When Karl Birkenstock launched the Birkenstock Madrid, the first sandal his company had ever made and drawing from a family lineage of 200 years in cobblery and insole production, I doubt he was thinking of students at a college consortium in the Inland Empire as his top clients. Yet whenever I walk around the 5Cs, even if it’s just to grab a green box lunch from the dining hall, it’s almost inevitable that a number of people along the way will be wearing a pair of Birkenstocks.
Students at the Claremont Colleges gravitate towards the two most popular models that the company currently offers: the Boston and the Arizona. Rarely dependent on gender identity, race or age, I typically spot two to three pairs of these models in every class I go to. They’ve been ‘trendy’ for the past few years, especially with the help of the Instagram Explore page and TikTok’s For You page, but here it feels like they’re more of a lifestyle than a trend.
Naturally, I wanted to know the answer to the question that probably crosses most prospective students’ minds when they come here to visit: Why Birkenstocks?
Before getting into the 5C community’s response, I figured I’d take a crack at answering myself, as the proud owner of a pair of Bostons. First and foremost, they’re comfortable. Barefoot or with socks, they’re not only easy to walk in, but also much easier to put on than lace-up sneakers like the Converse Chuck Taylor.
They also go with everything, especially given the mostly warmer climate here in Claremont. They can be dressed up with jeans or down with sweats and shorts, and they look good regardless. Sure, they may restrict the wearer to some level of casualness, but with the collaborations that the brand has done with the likes of Rick Owens, Dior, Jil Sander and Stüssy, those seeking to elevate their look will have no trouble finding a good option.
“So maybe it is as simple as it seems on the surface: On a college campus with limited dorm space and warmer weather, it helps to have comfortable, accessible footwear that won’t stand out too much but can also act as a nice compliment to a variety of outfits.”
Another plus is the sheer variety of models and colors. Along with the aforementioned collaborations, Birks come in all different materials, colors and even widths. So even though basically everyone has a pair, it doesn’t mean they all look the same. There might even be a little bit of joy in professing to everyone naïve enough to ask that no, unfortunately, these Birkenstocks are not normal Birkenstocks, and you probably won’t be able to find them anywhere and they’re kind of a personal thing to me anyway, so I don’t think I’ll share where I got them.
But enough of what the fashion elitist has to say. To get a better idea of students’ opinions, I decided to ask some of my friends why they prefer to purchase their sandals and clogs from this German footwear producer.
Caroline Hardy PO ’24 enjoys the flexibility of the closed-toe silhouette that can still be slipped on and off. It allows the wearer to put on and take off their shoes comfortably without having to compromise formality.
“The Birkenstock Boston is the ultimate slip-on,” Hardy said.
Jad Gorman CM ’24 appreciates the ease of styling his Bostons.
“The suede allows me to dress [the shoes] up in a way that other footwear doesn’t permit,” Gorman said.
Even newer students don’t take long to adjust to the shoe of choice: Marco Wiharso PO ’27 purchased a pair of Birkenstocks after the first few weeks of the fall semester.
“As an East Coast native, I wanted to take advantage of wearing a sandal without my feet getting cold,” Wiharso said.
So maybe it is as simple as it seems on the surface: On a college campus with limited dorm space and warmer weather, it helps to have comfortable, accessible footwear that won’t stand out too much but can also act as a nice compliment to a variety of outfits. It also doesn’t hurt that there’s a Birkenstock store conveniently located right in the middle of the Claremont Village, which makes the shoes accessible to students on foot (get it?).
Birkenstocks are by far the most widely popular form of footwear at the 5Cs, but that doesn’t mean there’s any shame in following the crowd and buying a pair. Sometimes even the most dedicated fashionistas need to value comfort over presentation once in a while. So for anyone on the fence about buying a pair, find the color, material and style that best compliments your personal style and go for it. They’ve been the preferred footwear option of 5C students for this long for a reason.
Gus Gingrich PO ’24 is from Walnut Creek, California. In his free time, he enjoys stressing over being outbid on Japanese auction websites and mocking up re-designs for his dorm room closet.