You're wasting your money on flip-flops if you're not buying them from Old Navy
We put $4 Old Navy flip-flops to the test against $26 Havaianas.
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Much like ice cream trucks, fireflies, and the coconut-sweet scent of sunscreen, flip-flop sandals are an integral part of the summer experience. They’re comfortable, easy to throw on when running to the pool or beach, and show off a new pedicure (if you’re into that kind of thing). And, though they have a reputation of being the most dangerous shoe, even doctors fall for their charms. "I wear them, too," says Dr. Yena Do, a podiatrist at Cambridge Podiatry in Cambridge, Mass. "They're easy to put on, allow your feet to feel liberated, and are a staple for summer."
They can also be dirt cheap or relatively pricey. Such is the case with two prominent flip-flop makers, Old Navy and Havaiana, which make sandals that retail for about $4 or $26, respectively. With a price difference like that, it’s easy to assume that the quality differences in both shoes should also be vast—but is it?
I tested them to find out, both by wearing them around for the first month of summer and subjecting them to a series of lab tests designed by Reviewed’s senior scientist, Julia MacDougall. Here’s what happened—including a Havaianas fail we didn’t expect.
Which flip-flops are more comfortable and stylish?
I gave each pair an informal, comfort-based test by wearing them around my apartment and out and about on small errands to take out the trash, run to the grocery store, go to yoga, and the like, for about a week each.
Both shoes served their purpose equally well as, you know, being shoes. Neither pair fell off my feet or caused any considerable pain and, though I didn’t do anything much more intensive than schlepping a few blocks at a time, they both held up perfectly fine to day-to-day tasks.
Sole-wise, however, there was a clear winner: the Havaianas. They're made of a soft rubber etched with light, textured notches (according to the Havaianas website, they were modeled after a Japanese sandal called the Zori, so the notches are meant to look like grains of rice) that resulted in a spongy feeling that sprung back nicely with each step I took. The Old Navy soles, on the other hand (er, foot) are made of a synthetic PVC material, and you can tell. The foot does not sink into them so much as perch atop the surface, which, in comparison to the Havaianas, felt taut, unforgiving, and sweaty.
I also encountered a significant difference in the feeling in the straps. The Old Navy flip-flop straps have a coarse, almost unfinished coating, which caused chafing on top of the foot, especially when they got wet. The Havaiana straps were smoother around the edges, so they didn’t feel as rough rubbing on my feet, even wet. After my designated testing period was over, I continued to wear the Havaianas to do my errands, and even chose to bring them with me when I went on a weekend trip to a lake with some friends.
Style-wise, they’re similar. The Havaianas do look more expensive, with a sleeker strap and richer color than the Old Navy pair (I got both in gray), but neither are the kind of shoe that calls a ton of attention to itself. They both also looked good after their trial period, with some minor scuffing on the soles of both shoes and contours on the Havaianas footbed where the rubber had begun to mold to my feet.
Comfort and style winner: Havaianas
Which flip-flops are more durable?
A single person testing shoes probably shouldn’t be the sole arbiter as to whether one pair of shoes is more or less sturdy than another. For this reason, I subjected both pairs to a series of scientific(ish) tests to gauge their durability. I walked with both shoes through mud; submerged them in water and walked around when they were wet; stepped (carefully) on a shard of glass; and subjected the straps to a stress-based test.
The mud test
I found the Havaianas and Old Navy pair comparable when it came to traction while walking through the mud—though I wouldn’t recommend walking through mud in flip-flops to begin with—and subsequent washing. The Havaianas edged out the Old Navy pair when I washed them because the dirt slid off them more easily, but both shoes were clean by the end of it.
The water test
Because people wear flip-flops in wet conditions at the pool, beach, and in the shower, I wanted to see how much the shoes slipped around in water. To do this, I stepped in a puddle outside my house and walked up and down the street until they dried off. Yes, I got some curious looks from my neighbors, and, no, neither shoe fared especially well in this test. The outer soles on each were both OK, traction-wise, on the concrete, but they felt slimy on the inside, which made my feet slip around in them. They dried out at similar rates: about 10 minutes until walking felt more surefooted and 20 minutes until fully dry.
Instead, what ended up dividing them on this test was comfort. When the Old Navy flip-flops were wet, the straps caused considerable friction on the inner arch of my foot, which, in time, probably would have resulted in some gnarly blisters. The Havaianas strap creates less tension on the foot, so the fit remained comfy even when the shoes were wet.
The glass test
I got some surprising results when it came to stepping on glass, which I did by stepping on a broken Kombucha bottle and putting my weight on it until I started to feel raised pressure through the sole. The thick, firm sole of the Old Navy pair that made them less comfortable also made them hardier. They barely showing a mark, while the Havaianas displayed a dent on the sole. Neither suffered a puncture, however, which I’d say was a win for both.
The strap-strength test
As a final test, I wanted to gauge the strength of the straps. After all, who hasn’t had a summer mishap in which the strap of a flip-flop pops clean out of the shoe at an inopportune moment, bringing a halt to an otherwise fun summer evening? For this one, Julia rigged up a system, seen below, in which I placed a flip-flop beneath a plank of wood, tied a string around the strap, stood on either side of the plank, and pulled up on the string. Obviously (I assume), no one is really doing this with their sandals. Still, it was a good way to replicate the trauma that could occur to a pair of flip-flops, if you trip on a curb.
When I pulled on the Old Navy pair, nothing happened. Well, not nothing—the string made an angry red indent on the palm of my hands, and, eventually, the string itself broke. But the strap would not budge.
Old Navy string test
I set up my rig with the Havaianas, assuming that it wouldn’t work because it hadn’t worked for the Old Navy pair. But after maybe 10 seconds of pulling, the strap popped right out.
Havianas string test
It was pretty easy to poke the strap back through, but still—between a sandal that costs about the same as a quick trip to the grocery store and a sandal that costs less than a cup of cold brew, I wouldn’t have expected the less expensive pair to hold up better in any tests. And who’s to say that once the strap has popped out once, it won’t happen again in real life?
Durability winner: Old Navy
Which ones would I buy?
I think it’s safe to say that Havaianas flip-flops are much more comfortable than ones from Old Navy. Because I own both pairs, I reach for those. That said, had I not been assigned a story about the differences between the two flip-flop brands, I don’t think I ever would have sprung for a $26 pair—and, as a result, I would not know how much more pleasant to wear the Havaianas are.
But while my tests provided me with the knowledge of the Havaianas’ comfort, they also came with the revelation that these pricier shoes could straight-up break with pretty minimal effort. For me to spend more than 20 extra dollars on a pair of flip-flops, they have to be really, really great in all areas. I’m happy to spend extra money on something if I think it’s worth it, but, as it stands now, they just aren’t worth it to me.
Long story short? When I get flip-flops in the future, I’m going with a pair from Old Navy.
My overall winner: Old Navy
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.