How Worishofer German orthopedic sandals became chic.

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
July 15 2010 4:32 PM

Natty Nana

How an obscure German orthopedic sandal became chic.

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Although there have not been any big features on the Worishofer since that Kuczynski takedown, all the vendors I contacted said that their sales continue to rise due to young women's interest. Weitman is now selling about 50,000 Worishofers a year, and he says that since 2006, his sales have gone up about 25 percent each year. He supplies both independent boutiques and Amazon, which started carrying the shoe in 2008; Weitman says he ships between five and 100 pairs to the online retailing giant every day, and his company's sales to Amazon continue to increase.

The uptick in Worishofer sales could be explained by the power of social influencers—your friends and celebrities alike. I purchased my first pair two summers ago, after spotting Style 711 on my fashionable friend Becca. I told her how much I liked them and she got the fevered look of a televangelist. "They are the most comfortable shoes I've ever owned," she insisted. "You must get a pair!" Every woman I know who owns a pair recommends them to friends, because if you live in a walking city like New York, finding a pair of cute-yet-comfortable sandals is of paramount summer importance—and it's more difficult than you'd think. What's more, Maggie Gyllenhaal has been featured on People's celebrity baby Web site wearing the 251, and a celebrity's seal of approval can be just as powerful as a pal's.

Yet the Worishofer might stop just short of total footwear domination. Weitman says the post-collegiate ladies he sells to are mostly in the New York metropolitan area, while Banyas says he sells the shoes to young women across the country—but only in other major cities like Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. When you don't have to walk all the time, as you do in more urban environments, the extreme comfort that the Worishofer offers is not such a fantastic selling point. Why not rock a 5-inch heeled clog if you're driving to the party? Additionally, although their faintly elderly look is a selling point in Cobble Hill, it could be a liability in the hinterlands. Schwister says that for stylish middle-aged women, the fact that Worishofers are truly old lady shoes is a "turn-off." Which is to say, a 25-year-old can wear an orthopedic sandal without fearing that she looks like she's preparing for the nursing home, while the same shoe might cause a 50-year-old some consternation.

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Still, I'm rooting for the Worishofer to become a mainstream hit, even if it completely destroys any indie cred the shoes once claimed. It's hard to know what takes a fashion trend from small-scale urban success to the floors of local malls nationwide. An endorsement from Oprah? A cameo on the first lady's feet in the Presidential Flickr stream? An infomercial starring Angelina Jolie? But whatever it takes, I hope these shoes go wide. They are so comfortable, and so cute, that it will be good news for women everywhere when we decide they're not just for the nursing home anymore.

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