THE HIGHER THE STRAPS, THE HIGHER THE RANK was how it used to be with Roman officers, who sported the sturdy leather sandals made for military activity. Similar pairs in deer or cattle hide are also said to have been worn by gladiators, although most mosaics depict these combatants barefoot.
Today's gladiator sandal is named as such nonetheless, inspired by ancient Rome's gruesome games. Its form, comprising a stiff sole fixed to the foot with cords or straps, is still generally preserved, although its context of use has been altered colossally. Made mainly for women's contemporary wear, the sandals were first reincarnated in the 60s, reported by The National Footwear Institute in 1968 as having had "laces to wrap around the leg to the knee. A gladiator influence was apparent in sandals with chunky chains starting at toes and ending at knees -- held there by a leather strap dyed gold or silver." 1971 also witnessed the trend, with Times Daily reporting on "super gladiator sandals that wrap up a suntanned leg half way to your hot pants."
Hot pants or not, the gladiator stayed hot through the decades, re-emerging in the 90s on supermodel superlegs for Gianni Versace, and numerous times since the 2000s for as many labels and in as many versions as its strappy, rising rungs. Spring/Summer 2015 sees wedge-heeled suede neutrals from Chloe, paper-flat summer sandals from Valentino, choppy ankle fringes at Alberta Ferretti, a shin-guarding cutout boot from Stuart Weitzman, and lower-cost lace-ups at Zara and Massimo Dutti.
Tending to favor longer, leaner legs, the gladiator sandal has proven tricky to wear, and even trickier to pair with hemlines. Too long can look stubby. Too short can look tawdry. And let's be honest. It's not like we can in fact walk around in nothing but a white men's shirt à la Gisele for Stuart Weitzman.
Done right, I find them divine. Pollice verso. Do you give gladiators a thumbs up or down?
Paco Rabanne 1967, Zara SS 2015, Carly Simon in 1971, Stuart Weitzman SS 2015, Vogue Italia 1966, Harper's Bazaar Brazil January 2014, Harper's Bazaar UK July 2012.