08/06/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT
Even when not in Rome, women now are doing as the Romans. This summer the hottest look in footwear is a (relatively) cool sandal that laces up the leg in true Caesar fashion. Gone are the strappy, wobbly-heeled numbers that gave special meaning to the phrase "a well-turned ankle." With their wide leather bands, heavy clasps and buckles, gladiator sandals, as the new styles are called, are clunky enough for battle. Some heels are flat enough for the arena, others are a solidly anchored three inches, and colors range from bright yellow to muted khaki.
Opinions on the origin of the new fashion differ, but the Japanese have been largely credited with introducing the sandals and influencing their march across Europe and America. The voluminous fashions of Japanese designers like Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo just don't look right with more dainty shoe styles. "You can't wear light delicate shoes with heavy clothes. You need a base," says Jane Tuma, a fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. Designer Joan Helpern, creator of the Joan and David shoe line, credits the irreverent London punk look with influencing the new offbeat sandals, which can be worn with the season's popular cropped pants and even minis. "These sandals can be both sporty and elegant," says Paris shoe designer Maud Frizon, one of the first who came, saw and conquered the gladiator marketplace.
Whatever the inspiration, the style has caught the eye—and feet—of celebs such as Cher, Phyllis George, Farrah Fawcett and Laura Branigan.
So far the isolated cases of rashes, itches and bruises blamed on the sandals and fasteners have not daunted designers—or buyers. Nor has the matter of how long it takes to buckle up. "My God," protested a woman while tackling a hardware-packed pair at a Manhattan shoe boutique, "I'm going to have to get up 10 minutes earlier just to wear these things." But the next morning she duly set her alarm.