Sandals vs Flip Flops: What's the Difference?

Sandals differ from flip flops which have a Y-shaped strap that attaches to the sole of the shoe between the big toe and the second toe. Sandals vary in design and may have multiple straps, a wedge heel, or they may cover more of the foot.

Both styles of shoe let your feet breathe as you go about your day, making them ideal for hot, sunny weather. They’re also a perfect pick if you want to show off a fresh pedicure.

While sandals and flip flops have many similarities, they’re not the same thing. In this article, we’ll break down the differences between sandals vs flip flops so you can choose the right style of shoe for your summer outings.

What are Sandals?

Sandals are a type of footwear that leave the top of the feet partially exposed. The sole of a sandal is secured to the foot by one or more straps.

What are Flip Flops?

Flip flops are a subgroup of sandals. They feature one Y-shaped strap that attaches to the sole of the shoe between the big toe and second toe. This strap usually secures itself on either side of the arch of the foot.

The Five Major Differences Between Sandals and Flip Flops

Now that you know the basic definitions of these two types of shoes, let’s take a look at their five major differences:

  • Straps – Sandals can have several types of straps. Most sandals have at least one strap that covers the instep of the foot. Other sandals may also have ankle straps, enhancing their stability. Fancier sandals may come with ornamental straps simply for style’s sake. Strappy sandals are some of the most comfortable sandals for women on the market. In contrast, flip flops are defined by their single, Y-shaped strap that attaches between the big toe and second toe. Thus, their design is much more constrained and streamlined than other types of sandals.
  • Heel height – Between flats, wedges, platforms, and stilettos, sandals come in an assortment of heel heights and styles. In part, this is why sandals are so versatile. Flip flops, on the other hand, are usually adorned with a flat sole. In some cases, they may have a platform. However, they rarely have a traditional high heel.
  • Material – Most sandals are made of sturdier materials than standard flip flops, such as cork, rubber, rope, or leather. Due to their durable construction, sandals can often be worn for longer periods of time before wearing out.

While some flip flops are made of durable materials, most are made of lightweight plastic, foam, or rubber. As a result, they may wear out a little faster than sandals. However, they’re better suited for water-related activities, like enjoying a day at the pool or stepping into a public shower.

  • Support – Some sandals have ankle straps, soft insole cushioning, and arch support. These features make sandals a more comfortable option for long walks than your average flip flop. They can also help stabilize you if you ever have to traverse rougher terrains, making them the best walking sandals for women. By definition, flip flops don’t have ankle straps, meaning no ankle support. If they did, they wouldn’t flip or flop around while you walk. Traditional flip flops usually comprise a thin sole and rarely have any sole cushioning, shock absorption, traction, or arch support either, making them less comfortable for people with sensitive feet. Wearing flip flops too much can be detrimental to your overall foot health, as you grip your toes in flip flops, straining the ligaments contributing to plantar fasciitis, resulting in foot pain. Even so, flip flops are generally fine for short-term use.
  • Formality – When it comes to formality, sandals feature the full spectrum. If you’re looking to style sandals to wear with dresses, strappy stiletto sandals can be stunning for a fancy evening gala, whereas flat sandals suit a wide variety of casual events. Since there are so many types of sandals to choose from, there’s a sandal for nearly every occasion. On the flip side, flip flops have a much more casual connotation. Oftentimes, flip flops are worn around the pool or in public showers as a shower shoe. Even fancy flip flops are rarely appropriate for upscale events. However, flip flops are still a versatile option for casual outings, like beach days, errands, and afternoons at the local pool or park.

Are Sandals Shoes?

Sandals are open shoes with a sole that is held to the wearer's foot with one or more straps. The straps can go over the foot or around the ankle. Some sandals also have heels or wedges.

TOMS: For Sandals that Offer Both Style and Comfort

When it comes to spring and summertime shoes, there are some notable differences between flip flops and sandals. Both types of shoes offer breathability and can come in handy in a variety of situations—just not necessarily the same ones. By understanding the major differences between sandals and flip flops, you can select the perfect shoes for your upcoming summer activities with confidence.

At TOMS, we carry a wide range of women's sandals for all types of events. For instance, our Majorca Closed Toe Sandal is a classy option for the office, while our Sidney Sandal is ideal for relaxed weekends. No matter which style of sandals suits you best, you can rest assured that all of our shoes are as comfortable as they are stylish.

Looking to learn more about our shoes and how to style them? Make sure to check out our blog. From Slides vs Flip Flops to How to Style Sandals With Jeans, we share all the shoe-related style insights you’re looking for. So, whether you’re searching for shoes or searching for answers to your shoe-related questions, TOMS has everything you need.

Reviewed By Andrew David Stewart

Andrew David Stewart is the Manager of Digital Marketing at TOMS and has been working in the digital marketing and social media world for 6 years. Andrew is a lover of nature and the outdoors, and is passionate about telling stories through digital media.


Britannica. Sandal.

GQ. Here’s Exactly Where You Can and Can’t Wear Flip-Flops.