic, summery footwear can certainly range in look. However, despite their various manifestations, they invariably exude a sense of sartorial nonchalance that was iconic of the ’90s. Furthermore, given the shoe’s innate neutral feel, uncontroversial sandals lend themselves to endless styling possibilities for the warm months ahead. Think diaphanous dresses, linen separates, tees and cut-offs, on-trend swimwear, this season’s tailored Bermuda shorts, and, of course, jeans.
With so many modern iterations on the market from buzzy labels like Staud and Cult Gaia to emerging and independent designers including Emme Parsons, Studio Amelia, and Cornetti, it can be challenging to choose the right minimalist sandal for you. What’s more, wrapping your head around the fact that a super-slim sandal can be plenty supportive and comfortable when it’s not made up of much might feel impossible. But trust, the brands laid out ahead have done the legwork in figuring out their way around a stylish and satisfactory minimal sandal. Keep scrolling for 10 labels with ultra-chic designs — plus their styling tips for your most stylish summer yet.
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"The beauty of minimal sandals is that they virtually disappear on the foot and can be styled with almost anything," said LA-based shoe designer, Emme Parsons, whose ethical designs are made with natural components like bio-based suede and are nearly 90 percent biodegradable. Parsons pairs her classic lace-up sandal, the Susan, and slip-on style, the Folded Slide, with everything from yoga leggings to midi dresses and jeans on a day-to-day basis. As for formal suiting, knit, or more tailored shirtdresses, she recommends strappier silhouettes like the String. "They are super versatile and can make the most casual outfit look pulled together," she said.
All of Parson's designs are made with lightly padded footbeds and soft and pliable Italian nappa laces and cords, making them prime for comfort. "The leather sole molds to your foot, making them more comfortable the more you wear them."
Ancient Greek Sandals
Christina Martini, the creative director of Ancient Greek Sandals, tells TZR that a classic, minimal sandal can take you from the beach to the bar if you coordinate them with other pieces in your wardrobe. She likes to accessorize hers with a variety of anklet styles — from coral and turquoise versions to gold chains and styles with pearls or crystals. “For the daytime, I like to wear slides with denim shorts, a pair of light cotton shorts, or trousers with a classic white T-shirt,” she said. “I usually wear my lace-up sandals with a short dress or skirt. My favorite evening look is a trendy fringed skirt with our strappy comfort soles, perfect for dancing,” Martini offers.
As for the comfort level, Martini said that Ancient Greek Sandals are made with high-quality vegetable tan leather sourced from certified tanneries in Italy and use a traditional construction technique where the straps are inserted in the insole instead of around it. “The idea was to make a totally flat sandal which disappears under the foot,” she explains. “We didn’t want a heel, but we knew that a bit of a lift at the back is necessary. So, we studied the construction and incorporated an inner piece at the heel.”
"I adore the minimal sandal," says Anita Patrickson, a stylist and the founder of made-to-order sandal brand, Amanu. "It's so sexy and feminine with that 'barely there,' summer feeling,” she describes. Whether you're wearing a sleek sandal for a beach day or to a party, Patrickson says the key to styling them is to achieve balance with every outfit. "I love our Amanu Style 10 paired with a floaty printed dress and some statement earrings. The delicate straps offset busy prints and bright colors,” she explains. She also shouts outs Amanu’s Style 1, saying they “are the perfect beachy slide” because they are “so simple and can be paired with anything.” Patrickson tells TZR that she likes to style this type of simple silhouette with a loose-fitting, all-black linen suit sans jewelry, completing the look with clean and simple hair and makeup.
Since Amanu sandals are mostly made-to-order directly from the brand's Los Angeles store, save for a few core styles that are available for purchase online, every strap and padded footbed is custom fit. What's more, every style is made from by-product leather that's vegetable-dyed, which can be customized in-store based on what colors you like.
For sleek Scandinavian design, ATP Atelier is a go-to for minimalist footwear that has everything from lace-up silhouettes to uniquely-shaped slides and multi-strap heels. "We wanted to create an urban sandal that transitions seamlessly from beach to city, that you don't want to get rid of when you get home from your vacation," co-founder and creative director, Maj-La Pizzelli, tells TZR. "We love to see our sandals styled with a lightweight caftan on a cliff in Puglia just as well as with a plain jean and tee in a coffee shop in Brooklyn."
With fine Italian materials and craftsmanship at the crux of the business, Pizzelli says ATP Atelier sandals are about the material and fit first and the design second. Most styles are made from vegetable-tanned vachetta — a raw, environmentally-friendly material that's void of chemical treatments — that forms comfortably to the foot over time. "Worn-in vacchetta is the most comfortable leather," Pizzelli describes.
Emily Amelia Inglis, the founder and creative director of the emerging shoe label Studio Amelia, tells TZR she created her brand after struggling to find flat sandals she could wear with tailored pieces and more elevated attire. “My favorite way to style my flats is with a beautifully cut suit or beneath a romantic maxi dress,” she says. “It’s just such a great contrast to even out the severity and opulence of your outfit.”
As for a pair of strappy, barely-there heels, Inglis says, “I love to offset their ‘dressy’ feel by combining them with vintage jeans and a gentleman’s oversized classic white shirt.”
Claudia Aragon, the founder and designer of the handmade Italian shoe brand Cornetti, shares that her pared-back sandals comfortably hold the foot in place at all the necessary points. "The straps [on several styles] can be adjusted to fit the unique width of any foot perfectly," she says, boasting their versatility for styling. "My summer wardrobe is mostly white linen ... little dresses, tunics, blouses, and shorts. I can wear almost any sandal that I have made with any white linen piece I own. It's like a uniform [that is] timeless and looks great with a tan,” Aragon says.
The buzzy Australian-designed and Bulgarian-made brand By Far is known for modern takes on nostalgic shoe styles from pumps to flats to mules to, of course, minimal sandals. “Slip-me-on sandals and leather slides are always fun to mix with capri pants for maximum impact with minimal fuss,” says Valentina Ignatova, one of By Far’s three co-founders. For a trendy summer look, she recommends a thong sandal like the Jack or a strappy style like the Christina in a soft pastel shade. As for styling either of the summery shoes, she says they pair well with an oversized suit. “[It’s] the coolest combo,” she emphatically shares.
Sabina Gyosheva, co-founder of By Far, adds that comfort is a keyword during their design process. “We are obsessed with minimalist sandals, but we would never trade comfort for style. I like to believe that the success of our Tanya mule is because it is infinitely wearable — the two straps are carefully positioned to support the foot where it is most needed,” says Gyosheva. “And,” she adds, “the block heel provides you with stability so you can easily walk in them.”
“If you take a closer look, you will notice that most of our shoes’ heels are positioned where one’s weight is distributed equally,” says co-founder Denitsa Bumbarova. “This achieves the perfect balance without fear of losing stability. And we only use soft premium Italian leathers so that all the straps are supporting without causing any discomfort,” Bumbarova describes.
"Growing up in California, I feel quite versed in sandal culture," says Sarah Staudinger, co-founder and creative director of the It-brand Staud. "I love a big dress with a minimal sandal because it's less predictable than a pump or high heels,” she says. “I think most outfits work with a simple sandal because [the shoe] makes the look more refined and chic, be it a gown or a pair of jeans."
Staudinger says it's crucial to find minimalistic sandals you can feel comfortable in. "I will say from personal experience, no matter how minimal something is, if it's slightly off or hitting the wrong spot, it can be brutal walking around all day. I have massive feet and have learned that lesson the hard way,” says the Staud co-founder. “Our design team has collaborated in wear-testing and making sure each minimal strap is comfortable and adjustable."
Cult Gaia has become synonymous with warm-weather dressing and vacation style. And it’s no surprise the brand offers great minimalist sandals to pair with cut-out dresses, stylish sarongs, and woven handbags from their ready-to-wear collections. “The best part about minimal sandals is that they go with everything from dresses to jeans and a T-shirt to swimsuits,” says founder Jasmin Larian.
Larian says she tests every shoe she designs for two months before it’s produced to ensure a quality fit and comfort. “It’s really important to me that we’re providing a quality product that will last and is worth investing in,” the Cult Gaia founder explains.
If you're looking for a minimalist stiletto that makes a statement, a lace-up gladiator sandal, or a uniquely-cut slide, look no further than Tamara Mellon. "Strappy, minimalist sandals are the new investment piece," says the brand’s eponymous designer. "They don't overpower an outfit, can be tied in different ways, and are extremely versatile,” explains Mellon.
All handcrafted in Italy with soft leather lining, these minimal sandals are ultra-versatile and can be worn for special occasions, in the office, and, of course, on vacation. "I wear mine with everything from jeans to cocktail dresses,” the designer offers. “This style can cross over so many different categories and instantly make any outfit look modern.”
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