When it comes to experimenting with style choices, every man has his limits. Trends like fanny packs, clunky dad sneakers, and rompers for men—that one still has us shook—are embraced by some and scoffed at by most. Truth is, we men know what we like, and in terms of style, we know what’s a safe bet.
However, on the ever-so-rare occasion, a new accessory comes along or a new trend gains momentum that piques our interest. Yes, trying to figure out how to wear something and when to wear it can be too intimidating for most men to take the plunge. As a style editor who welcomes new trends and is rarely intimidated to dress outside my comfort zone, even I drew the line at Birkenstock sandals and clogs.
Growing up in New York City, I’ve always had an aversion to “mandals.” Can you imagine how many germs can reach your toes when pounding the pavement of dirty city streets? Because I can. And when I did finally shake my germaphobia, I opted for a sleek, minimalist sandal, not the footwear I associate with crunchy, granola folks who enthusiastically recall stories of Woodstock.
Somehow, some way, over 50 years since the first Birkenstock sandal was produced, I surprisingly find myself googling images of the Arizona and Boston style. So, what drives a man to question his sartorial choices? For one, Birkenstocks have slowly but surely gained popularity over the past two decades. The New York Times reported college kids embracing the footwear brand back in 2006, while The Wall Street Journal debated Birkenstock’s cool factor in 2015, and The Financial Times even dared to call them “sexy” this past summer. Even on the fashion runways, extra-orthopedic sandals were dubbed a top trend for men this summer. Sure, this kind of built-up ethos can sway a man’s opinions, but what really changed my mind was one photo of Jason Momoa looking effortlessly cool in pair of Birkenstock’s Boston clogs.
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A day late for #mancrushmonday but a reminder that before the quarantine I styled men @prideofgypsies in @therow #cashmeresweater @tomford jeans #cartierwatch @tribaladornments @intothefirejewelry and the most comfortable shoes @birkenstock grooming by @jensy_stanfield styled by @jeanneyangstyle #jasonmomoa #aquaman #cartier
Momoa’s unshakable confidence and bold style choices could inspire any guy to unapologetically peacock with a fresh look, but as we’ve seen with his style evolution morph over the years, the Aquaman actor’s best looks can be credited to his collaboration with Jeanne Yang, veteran celebrity stylist to A-List actors like Robert Downey Jr., Keanu Reeves, Christian Bale, and Collin Farrell. So, when I saw this simple-yet-elegant Birkenstock look Yang styled Momoa in last year, I knew she would be the perfect style savant to discuss all things Birkenstocks with. Exceeding my expectations to finally answer the simple question “Are Birkenstocks cool?,” Yang revealed the one thing all men should do when embracing a style decision outside of their comfort zone that can have you channelling the cool confidence of Hollywood’s most stylish men.
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Are Birkenstocks Cool?
Birkenstocks are not a trend, they’re a style staple. “There’s something interesting to the way the company straddles between cool and comfortable and it’s really rare,” says Yang. “To me, Birkenstocks are like the Stan Smith. This is something that for the rest of your life you can wear and you never have to worry about it going out of style. When you do a closet clean out, you won’t think of tossing them, you’ll think of getting a new conditioning kit, because it’s still cool and always will be.” Both Momoa and Yang are longtime fans of Birkenstock. In fact, Momoa’s whole family wears Birkenstocks.
When styling Momoa, both for his appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show (when he wore Birkenstocks) and other events, it’s a true collaboration. “Jason is who Jason is,” says Yang. “He’s always his genuine, authentic self.” Instead of just pulling outfits for a specific event, Yang will curate a capsule of separates each season for Momoa to don—like the dirty pink sweater from The Row that Yang bought a few months prior, before Momoa wore it with white Tom Ford jeans and Birkenstock Boston clogs.
So when Momoa was planning on surprising two lucky people on Ellen’s “Greatest Night of Giveaways” episode in December 2019, the duo wanted Momoa to look like his casual, cool self, but slightly more dressed up for this appearance. After debating between flip-flops, which felt too casual, and rugged boots, which felt too serious, Yang settled on her and Momoa’s go-to comfortable shoes.
Jason Momoa, I couldn’t possibly love you more. Thank you for helping Brian and Sofia. #EllensGreatestNight pic.twitter.com/gGAPlu7j1l
“He’s essentially playing Santa to this family and the Birkenstocks were the perfect touch—you know, the suede Bostons,” says Yang. “Because there’s a warmth to them, they’re comfortable, and he was giving a gift to a family in need. It was one of those situations where he wanted to feel natural and comfortable and those Birkenstocks were perfect thing to create that soft and comfortable warm feeling.”
The key to Birkenstock’s cool factor is their unmatched comfort and ease. Yang compares the growing interest in Birkenstocks to the trajectory of sneakers, having made their way from casual to red-carpet approved.
“I remember years ago when I dressed Robert Downey, Jr. for the Oscars red carpet in a tuxedo and a pair of Lanvin sneakers and it was thought to be this crazy thing,” says Yang. “Sneakers have become a huge part of people’s lives [outside of performance wear] and I think it’s not necessarily the sneaker, it’s about the comfort level. I think the next iteration is someone who wants to have that feeling of comfort, but wants to show more personality.”
How to Wear Birkenstocks
If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that a pair of Birkenstocks carry a punch of personality. However, Yang suggests there are multiple ways to wear it if the bohemian chic look isn’t your cup of tea. Whether you’re going for a California-cool vibe or want to add a relaxed feel to your preppy garb, just make sure your pants balance out the width of your Birkenstocks.
“Because Birkenstocks have a wider last, I would avoid wearing a pant that’s too slim with it,” says Yang. “It’s a real juxtaposition and might be too significant seeing the width of the shoe with the narrowness of the pant leg. Generally speaking, it is a little bit more of a relaxed shoe, but if you’re going to dress them up, go with a fresh pair of Birkenstocks in a rich texture, like suede.”
Yang recommends strappy Arizona sandals for a summer shorts outfit and the Boston clogs to pair with a longer pant. Momoa’s suede Boston clogs provided the perfect textural mix when paired with his white denim jeans and soft pink sweater—it elevates his look, without making it look too forced. Isn’t that what every guy wants to look like? Cool, confident, and expensive.
Confidence Is Key to Wearing Birkenstocks
You might be sold on the comfort and style of Birkenstocks, but if you’re not sure you can pull off the look, all you have to do is look to yourself for the answer (and a few friends.)
“From my post, I had people saying ‘Jeanne, let’s be honest, he can wear anything’ and I say ‘Yeah, you’re totally right,’ but I think sometimes taking that picture and having a friend say to you ‘Oh my God, you look amazing! Go for it!’ is important—that’s what these celebrities get,” says Yang. “They get confidence from stylists, groomers, publicists, agents, and to have four or five people give a little sense of ‘yeah, you look good,’ it makes a big difference.”
While millennials and the Gen Z crowd feel more comfortable taking selfies, older men might feel silly taking photos of themselves, but Yang encourages men to take pictures or even take a good look in the mirror to see their own reaction. If you looked pained in the face, you’re not going to fool anyone, but if the photo or your reflection makes you look comfortable and happy, you can wear anything.
“I think it’s really about how comfortable they are,” says Yang of celebrities’ confidence on a red carpet. “If you look at Julianne Moore or Charlize Theron, all these ladies wear Birkenstocks all the time, because they’re comfortable and you can wear them with anything. It kinda conveys a feel of cool. You’re just like ‘oh yeah’—there’s this sort of underlining hipness to them.”
A smirk and some swagger goes a long way for confidence that translates to how you carry this new look. And when in doubt, find yourself a cheerleader.
“I holy profess the importance of getting cheerleaders,” says Yang. “It’s just like sports without cheerleaders, without crowds, without the audience. You want the reassurance of people and that is a big confidence booster.”
As I wrapped up my conversation with Yang, she assured me that I wouldn’t regret my choice in purchasing Birkenstock Boston clogs. Though she did warn me that I might curse her for “cheerleading” this purchase.
“The real problem I find is, once people try a pair, they never want to take them off or wear another shoe,” says Yang. “It’s not about trying to get someone into Birkenstocks, it’s about trying to get someone to take them off.”
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