Hawai‘i does not wear flip-flops. This might be news to you if you’re from the Mainland, but it’s true. Hawai‘i does not wear thongs, either, at least not on its feet. It does not wear jandals, as they do in New Zealand, and it does not wear slipslops, as they do in South Africa. It does not wear go-aheads, pluggers, toesies or scuffs, as they’re sometimes called. Nor does it wear flip-flaps, flips, slaps or anything like that.
What Hawai‘i wears, and what the rest of the world calls by so many other names, is the rubber slipper—or even more correctly, the rubbah slippah. The name is important because the slipper is important. It is ubiquitous in Hawai‘i, and Hawai‘i identifies with it deeply. It’s the principal mediator between Hawai‘i’s feet and very ‘aina itself, the layer between flesh and earth—as well as asphalt, linoleum, escalator or what have you. It’s as iconic as shave ice and far more long-lasting. It is the unofficial state footwear. The only reason it’s not the official state footwear is because Hawai‘i doesn’t have official state footwear. Should the Legislature ever decide that the state bird, the state marine mammal and all of the other designated state symbols ought to be joined by something official for the feet, the rubber slipper will be—it has to be said—a shoo-in.
The slipper epitomizes some of the fundamental values of Hawai‘i’s multicultural history, things like practicality, thriftiness, humility and the unqualified acceptance of each other’s toes. As a cultural icon the slipper can turn up in funny places, like dangling from women’s necks or stuck in their ears. Every jewelry counter in Hawai‘i seems to have slipper pendants and earrings in sterling silver and 14-karat gold. For Island artists the colors and curves of the famous slipper pile-ups outside the front doors of Hawai‘i homes scream “still life!” One Island sculptor, experimenting with materials, created a pair of life-size slippers from fresh, pink bubblegum. It sold in a show at the Honolulu Academy of Arts for $500.