Jelly Shoes

AKA: jellies, jelly sandals

How to say it:  jel-ee  shoos

Traditional Features: 

Jelly Shoes

  • made from PVC plastic
  • often translucent and infused with glitter
  • woven or strappy, closed-toe upper
  • sling-back style over the heel
  • t-bar and buckle across the ankle
  • often flat, but can have a heel or platform

21st Century Jelly Shoes

While many styles of plastic shoes now exist on the modern market, the old-school woven or t-bar styles are still popular with adults and children alike. Just like in the 80s flat, heeled and platform styles are available and come in classic translucent or solid colours, with or without glitter.

American Apparel BC Footwear

American Apparel, BC Footwear

Juju Vivienne Westwood

JuJu, Vivienne Westwood


…of the style: The history of the jelly shoe is far from precise. Some sources say that the French are to thank for the style; Frenchman Jean Dauphant apparently introduced the plastic footwear after WWII when there was a leather shortage in Europe.

Another story, from the pages of the New York Times in 1980, claims that shoe manufacturer Bert Geller saw the shoes on Greek hotel workers and, spotting a potential moneymaker, started to manufacture them at home. The shoes were sold in Macy’s and Sak’s Fifth Avenue for $20 a pair and were apparently bought by society women who planned to wear them gardening.

Perhaps the most popular theory is that the jelly shoe came from Brazil. It was introduced into the modern footwear market at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee and then shown again a year later at a shoe expo in Chicago. The shoes were brought to America by Preston Haag Sr, a former banker that wanted a change of career. Haag travelled to South America to research possible export opportunities, spied the colourful jelly shoes on the feet of Brazilian women, struck a deal with the local manufacturer (Grendene) and brought them to the US under the name Grendha shoes.

Following the Chicago Shoe Expo, the Haag family placed an order for 24,000 pairs of jellies; 2 years later their order was for 3.5 million pairs – needless to say the jelly shoe was a quick success. This success was greatly helped by the department store Bloomingdale’s, who purchased 2,400 pairs at the expo and sold them on their main floor and catalogue in 1983. The shoes were extremely popular in the summer months for both women and children (in fact there is a good chance that almost every child of the 80s and 90s can remember having a pair of jellies in their youth).

The Grendha shoe company released a new style of jelly shoe every 6 months, regardless of how the current style was selling, in order to stay ahead of competitors (who were springing up at a rapid pace) and to give the jelly shoe a new look every season.

Jellies remained popular through the 80s, and reappeared in the mid-90s, and mid-2000s, emerging in the summer months in the collections of designers and high-street brands alike. The beauty of the plastic shoe is that it can be moulded into any and every shape imaginable, and the humble jelly shoe has evolved into a variety of styles including ballet flats, ankle boots, heels, sling-backs and even pumps, as shoe designers around the world have taken the plastic shoe and made it their own.

In the 21st century the jelly shoe is still a popular summer option for women, and many, many styles exist in the modern market at price points that range from just a few dollars to into the hundreds. The versatility of the style and low-cost of the materials has made the jelly a perpetually popular shoe and it seems likely that its popularity will continue for many years to come.

…of the name: I couldn’t find an exact explanation for the name ‘jelly shoes’ but I imagine that it has something to do with the fact that the plastic used to make the shoe often has the translucent look of jelly.

For more info on Jelly Shoes try Wikipedia, eHow, wiseGeek, Bustle or the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

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