Huaraches Through the Decades: The Ultimate Summer Adventure Shoe

From Kerouac, to Pynchon, to the present, this centuries-old sandal is as stylish as ever
July 26, 2018Words by Jon Gugala

It’s the summer of ‘47 and Jack Kerouac is shivering on the side of the road. “My shoes, damn fool that I am, were Mexican huaraches, plant-like sieves not fit for the rainy night of America and the raw road night,” his semi-autobiographical narrator Sal Paradise remembers in On the Road.

Kerouac, harbinger of a new American literary epoch, may have chosen the wrong weather to wear the centuries-old pre-Columbian slip-on, and little did he know that his and others’ footwear choice would impact the next 80 years of fashion.

From the surfers of the Beach Boys’ ‘60s (“Surfin U.S.A.”) and Thomas Pynchon’s slacker P.I. in the ‘70s (Inherent Vice) up until this very day, the huarache sandal has been the go-to summer shoe for the adventurous man. And it continues with Nisolo’s Huarache Sandal.

Photo: ABC Television

While there’s some mystery surrounding the precise origins of these low-cut, woven leather slip-ons, it’s clear they appeared in Mexico — particularly in rural areas of Jalisco, Michoacán, and Yucatan — before Spanish colonization. First worn by farmers and entirely made out of leather, the huarache’s popularity spread across Mexico most rapidly in the early 20th century when repurposed car tires were used as rubber soles.

Photo: William P. Gottlieb via Library of Congress

According to Beat historian and author Dr. Nancy Grace, the huarache came to the United Sates’ mainstream via the Beats, most likely through black New York City jazz culture in the postwar ‘40s. Kerouac, poet Allen Ginsberg, and many of that generation’s writers and artists had joined themselves to this world, disregarding societal norms and, with many states’ anti-miscegenation legislation, actual laws. They were buzzing on Benzedrine and Charlie “Bird” Parker’s Bebop, and the huarache was part of this — an underground symbol of the melding of cultures and of nonconformity. “[Huaraches] certainly weren’t advertised in the New York Times,” Dr. Grace says.

Photo: Victoria Potenza

The Beats, in their myriad new styles of dress, claimed to be anti-intellectual, eschewing the conventional learned elite of their day. But Dr. Grace says they were anything but; they read deep into the English canon while exploring Eastern philosophy and spirituality. They were recently free of war (Kerouac and novelist William S. Burroughs both served in the military) and under the impending doom of nuclear holocaust. Dr. Grace calls their movement one of breaking down the false barriers of race separation, spiritual limitation, sexual repression, and drug aversion. “There are things that happened in the ‘60s and ‘70s and continue to happen today — that have direct connection to Beat politics, philosophy, and aesthetic practices,” she says.

From the Beats’ groundwork, ‘60s hippies accelerated it and ‘70s activists triumphed in it. They all did it while wearing their peculiar style of footwear: the huarache.

Photo: Mason Trinca

When we remember the Beats, we think of their freewheeling excitement with the world as they discovered it. They were, as Kerouac wrote, “the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

Photo: Mason Trinca

With Nashville’s Nisolo, the historic sandal is perfected. Working in its Peruvian factory with local artisans, Nisolo weaves its Huarache sandal with an authentic look and modern comfort. While its soft leather upper is immediately comfortable, the tri-layer midsole and outsole is what shines. Against the skin, the topmost leather conforms to the foot while the middle layer of foam provides cushion. A gum rubber-like textured outsole gives grip in rain or shine (something Kerouac would have probably enjoyed that July night).

We love Nisolo’s offering for its ease of wear, put-together look, and rebellious roots. If there’s one summer shoe that can pull of all these, it’s the classic Mexican huarache.

>>Next: 10 Best Men’s Slip-on Shoes for Summer

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