this thing's incredible

Like My Favorite Birks in Summer, I Now Live in These Japanese ‘Winter Sandals’

Photo: Courtesy of the retailer

I love a comfortable shoe. I am pro-Dansko, I stan all Birkenstocks, and even though my feet are way too sweaty for a Croc, I see you, Ariana, and I am jealous. During the summer, I’m constantly in and out of my Birkenstock Arizona EVA sandals. Few shoes are more convenient and comfortable (and cool). Running to the store? Throw on my sandals. Last-minute drinks at one of L.A.’s 2 million small-plates restaurants? Throw on my sandals. Frances McDormand even wore Birk sandals while PRESENTING AT THE OSCARS (albeit a pair co-created by Valentino), because she clearly gets that standing for hours in comfy shoes is way better than standing for hours in heels. When I moved to L.A., I thought I arrived in year-round sandal bliss. But I thought wrong. It gets cold here! (I hear every New Yorker rolling their eyes while reading this.) Sure, it doesn’t get Sorel-boots cold, but it does get chilly enough that I am forced to retire my Birkenstock sandals. I can muster wearing them with some cute socks through mid fall, but then November hits, and it’s goodbye to my favorite kind of comfy, convenient footwear. Or so I thought.

Subu’s “winter sandals” entered my life this past January, on a visit to Akomeya, a Goop-approved store in the Chao neighborhood of Tokyo. The shop is filled with all sorts of amazing gifts to bring home to lucky friends and family, like beautifully wrapped bundles of rice, bamboo ear picks, or the Mount Fuji tea towel you never knew you needed. My boyfriend, who loves a house shoe, first spotted the Subus among Akomeya’s curated selection. (He’s my boyfriend for a reason people!) While they are technically slippers by design and appearance, Subus are not meant to be confined to the house — they are also meant to be worn out on the town, or at least around the neighborhood. Which is why I, and the brand, prefer to call them a winter sandal. The Tokyo-based company was born out of a longstanding Japanese tradition of taking one’s shoes off when entering a home. In warmer months, this means sandals are not surprisingly a popular choice of footwear, because nobody wants to lace up sneakers every time they need to take out the trash, walk the dog, or meet their delivery person at the front door. But Tokyo gets cold in the winter, so the company developed its shoes to function as effortlessly as a sandal while providing comfort (and warmth) in cooler weather.

The best way to describe the look of Subus is as puffer jackets for your feet, and it might not come as a surprise that brands known for making actual winter gear, like Northface and Teva, have similar-looking shoes. To me, Subus are fugly cool like certain pairs of Crocs and, perhaps because of their Japanese DNA, they are a touch more minimal than other brands’ styles with more technical design details. Still, Subus have the sorts of features that you’d want in even casual winter footwear, including a grippy rubber sole, Teflon coating that repels water and dries quickly, down filling, and a fleece-lined interior that also manages to wick moisture away from my sweaty feet, keeping them dry and toasty. The brand describes the shoes as “designed to wrap your feet in a pocket of warmth” and, to me, that’s more or less exactly how they feel — as if each of my feet are tucked beneath a cozy blanket atop their own Casper mattress. Now that I’m seeing L.A.’s outdoor malls already decked out for Christmas, I find myself thinking about, and reaching for, my Subus more and more. Like my Birks, I throw them on with a T-shirt and jeans for trips to the grocery store or yoga class. I recently took them for a spin to a more formal affair, a potluck dinner with close friends. I felt somewhat self conscious wearing them to a party, but as soon as I walked in the door, a friend asked, “What are those?” Before I could even get a word out, she followed up with, “Can I try them on?”

Are they as sleek as my Arizona EVAs? No. And they can overheat my feet if I wear them on days that aren’t super chilly. (Those who live in colder climates likely won’t find this as big of a problem.) Still, I’m constantly finding new occasions to wear my Subus, and can’t wait to show up in them on set, where I’ll surely get interested looks from all the other actors in Uggs (Hollywood’s standard winter sandal, at least based on my time on the sets of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and other jobs.) Ariana can keep her Crocs, and Dakota Johnson and Zendaya their Uggs. As for me, I’m totally fine — and completely comfortable — being “that actress from that thing” kicking around in her Subus.

And some Subus for men

The Grommet sells both men’s and women’s Subus in gray, black, and red. It says they run small, so be sure to consult its sizing info when ordering. In addition to the Amazon-sold pairs linked to above, that site has a selection of other Subus, including a cheery yellow pair and ones in a Comme des Garçons–esque polka-dot print, but none are available via Prime.

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The Japanese ‘Winter Sandals’ I Plan to Live in All Season