by Nina Malkin
Standing sentry at the bedside, ready to provide comfort, warmth, and pleasure, slippers are wintertime essentials that make great holiday gifts—yet we tend to give them short shrift. “After a long day, slippers can create the ultimate ‘ahhh!’ moment, but we don’t truly take the time to find the right pair,” says Dyansa Calderone, lead buyer for online shoe retailer Zappos.
Indeed, experts say, slippers deserve the same attention we pay to picking street shoes. “We’re all unique in terms of size, style, materials and how, when, and where we wear our slippers,” says Sean Gayle, senior shoe designer for L.L. Bean. “Fortunately, with such a wide array available now, people can find slippers that fit their feet and their lifestyle.”
With choice, however, can come confusion. We’re here to help. Read on to find out what makes a quality slipper and how to match the people you love—yourself included!—to the perfect pair.
What to look for in a pair of slippers
Fit first: “It’s difficult to make a blanket statement about fit because some people wear slippers with thick socks and others with no socks,” Gayle says. As a general rule, slippers don’t come in half sizes and tend to run on the wide side. So one trick to finding true fit is to try slippers from a shoe brand you already like. “The company is apt to use a similar design to their popular flats,” Calderone explains. She also suggests reading style descriptions, which should recommend buying up or down in size to get the best fit, carefully when shopping online.
Material matters: “The difference between a $25 slipper and a $100-plus slipper largely comes down to materials,” says Leslie Gallin, president of footwear for the trade show firm Informa. “With slippers, it’s all about human touch, because they’re the shoes you cannot wait to come home to and slip on.” For quality and coziness, look for wool, sheepskin/shearling, kid leather (a.k.a. skin or hide that comes from a goat), and suede uppers. A popular option at a lower price point is plush terry, sure to evoke the pampering feeling of being at a posh spa.
Construction counts: The best slippers offer what seem like opposing assets: They’re soft and cuddly but also tough and rugged. That’s where construction comes in. “When you pick up a slipper, before trying it on, you should get a sense of the craftsmanship that went into it,” says Gayle. Check the stitching, which should look neat, uniform, and secure. Give it a bend—it should spring back into shape. Put your hand inside and feel around. “Seams and tags must be virtually nonexistent so as to not cause rubbing or friction when walking,” says Calderone.
Wearable warmth: “One of the most common complaints about slippers is the inability to regulate the temperature of the feet, making them too hot or too cold,” says Gayle. “Double-faced shearling is ideal for slippers as it’s a breathable material with moisture wicking properties—important because sweaty feet often turn cold. And an internal, padded midsole helps prevent cold from coming up through the bottom.”
Lining logic: A cushy pile lining is bound to flatten with daily wear—so should that affect the size you choose? “Only size down if the upper also has natural give, like a soft suede,” Calderone counsels. “If the upper is manmade, the pile will flatten, but the slipper itself won’t change, so it should still fit well.”
Style statements: While street shoes are dictated by the whims of fashion, slippers tend to be iconic. Backless classics like scuffs, mules, and slides are easiest to put on, while perennial favorite closed versions, such as moccasins and booties, may need a helping hand—or at least finger. Still, designers will be designers, so there are some fun trends this year. “Fluff and color are hot, hot, hot!” Calderone says.