ONCE a shoe synonymous with hippies and free love, in the past few years Birkenstocks have shrugged off their musty reputation and now have a firm place in the shoe cupboard of every fashionista.
However, with prices averaging between £60 and £90 and often straying over £100, they’re by no means an impulse purchase.
Luckily, being financially irresponsible and shoe-obsessed, I’ve bought and reviewed both the Arizona and Boston styles.
- Environmentally friendly
- Huge number of styles and colours available
- Sizing can be a bit of a lottery with the Arizona
Birkenstocks review: quick summary
It’s hard to understate quite how much I’ve come to love my Birkenstocks. Although they take a bit of wearing in, after a few weeks they became one of the most comfortable pairs of shoes I own (which is no mean feat — I own a lot).
They’re amazing for throwing on to go to the shops, they’re the first thing I throw in my suitcase when I go on my summer holidays, and they can be dressed up to make a very stylish outfit — especially the Bostons, whose louche silhouette has been seen on Spring/Summer runways for the last couple of years.
The main drawback, obviously, is the price — my Bostons cost £95, while the Arizonas cost a slightly less painful £65. While that might be what you’d expect from a pair of shoes or boots, for a pair of clogs or sandals, it’s undeniably pricey.
However, the price is justified by the fact that I’ve had pairs of Birkenstocks that have lasted me the best part of a decade — and when you’re wearing them almost daily for half of the year, that’s not bad going.
They are undeniably expensive, but if you shop around Birkenstock sales, you can often find discounts. Here are some of the best we’ve found.
- Birkenstock Women’s Boston Shearling Sandals (Tan), £99.99 (saving £35.01) from Schuh – buy here
- Birkenstock Men’s Arizona Sandals (Khaki), £71.99 (saving £8.01) from Schuh – buy here
- Birkenstock Milano (Dark Brown Leather), £65 (saving £20) from END – buy here
- Birkenstock Arizona BS (Roast Vintage Wood), £69 (saving £26) from END – buy here
- Birkenstock Kyoto SFB (Almond Desert Buck), £95 (saving £30) from END – buy here
- Birkenstock Arizona Split (Sandcastle/Faded Khaki), £93.75 (saving £31.25) from Birkenstock – buy here
- Birkenstock Women’s Madrid Slide Sandal, $59.97 (saving $29.98) from Nordstrom Rack – buy here
- Birkenstock Camo Milano Sandal, $73.99 (saving $36.01) from Nordstrom Rack – buy here
- Birkenstock Men’s Arizona Hex Slide Sandal, $149.97 (saving £100.03) from Nordstrom Rack – buy here
- Birkenstock Arizona Soft Footbed Sandal, $66 (saving $44) from Revolve – buy here
- Birkenstock Boston Big Buckle Maroon, $108 (saving $72) from Revolve – buy here
Birkenstocks review: full review
Choosing a style
Nowadays Birkenstock makes every type of shoe imaginable, including boots, sneakers, slippers, and even rain boots.
However, if you’re reading this review, it’s probably because you want to know about the brand’s bread and butter: sandals.
There are a few styles on offer, all named after places — either deserts, like the Arizona and Tatacoa, or chic cities, like the Milano and Boston.
The Arizona is likely what you think of when you think of the word “Birkenstock”. It’s the platonic ideal of a sandal: two straps with adjustable buckles and a cork footbed.
It comes in more than 100 different variations, comprising different fabrics, colours and properties, but for maximum versatility, I went for classic black leather. If you’re looking to make more of a statement, you might, like me, find yourself oddly drawn to these verdant suede numbers.
While the Arizona is the prototypical Birkenstock, if you’re looking to be bang on trend, then you should look to a more northern part of America.
The Boston, for all intents and purposes, is a clog, and to be honest there’s no particular reason for them to have become as fashionable as they are; indeed, my friends have taken to calling mine my “Birken-crocs”.
I got mine because, like a flea-bitten dog with mismatched ears, there’s something sort of endearing about their ugliness. And it’s undeniable they have the most clout of any Birkenstock, thanks to high-profile collaborations with the likes of Dior and Stussy and their appearance on the feet of celebs like Kendall Jenner (below).
Other popular styles of sandal made by Birkenstock include the Kyoto, which has a bold, contemporary design typified by layered straps, and the Milano, which are basically the same as the Arizonas but with a heel strap for a) foot security and b) an injection of Jesus-chic.
To be honest, I sort of expected Birkenstocks to be comfortable right away — after all, they’re not like a pair of stiff leather shoes that need breaking in.
However, I was surprised to find that mine were a bit uncomfortable for the first few wears. This is perhaps because the cork footbed is anatomically shaped, which didn’t agree with my flat feet; I found that the soles of my feet began to ache after an hour or two of wearing them.
However, after just a couple of wears the cork adapted snugly to my feet, and both pairs are now among the comfiest shoes I own. It’s also worth noting that the bulk of customer reviews I’ve read rave about how comfortable the sandals are, so my initial discomfort might be better blamed on my deformed trotters rather than Birkenstock.
When buying Birkenstocks, it’s really important to note that they come in two categories of sizes: narrow and regular.
In one sense, this is amazing: it means you can nail down your size exactly for maximum levels of comfort.
However, it does mean you need to be extra careful when buying, as some sites don’t make it clear which iteration they’re listing — I’d recommend looking for the word “narrow” in the item description or reading the customer reviews.
Another thing to note is that, in the Arizona, you might want to size down slightly — the first pair I got, despite being a size 9, made me look like I was walking on a pair of surfboards. In the Boston, though, I’d go true to size.
A big plus in terms of sizing is that Birkenstocks are super adjustable. In fact, I first started wearing them when I was wearing a cast after breaking my knee, because they were the only shoes that were adjustable enough to wear.
How to wear Birkenstocks
Birkenstocks are infinitely versatile, regardless of your gender; while you can pop them on just for a quick trip to the shops, they can also be dressed up.
They look great with a dress, as shown by Kristen Bell and Maya Rudolph in the pic up top, and I’ve seen similar sandals paired with suits on the runways. (I’m not sure where you’d wear a suit and sandals unless you’re a fashion editor, but it still shows the spectrum we’re talking about).
Oh, and forget what people have told you about socks and sandals; it can be cool. I know, the world is a topsy-turvy place.
Birkenstocks certainly aren’t cheap. My Arizonas were £65 ($145 in the US), while the Bostons were even more, at £95 (they’re around the same price as the Arizona in the US, though).
However, in my experience, summer shoes tend to be the ones that fall apart quickest. Because by their nature they need to be lightweight and made of delicate materials, cheaper pairs fall apart easily. Buy cheap, buy twice, as the saying goes.
For that reason, I’d advise making the investment — my Birkenstocks have lasted for years, in which time I’m certain I would have thrown away countless cheaper pairs.
Birkenstock review: the verdict
For me, Birkenstocks are the essential summer shoe. They’re versatile, comfortable and stylish, and come in enough silhouettes, colours and materials that there is something for everyone.
It’s undeniable that they require a bit of an initial investment, and you do need to be careful when choosing your size, but once you’ve worn them in, you’ll never look back.