Jelly sandals are a controversial trend. Alongside Crocs and Tevas, the ‘90s staple is one of the “ugly” shoes tiptoeing from celebrities’ closets to the streets. Back in 2020, Alexa Chung’s second collaboration with Juju featured jellies, and Gucci released rubber slide sandals earlier this spring. More recently, brands from Hush Puppies to Zara have come out with their own versions.
With the re-emergence of ‘90s and ‘00s styles, jelly sandals have also found their way into our collective psyche. I couldn’t resist trying them.
I never wore jelly sandals as a kid. Unlike most of my classmates, I detested them because, even as a five-year-old, I could sense that the Puerto Rico heat and humidity were no match for the plasticky feel of jelly sandals. I could see them all lined up by the pool at summer camp, the sweat accumulated over a day’s worth of play left to dry, only to be drenched in chlorine-packed water after the swimming session was over. The appeal was lost on me. Thanks to the constant touch of skin against rubber, they’d often generate blisters as well as a gel-like (and malodorous) dirt paste that would get caught in my classmate’s feet. I was happy with my Barbie-themed sneakers, thank you very much.
The closest I ever got to wearing a pair was in 2015. After spending a semester in Spain, my roommate’s love of jelly sandals finally got to me. While she donned the classic strappy version in all-jelly material, I opted for a pair with a leather sole from Zara Kids. (My feet are conveniently small enough to fit children’s sizes.) They weren't too bad. But after about three months, I admitted to myself I didn’t want to look like I was 10 anymore.
But this time, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. So I put on three different versions: strappy slides, thong sandals, and platform sandals. The adult in me wanted to prove that a kid-like shoe could have a place in my 20-something’s closet. I should have listened to my gut.
On the first day of my experiment, I tried the Hush Puppies jelly strappy slides in “Caribbean Blue.” The straps were thick enough to provide some sense of security in a slip-on sandal, and although they looked rubbery on the outside, they were soft on the inside. The latter feature truly opened my mind to the possibility of adopting jelly sandals into my closet. After all, what I most hated about them as a kid was their plasticky feel.
I paired my Hush Puppies sandals with a white button-down shirt from Target and chartreuse shorts from Uniqlo for an effortless look to run some errands. In a city as hot as Tucson in the middle of July, I was afraid the long-sleeve button-down and jelly sandals would be a nightmare scenario of sweat and blisters. But my only complaint was an overheated torso. My feet arrived home pain-free. So far, the jellies were winning.
That changed on the third day of my experiment, when I chose to wear a pair of Coach jelly thong sandals. I’ve never been a fan of thong fashion items — who wants a floss-like strand jamming your butt crack or toes every step you take? These did little to change my mind.
At first — styled with a black oversized shirt from Zara and white shorts from Target — they seemed like an innocent pair of sandals I’d wear on any summer. But three hours later, I wanted to run home to free myself from the blister hell I had just experienced. (It’s important to note I was a ballet dancer for 12 years, so my threshold for blisters is well above the norm.) The sole was drenched in sweat, unleashing a terrible flashback from my days in summer camp watching fellow campmates running around with feet drenched in petroleum-jelly sweat. Meanwhile, the thong-like strap lacerated my skin, leaving a bubble between my toes ready to pop-off at any given moment. It was a familiar pain, one that I had only ever experienced with professional pointe shoes. So I kicked them off and never looked back.
By the third pair, I was ready to give up because comfort is not something I am willing to sacrifice for the sake of cute shoes. It was with great hesitance that I put on a pair of platform sandals with clear jelly straps from Forever21. I paired them with a bright orange tank dress from the Christopher John Rogers x Target collab. Of all the jellies, these were the most aesthetically-pleasing to me. But just as I was putting them on, my boyfriend said: “Those look like a guaranteed sweat pool.” Sadly, he was right.
After a few days of blisters, I was already packing on bandages, and this pair didn’t help much. The sharp-edged straps almost cut my sweaty skin, and they were so rigid I could barely take a step without wincing. My look was only salvaged by the grace of a CJR ruffled hem.
For a shoe that’s supposed to be summer-ready, jelly sandals are one surefire way not to enjoy the season. While one pair stood out as the winner (I think we can all agree it was the Hush Puppies sandals!), the other two cemented my allergy to jelly sandals for good.