02 September 2012

Flip-Flops: Tsinelas with Glamor

A couple of years back, a friend wanted to know what size my feet are because he wanted to buy me a pair of Havaianas as an expression of gratitude. I was right properly horrified and refused to give it. Call it Havaianas, call it flip-flops; where I’m coming from, there’s only one name for it: tsinelas! More accurately, sipit!

To my mind, the words thousand pesos and sipit do not connect! God Almighty! I even once had to ask somebody what flip-flops were, so alien was the term for me. And I am reasonably certain that my command of the Queen’s language is more than adequate…

My word! The marketing people, they’re really good! In my days, the sipit was the Spartan, as tough a brand as slippers could get. So appropriately branded as well! Were the ancient Spartans, after all, not only the epitome of toughness in battle but also of stark simplicity and staidness in living?


The term flip-flop itself is believed to have made its way into both American and British English way back in the seventies. The word is thought to have been coined after the sound that the rubber soles made when hitting the soles of the feet as a person wearing flip-flops walked.
So, thus, when one’s Mom went to the tsinelas section of the market to look for a pair, she always asked for Spartan. Not only were these cheap; but these were expected to last especially since kids spent so much time playing habulan along the kalye.

As every kid who played habulan knew, the runner’s certifiable nightmare was the pigtal, or when one of the slippers’ rubber strands broke off from the sole. The mark of a good tsinelas was, of course, when the strands were still attached even after the sole had become embarrassingly pudpod.

The sipit was for the bahay or for galâ, as opposed to lakad which was a bit more special than the former. The galâ in the old context was within reasonable walking distance from home; while the lakad was somewhat more official or formal such as when one had to go to the bank or attend an affair in another town.

Therefore, it was alright to wear sipit for the galâ but one had to wear shoes for the lakad. So, when Mom said, “Magbihis kayo, may lakad tayo!” that meant putting on something presentable and, of course, putting on shoes as well. Mom didn’t want her children to look poor, after all.

There was an element of snobbery as well between types of tsinelas. The single-strand ones which were frequently made of leather were pang-mayaman, never mind that they made the feet smell like dead rats. Personally, because I spent so much time running on the kalye, I have always preferred the sipit because they feel so comfortable.

But how times have changed... I never would have wagered on the humble sipit reinventing itself to one day be something of a status symbol. Of course, if a pair costs a grand, how else can it be?

Personally, my pyschological resistance level for a pair of sipit is at about a hundred and fifty pesos. Anything more and I think it is highway robbery – with violence!

Admittedly, I walk around town in a pair of Adidas footwear which, if I’m being honest, are also no more than sipit. I lie to myself and think of the pair as ‘sportswear’ rather than sipit. Just to justify having paid more than what I normally do for a pair.

Of course, nowadays, it has become perfectly acceptable to walk around town, ride public vehicles or even enter malls and other establishments wearing nothing but sipit. Society itself has simply become so much more casual.

At any rate, sipit or flip-flops started becoming fashionable in the West after American GI’s returning from their tours-of-duty in Japan and other countries in the Far East after World War II brought these home and started wearing these.

The term flip-flop itself is believed to have made its way into both American and British English way back in the seventies. The word is thought to have been coined after the sound that the rubber soles made when hitting the soles of the feet as a person wearing flip-flops walked.

The Tagalog word tsinelas is actually derived from the Spanish word chinella which means slippers. The Spanish word itself hints at a reference to the Chinese; and indeed, weren’t we all taught in elementary Social Science classes that the Chinese invented these sandals.

On the other hand, this type of footwear has actually been around as far back as 4,000 B.C. and were worn by ancient Egyptians. Then again, the modern flip-flops are believed to have been designed after the zōri which GI’s saw the Japanese wearing during their tours-of-duty.

Strange as it may sound, but Medical doctors in the West have found that wearing flip-flops can actually be injurious to the foot and lower leg. But maybe that is just because those in the West are not as used to wearing these as much as we are...











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