These shoes are popular throughout South America and in some European countries as well. They’re worn with the traditional apparel, folk dance costumes, and with modern clothes alike. Originally, peasant footwear, they turned into urban workers’ shoes and then, into casual contemporary footwear. They are really comfy and eco-friendly, so espadrilles/alpargatas are a wonderful example of universal shoes made in the style that exists for millennia.
These shoes have several names because they’re widespread in many countries and are a part of several traditional cultures. The typical names are espadrilles, alpargatas, esparteñas, espardenyes, and espartinak.
These are casual shoes with a rope sole and canvas top. In some cases, modern espadrilles are made from jute rope and leather, but originally, they were always rope + cloth. Durable canvas or comfy cotton fabric are the usual options. The sole can be either flat (more often) or higher (platform or wedge sandals).
Wall of espadrilles/alpargatas made in different colors
There is a wide variety of styles of espadrilles/alpargatas – from flat open sandals to moccasins to wedge sandals, etc. Sometimes, they have long laces and are tied to the ankle. You can say that these shoes are always comfortable and practical. They’re perfect for walking and dancing, as the sole is flexible and the cloth breathable. And this footwear is created for summer, obviously. Such shoes are unisex and worn by both men and women.
Historically, espadrilles/alpargatas were peasant shoes worn in Spain and France since at least the 14th century. But the oldest espadrilles-like shoes date back 4,000 years.
Lithography by Francisco Ortego of a Catalan Volunteer wearing traditional espadrilles during the War of Africa, 1859. Image from Wikipedia.org
Throughout their long history, espadrilles or alpargatas were used as peasant shoes, urban workers’ shoes, even military footwear, and today, they’re casual contemporary shoes popular almost worldwide, but especially in South America and Spain.
This footwear is natural and eco-friendly, which is good, but they’re not very durable and long-lasting when worn on a daily basis for work. And in the past, it was a problem – you had to repair or replace them often, and this wasn’t an easy task when shoes were handmade only. Later, espadrilles/alpargatas were sometimes made with a more long-lasting rubber sole, but they’re not as authentic.
Today, most espadrilles/alpargatas soles are made from jute rope and the top can be diverse. The production of such shoes exists in Spain, France, Italy, Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, and Bangladesh.
Modern fancy Spanish alpargatas