America's #1 Flip-Flop Is Frankly Kind of Ugly

Sorry to the 3.2 million people who own a pair.

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Clarks Cloudsteppers
Photo: Courtesy

From where I'm sitting in my living room right now, I can see a beach towel, baseball cap, and tote bag freshly unpacked from a recent PR mailer and stacked expectantly by the front door. And while these things in concert should inflate the familiar helium balloon in my chest that arrives when the tree outside my window has grown enough leaves to block out the sun, I feel like we need to be honest about summer's indignities before getting right back on this ride.

Rubber thong sandals are a betrayal. A tumor on summer's side that at first seems benign — to be smacked on before chasing an ice cream truck or lazily watching shirtless skateboarders tumble down half pipes — but proves malignant as the grains of sand and sweat intermingle between your toes like a literal cement exfoliant on a mission to hit bone.

But there is a reckoning happening, albeit an imperfect one. If textbook summer is made of sunburns and deteriorating $2.50 Old Navy sandals, the applied science needn't be so flat: a breezy August day on the Amalfi Coast, say, with a pair of Clarks Cloudsteppers and a Ghia spritz in hand.

America's number-one best-selling flip-flop brand, Clarks, is not the one you'd expect to top that chart. You probably know the brand from its Wallabees, a fixture of college-boy-wardrobe starter packs (they're also apparently a big deal in Jamaica). But its Cloudsteppers line, starring Arla Gilson, Breeze Sea, and Brinkley Jazz, accounts for up to 30 percent of the national flip-flop market and has sold upwards of 3.2 million pairs to date.

Clarks Women's Breeze Sea Flip-Flop

Amazon Clarks Women's Sandals

Shop now: $35 (Originally $55);

Their curvaceous platform frames, broad straps, and hardware-laden uppers escape trademark recognition because they don't embody the archetype of a traditional flip-flop. In fact, it's kind of difficult to even discuss Cloudsteppers without acknowledging that they're frankly kind of ugly. While a sleek, simple thong sandal with minimal lines and timeless neutral tones would elevate a summer outfit (hot tip: these TKEES look like they could be from The Row), Cloudsteppers' finishes harken to the ill-advised status handbags of the early aughts whose trickledowns can be found at airport gift shops and dollar store accessory aisles, reconfigured to be carried clumsily on toes awaiting awkward tan lines.

But while Havaianas takes up the flip-flop-shaped space in our brains, Clarks is busy capturing one of every five flip-flop dollars spent in the US. I'm certain it couldn't care less about my skeptical remarks on its money-printing shoes' appearance.

Nor, it seems, do the effusive buyers leaving Amazon reviews numbering in the thousands. The Breeze Sea Cloudstepper is ranked "#1 Best Seller in Women's Flip-Flops" as well as "#1 in Women's Platform & Wedge Sandals," with a 4.8-star rating culled from nearly 25,000 reviews. Fans of the shoes find them "springy," "cushiony," "extremely comfortable," and even "flattering and stylish" (see, what do I know?).

Cloudsteppers' vapor-like takeover of the flip-flop market can be boiled down to consumers making informed, practical choices en masse. Comfort steps to the front with Clarks' proprietary SoftCushion technology, a bouncy foam sole that absorbs impact shock and in turn offers protection to your joints. Those Balenciaga-esque buckles serve a purpose, too, making the sandals adjustable to your foot width, a feature Clarks evocatively praises for helping them stay on "from dawn to dusk." The 'flops even have a little platform, about one inch, that lends a levitating sensation; the Cloudsteppers squad surely agrees the branding experts behind this name were onto something.

Consider this post an omen, and Cloudsteppers an elegant exit strategy. In a matter of weeks, we'll already be at risk of humiliation by yellowed pit rings on too-expensive-for-what-they-are white tanks, heat-induced temper tantrums, and butt sweat. The silent, Cloudstepping majority, however, will have one less summer curse to suffer.

Shop Clarks Cloudsteppers starting at $35 on Amazon.

Clarks Women's Arla Glison Flip-Flop

Amazon Clarks Women's Sandals

Shop now: $43 (Originally $65);

Clarks Women's Brinkley Jazz Flip-Flop

Amazon Clarks Women's Sandals

Shop now: $40 (Originally $55);

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