Birkenstock began its trek in the US in the 1960s as an earthy shoe associated with the hippie generation. This brand has continued its odyssey through the years and now Birkenstock is showcased on fashion runways all over the world. These days, Birkenstock carries a number of different style shoes. There seems to be a model to fit anyone’s fashion taste. Birkenstock makes open toed, closed toed, and now even soft soled shoes. Offerings include sneakers, loafers, mary janes, and even boots.
Until last July, I too thought Birkenstock only made the two strap sandal. In my journey to locate a new pair of Birkenstocks, I quickly learned how wrong I was. It was surprising to find such a variety of models available to the consumer in the US.
The Birkenstock brand carries even more styles in Europe. Many of the shoe styles that are only sold in Europe are featured on the Birkenstock box. For example:
BirkenstockUSA.com states “if you think of Birkenstock as that famous sandal from the sixties, think again. Today, we have over 300 styles, textures and colors. “ Additionally, a post by Carmen from Clothes and Camera on 8/8/14 shows you a snippet of the diversity offered by the Birkenstock brand:
Since there is a plethora of options from which to choose, I will discuss 10 of the most common Birkenstock shoes sold in the US within the last year. Otherwise, this blog post would turn into a novel.
Let’s begin this tour of the Birkenstock shoe styles by discussing the most recognizable one on the planet, the Arizona.
1. Arizona - The Arizona has two thick straps for the uppers. This iconic sandal was originally made of leather. These days the Arizona is made in a wide variety of colors and materials. This model is offered in the Original Footbed and Soft Footbed. Please note, that not all colors are offered in the Soft Footbed. Of all my Birkenstock shoes, I find these and the Boston are the widest in width. These shoes are unisex.
2. Florida - Florida Birkenstocks have three thin straps for the uppers. Like the Arizona model, the Florida sandal is made in various colors and materials. This model is offered in the Original Footbed and Soft Footbed. On the one hand, many people prefer the Florida because the three straps allow for maximum customization on the foot. On the other hand, some people complain there are too many straps constricting their feet. This model is sold up to a size 42.
3. Gizeh - Gizeh is the upscale Birkenstock alternative to thongs. The upper of this model consists of a T-strap. The Gizeh has a toe piece that sits higher up on the footbed compared to a typical thong. Some individuals complain that the toe piece is painful. If you have the correct size and width and your foot is placed in the heel cup with the strap tightened securely, you should not even feel the toe piece. The Gizeh can be found in an array of colors and materials. Soft footbed Gizeh’s are a rare find in the US. Gizeh sizes up to a 42. If you need a larger size shoe take a look at the Ramses. The Ramses is the more masculine version of the Gizeh and sizes go beyond a 42.
4. Mayari - If you want a thong type Birkenstock and don’t like the toe piece of the Gizeh, consider the Mayari. Instead of a T-Strap, the Mayari consists of two thin straps and a stylish toe loop. The Mayari is a more feminine version of the Arizona. This model comes in leather and non leather options. Very few Mayari sandals are made with a Soft Footbed. This model goes up to a size 42.
5. Sydney - If you like the idea of having the support of dual strap and think that the Arizona straps are too bulky, and don’t like the idea of the toe loop on the Mayari, take a gander at the Sydney. The Sydney is a more feminine version of the Arizona. The straps on this model are sleeker and the buckles are smaller. The Sydney is hard to find in the US, I have only seen a few colors offered in non leather uppers. This model seems to only be sold in the Original Footbed in the US. Size 42 is the largest in which this shoe is made.
6. Granada - The Granada is another two strap sandal that offers a dressier option than the Sydney or the Arizona because of its design on the straps. Laser cut outs on the uppers offer a more elegant look. The Granada is made in leather and non leather materials and is sold in the Original Footbed and the Soft Footbed. This is a great choice for someone wanting dressier Birkenstocks without giving up the foot security of a two strap model. This model goes up to size 42.
7. Madrid - If you want a flip flop feel with Birkenstock support, then the Madrid is for you. The Madrid has one thick strap keeping your foot in the shoe. Although I have seen the Madrid in several colors and materials, I have only seen this model sold in the Original Footbed. This model allows for a lot of foot movement since there is only one strap. Of all the Birkenstocks listed on this blog, the Madrid is the least expensive option. The largest size this model is sold is a 42.
8. Bali- I was recently looking at Birkenstock shoes with a friend who needed an ankle strap for maximum foot security. We came across the Bali. From the reviews, it appears that many individuals like the ankle strap because it keeps the foot securely in the shoe. I have not seen this model in stores. Online I can only find it in a leather upper and in a Soft Footbed. Size 42 is the largest in which this shoe is made.
9. Milano - This is a three strap Birkenstock that offers more security than two strap models. The Milano is basically the Arizona with a heel strap. Which means the uppers consist of wide straps with large buckles. The heel strap keeps your foot from sliding off the footbed. If you like to slip your foot into a shoe without having to buckle/unbuckle a strap, this model is not for you. The Milano comes in leather and Birkibuc uppers and can be found in the Original Footbed and Soft Footbed. This is a unisex model.
10. Boston - This is one of Birkenstocks most popular close-toed shoes. The Boston has one adjustable strap that goes over your instep. It is a slip on clog that keeps your toes warm on cooler days. I love wearing my Boston Birkenstocks around the house as slippers. In the US, this model is only sold in leather uppers. You can purchase it either the Original Footbed or Soft Footbed. This is a unisex model.
After reading about these 10 styles listed above, what did you notice about the names of each shoe? That right’s, the shoes are named after European cities and US cities and states. By describing these styles, I feel like I have taken you through a walking tour of Europe and parts of the US.
The aforementioned information provided may seem overwhelming and that is the reason I limited this blog to 10 models. As stated previously, there are over 300 styles offered by Birkenstock. This blog is just the beginning of a long road to discovery about the Birkenstock brand. I would love to hear from my readers, what Birkenstock styles are your favorite? Which styles would you like to learn more about? Please leave me a comment so I know which fork in the road to take for a future blog post.
I invite you to find the right Birkenstock style to meet your needs. Life is a journey. Birkenstocks help make your life journey more comfortable.
When I say “Birkenstock” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it a free loving hippie, dancing around Woodstock with long hair and Birkenstocks? Or is it of a liberal tree hugger walking around with socks and Birkenstock sandals? To me, it is the naked lady I saw at Bancroft and Telegraph in Berkeley. It was around 1992. She was heading to school at Cal and was completely naked except for her backpack and Birkenstocks. If had to break down the stereotype, this person was smart (heading to Cal) and comfortable (in her own skin and in her shoes).
Whatever stereotype might come to your mind regarding Birkenstocks, I bet it is somehow related to a person who might be “anti-establishment”. I would like to ask you to put that stereotype aside and keep an open mind about Birkenstock wearers.
Through the course of my studies, I have learned a great deal about stereotypes. There are 2 sides to stereotypes: good and bad. A stereotype might be considered good because it is a cognitive shortcut. Stereotypes allow an individual to easily process a great deal of information by quickly putting things into categories. Stereotypes, positive or negative, can become problematic because they can lead to bias. This is when a person believes a stereotype is true, even when it’s not true.
Let’s take for example, the stereotype that all old people are feeble. This leads to the belief that seniors are unable to take care of themselves, which heightens the discrepancy between the younger generation and the older generation. Through my line of work, I have met many older adults that are able to independently care for themselves as they age. And many of these older adults are very physically active seniors.
So when it comes to people who wear Birkenstocks, let’s not stick them in the “hippie” category. Though I see old hippies around Berkeley and wanna be hippies in West Marin running around in their Birkenstocks, there are several other groups of people who wear this brand of shoe. These other groups of people do not fit into the “hippie” stereotype. People, like me.
I can be stereotyped into various categories: 40-something, working mom, vegetarian, avid reader. Although I might be considered a Berkeley tree hugger, there is no way I would ever want to be stereotyped as a Birkenstock wearing hippie.
The good news is that Birkenstocks are breaking out of this hippie stereotype. The Birkenstock brand is crossing over into the fashion world.
This article from June 26, 2014 by Kurt Soller in Bloomberg explains how fashion designers have “rediscovered” Birkenstocks.
Believe it or not, Birkenstocks are showing up on the runways in the 21st century. Which proves that non-hippies are embracing the Birkenstocks.
In fact, these shoes are being becoming so popular that they seem to be flying off the shelves. New Birkenstock styles show up in stores or online and sell out quickly. If you see a Birkenstock style you like, I suggest you grab it before it’s gone. The new Birkenstock materials and snazzy designs are taking comfort shoes to a whole new level in the fashion world.
No longer does wearing Birkenstocks mean you are a granola eating, tie dye wearing hippie. Birkenstock shoes can be dressed up to wear to work or dressed down to wear on the weekends. Over the past year, I have seen a pre-school age kid wearing Birkenstocks, heard of teenagers begging their parents to buy them Birks, and met a 90+ year old client whose closet is stocked only with Birkenstock brand shoes. It is really exciting that Birkenstock can reach such a wide age range and provide peerless comfort to so many different groups of people.
Let’s crush that 50+ year old Birkenstock “hippie” stereotype and open our minds. Just as we would not want to stereotype all old people as feeble, we don’t want to categorize all Birkenstock wearing individuals as hippies.
I Love Birkenstocks and I am not a hippie!
Birkenstocks are pricey shoes with patented soles. When you are ready to invest in a pair of Birks you want to make sure that you receive an authentic pair of shoes and not a pair of knock offs. Believe it or not, counterfeit Birkenstocks are big business. Here are a few of Gina Mama’s rules to help you avoid purchasing a fake Birkenstock.
1. Purchase your shoes from an authorized Birkenstock retailer. BirkenstockUSA has a store locator tool to help you find an authorized dealer near you.
When you take your search online for an authorized dealer be sure to go through a reputable company like BirkenstockUSA or Zappos. Be cautious if you purchase through Amazon. Make certain that the Birkenstocks are sold by Amazon directly and not a third party. I have had experience of Amazon's third parties retailers selling me counterfeit Birkenstocks. Needless to say the fakes were shipped back immediately.
2. Your shoes should be sold in a Birkenstock Box. Not in an unmarked, plain cardboard box or (gasp) a plastic baggie. Closely inspect the box. This is what Birkenstock Boxes look like:
Birkenstock has an acutal picture of the shoe style, as well as your size and width, printed on the outside of the box. The style, size, and width pictured on the box needs to match the shoe inside the box.
3. Inspect the footbed of your new Birkenstocks. The Birkenstock logo is imprinted on the footbed of each shoe. The registered trademark symbol is situated immediately to the right of it. Just below the logo you should see "Made in Germany". Birkenstocks are made in Germany, not China. If you see that they are made in China they are 100% counterfeit.
A fake shoe might misspell the name, or not include it at all. I recommend you carefully check the spelling of all the words on the footbed.
4. The soles of Birkenstocks are patented. This is part of what makes Birkenstocks so amazing. The sole of the shoe should have areas with the word “Birk" on the design. Most soles of the Birkenstocks look like this:
Some Birkenstocks come in a sport model and the soles of those shoes are similar to the above picture, however, the color of the sole is lighter.
5. The Birkenstock logo should be imprinted on the inner side of each shoe. If you rub your finger across the logo, you can feel the imprint. Here is an example:
Birkenstocks are light. Fake Birkenstocks are heavy and weigh more than authentic Birks.
7. If you find clumps of glue inside the shoe attaching the uppers to the footbed, the shoes are likely not authentic. There should be no glue anywhere.
8. Check the buckles and buttons. The name “Birkenstock” should be shown on each buckle and button. On the smaller buckles you might just see “Birken”
The buttons and buckles ought to look similar to these pictures:
Birkenstock shoes are one of those brands that are typically not included in sale prices. Be wary if you find a pair Birkenstock shoes at a deep discounted price. If the sale sounds too good to be true, it likely is. The only way to be certain that the item you are buying is a genuine Birkenstock is to buy from an authorized Birkenstock dealer (see rule #1). Be vigilant online and always be attentive to the web site you are visiting, just as you would with any other purchase.
Since local retailers in my area tend to not carry regular width Birkenstocks, I often purchase mine online. I learned my lesson early about fake Birkenstocks when I purchased shoes via third parties on Amazon. I only did this a few times and all the shoes from third parties were returned immediately. Once I received a pair of Birkenstocks where the logo was not imprinted on the inside of the shoe. Another time there were clumps of glue between the uppers and the footbed. And the last time I received a fake pair the Birkenstock logo was not printed correctly.
Birkenstock has a quality control system in place to reduce defective merchandise being shipped out. That’s why I recommend going through an authorized dealer. If you experience any of the aforementioned issues, I would return your shoes, they are likely counterfeit. Bottom line, if your gut tells you that the Birkenstocks are knock offs, send them back.
By purchasing authentic Birkenstock shoes you will experience what Birkenstock USA describes as “peerless comfort, utmost quality and the best natural materials possible.” You and your feet deserve the best.
Do you want more tips on how to spot counterfeit Birkenstocks? If so, please refer to my most current blog on the subject, please click here.
UPDATE: For information about Birkenstock's "Logo Color Change on the Original Footbed" please click here.
UPDATE: Part 2 of "Spotting Fake/Knock-Off/Counterfeit Birkenstocks" was published on 3/26/18, for additional tips, click here.
The one word I would use to describe the Birkenstock break-in process would be: commitment. Breaking in a new pair of Birkenstocks requires your commitment.
Elite athletes are committed to their sport. When athletes train for a marathron, they train slow to race fast. Runners do this so that they can run a lot and prevent burnout. When you get a new pair of Birkenstocks you have to break them in slowly so that, in time, you can wear them for hours without getting achy feet.
The break-in process for Birkenstocks can take 2-3 weeks. That’s why you need to commit to this process because it is time consuming. Your hard work and patience will be rewarded because your shoes will conform to your feet. Your shoes will feel like they have been custom made for you. They will become so comfortable that you will be able to walk miles in them and forget that you even have the shoes on.
You might be asking, “Gina Mama, how do I break-in my new Birkenstocks?”
Here are the steps I take whenever I get a new pair of Birks:
After the break-in period the shoes will feel custom made, you won’t even realize you are wearing them. You can wear them for hours on end without your feet getting tired. To get to the finish line of the break-in period, you have to commit to the process. Do not give up.
You might now be asking, “Gina Mama, why does it take so long to break-in Birkenstocks?”
It takes time because you need to allow your feet and body to gradually adjust to the support, straps, and buckles. In addition, the cork footbed needs to soften over time. Your body weight and repeated bending of the shoes from normal wear is how the footbed will mold to the natural shape of your feet. This allows you to enjoy an unprecedented sense of support and comfort. Birkenstocks get more comfortable over time. The longer you wear them the more comfortable they will become. As I said before, you have to commit to the process to experience this level of comfort.
During the Birkenstock break-in process your might feel:
How to reduce the aforementioned issues:
As you can see, breaking in a new pair of Birkenstock takes a lot of effort. After having read this article, you might still be on the fence and unsure if you want to commit to this process. You might be asking, “Gina Mama, is it worth my time breaking in a new pair of Birkenstocks?” Absolutely! Ask anyone you see wearing a pair and I bet you would get the same answer.
Remember Birkenstocks are not comfortable right out of the box – for anybody. Don’t buy a pair of Birkenstocks for your vacation and plan to wear them for the first time the day of your departure. If you do, you are going to be in for a miserable trip. If you take the time to break them well before you leave, your feet – and you -- will have the best vacation ever.
Each time I welcome a new pair of Birkenstocks into my life, I take my time breaking them in. This helps me avoid hotspots and foot soreness. I have found that with each new pair of Birkenstocks, it takes far less time for my feet to get accustomed to the new shoes. I know it might be hard to believe if you have never broken in a pair or it has been decades since your last new pair. I assure you that it is worth your time and effort to give Birkenstocks a chance to change your life for the better.
I know my life has changed for the better since incorporating Birkenstocks into my shoe rotation. I am an avid walker and generally had to purchase new walking shoes every 2-3 months. I walked marathon miles in my shoes every week and wore each pair out quickly. I found that my feet, knees, and back would start aching when the shoes stopped providing me the support I needed. About a year ago my joints were hurting so much that I threw my tennis shoes in the closet and pulled out my well broken in Birkenstocks. I walked my dog 2.5 miles that day and I felt amazing. No feet, knee, or back issues. It was a miracle! My Birkenstocks are now my reliable walking shoes and I have not had to replace them yet.
My Birkenstocks are my reliable walking shoes because they have conformed to my feet perfectly. If you get a pair, you too can experience such bliss. We all have different shaped feet, yet compliments of Birkenstocks, we all have an opportunity to own a pair of shoes that feel like they are have been custom made.
To get that custom made feeling, take your time breaking in your Birkenstocks. Do not give up. Once your feet make an impression on the footbed, you know your Birkenstocks are broken in. At that point, you can walk a marathon in them without your feet ever feeling burned out. Remember, slow and steady wins the race. Break your Birkenstocks in slowly and thank me later. I promise that if you commit to the process, your Birkenstocks will be the most comfortable shoes you have ever worn.
I Love Birkenstocks and I hope you will too.
Before I start, allow me to pay reference to the title of this post. "Uppers, Downers, All Arounders," by Darryl S. S. Inaba, Michael E. Holstein, William E. Cohen was a book I read in graduate school. The title of the book is descriptive and catchy. I think it helps describe each piece of a Birkenstock that makes up the entire (all around) shoe: downers (the footbed) and uppers (the top of the shoe).
The materials used in the footbed (the downers part of the title) were discussed in a previous post titled: Birkenstock: Original vs Soft Footbed.
Birkenstock has been making shoes since 1774. Birkenstock uppers were traditionally made out of leather. Over the course of their 242 year history, Birkenstock has come up with additional high quality, non leather materials for their uppers. Having alternatives to leather uppers is intriguing for various reasons. The cost of synthetic uppers is significantly less than those made of leather. For those of us non-meat eaters, having a vegan option is quite appealing. Moreover, the Birkenstock shoes made with synthetic materials are snazzier: think sparkles, shine, and vibrant colors.
Birkenstock offers great detail about the materials used when making their products.
Not all Birkenstocks are available in the US. There are many more choices available throughout Europe. Let’s talk a little about some of the materials that I have seen being sold in the US market:
Birkenstock uses top-grain cowhide for their leather uppers. The smooth finish is durable and easy to clean. One can easily clean and condition leather with a Leather Balm.
Oiled leather has a soft feel and is less shiny. It’s surface is durable and moisture-resistant. One can occasionally use beeswax to help maintain the leather.
Top-grain cowhide, buffed to create a soft, velvety finish. It is recommended that one spray the nubuck with a water and stain protector. To clean, brush the surface with a plastic bristle or leather cleaning brush. Be sure to re- apply with the water and stain protector after cleaning.
Made with premium cowhides. It is recommended that one spray the nubuck with a water and stain protector.. To clean, brush the surface with a plastic bristle or leather cleaning brush. Be sure to re- apply with the water and stain protector after cleaning.
Genuine wool. Dense, retains shape and does not pill. Lightly spray with Scotchguard to protect the wool.
Boiled wool is pre-shrunk and feels very dense. Birkenstock states shoes with boiled wool uppers are highly durable, breathable, and warm.
This is the synthetic alternative from Birkenstock for leather. Birko-Flor is a smooth vinyl with a soft felt backing. This material is water-resistant and does not stretch or fade. There is no break-in required for Birko-Flor uppers. Clean this material with a wet washcloth.
Birko-Flor nubuck is synthetic alternative for nubuck. This material is textured vinyl with a matte finish and soft felt backing. The material is water-resistant and does not stretch or fade. This is no break-in required for Birko-Flor uppers. Clean this material with a wet washcloth.
This is tough, waterproof, biodegradeable synthetic. The polyurethane is resistant to heat, acid, oil, and grease. These shoes are easily cleaned with mild soap and water.
EVA - Ethyl Vinyl Acetate
This is a non-toxic synthetic material. It is lightweight and flexible. Footwear made from EVA is shock absorbent, is resistant to discoloration, is waterproof, is resistant to acid, oil, and grease. EVA is heat sensitive and there is a warning this material can shrink in heat over 170º F.
I have some experience with most of the aforementioned materials listed and I would like to share my opinions with you. For the record, I have only tried on Birkenstocks with Wool Felt, EVA, and Polyurethane. I have not had any direct experience with the Boiled Wool or Birko-Flor Nubuck.
I tried a Boston Birkenstock on with Wool Felt. I found the material very soft, not itchy, and warm. My concern with the wool felt was that it did not have an adjustable strap. If this material stretched out too much it might become uncomfortable.
This material is used on the Super Birki’s. I ordered a pair that looked cute online, but when I tried them on I felt like I was wearing classic wooden Dutch clogs.
Ethyl Vinyl Acetate (EVA)
I recently had the opportunity to try the EVA Arizona Birkenstocks on at Nordstrom. The material reminded me of that used by Crocs. It was soft, squishy, and had some arch support. Although, not nearly as much arch support as an original footbed Arizona. The EVA material is ideal if you plan to wear your Birkenstocks around water.
I have a pair of Arizona’s in brown Amalfi leather. The leather is thick, yet smooth. I find that this leather scratches easily. The leather looks old and worn, yet I have only had
them for about a year. These were by far the most difficult Birkenstocks that I have ever had to break in. The leather eventually stretches and conforms to your foot. This is a thick leather and it has not stretched out as much as my nubuck or suede Birkenstocks (see below). Because the leather is thick it took me weeks to break these in. In fact, even after one year of wear, I was having some issues with the leather rubbing on a certain part of my foot (though I would never admit that to anyone). I found I was not wearing them as much as my nubuck Birkenstocks. One day, after walking several miles in them and getting a blister (again – would never admit that before this blog post) I decided to take some sandpaper and sand down the area that was giving me a hot spot. The sandpaper worked like a charm and I have not had another issue with this leather Birkenstock. They are back in the rotation.
My oiled leather Boston’s were the 2nd most difficult Birkenstocks to break in.
This leather is softer and smoother than the Amalfi leather and yet still very thick. I used socks to break
in these Birkenstocks. I never got any hotspots thanks to the socks and it took 2-3 weeks before the leather conformed to my foot. These are now my favorite closed toed Birkenstocks. They feel like custom made shoes!
The nubuck leather is thinner than the aforementioned leathers. This material stretches easily. Of all the leather Birkenstocks I own, these are the softest and quite easy to break in. However, I find that the nubuck continues to stretch and I occasionally have to add extra holes to tighten the straps. It’s not a problem (my dad has a leather hole punch), it’s just annoying. I sprayed these shoes with a stain guard before I ever wore them and I still got stains on the shoes. I have spent a lot of time using a leather brush to clean these shoes and recently bought Kiwi nubuck cleaner. The Kiwi Cleaner helped the most with freshening up the nubuck. Still, no matter how much I brush or clean the nubuck, they never seem totally clean. My biggest issue with the nubuck leather is how much it has faded. Last year these shoes were the perfect red. Today they are more pinkish red. Even though I love my red Arizona’s, I am not sure I would purchase another pair of Birkenstocks in nubuck. There is a lot of upkeep involved with nubuck and it easily fades.
I have a pair of suede Boston’s and they are fabulous. Soft, supple, breathable, and easy to wear right of out the box. I sprayed these shoes with a stain guard immediately and I waterproofed them. The suede has not faded. The only con would be that the suede does slightly stretch, but does not stretch as easily as the nubuck. I have had to add extra holes to my suede shoes, but only once. I wear these as my house slippers and can’t believe I waited 4 decades to own a suede pair of Birkenstocks.
I was skeptical when I ordered my first pair of Birko-Flor Birkenstocks. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the material. Birko-Flor is very soft on your foot because there is a lining of fleece on the underside. Making it fairly easy to wear right out of the box without risking blisters, like with the leather. The Birko-Flor material does not stretch like leather. You configure the straps to the width of your foot and you are all set. I have not needed to add extra holes like I have with the nubuck and suede. The best part is how easy it is to clean the Birko-Flor material. I use a wet cloth to wipe the uppers and the material is clean, it’s that easy. I have not experienced any fading with the Birko-Flor material. In addition, the material looks as new as it did a year ago.
In my search for comfortable, supportive, and practical shoes I wanted to learn all I could so that I could make an informed purchase. I found it difficult to locate informational reviews about the different materials that Birkenstock offered. I hope that this post helps you decide what Birkenstock upper might be best for you.
All Around – you can’t go wrong with any of the upper fabrics since they are all made from the highest quality materials by Birkenstock. Leather, Wool, Birko-Flor, or Birkubuck, the choice is yours. The fact that Birkenstock offers so many options is just another reason why I Love Birkenstocks!