A brief history & guide to huaraches (Mexican sandals)

Many people may be familiar with Huaraches throughout Latin America, the United States, and Canada.  Huaraches are a traditional sandal from Mexico typically made from hand-worked leather.

Huarache Sandal
The sandals probably first started off as a leather weave with leather soles and date back hundreds of years.  In recent times, especially with the rapid rise of the automobile, the sandals adopted their iconic use of synthetic rubber soles made from recycled tires.  Tire tread soled huaraches started showing up in Mexican markets around 1936, though the actual date that recycled tires started being used is up for some speculation. The rubber from the tires and the heavy leather weave has made them popular as sandals that don’t wear out, or at least not easily.  Some wearers report huaraches lasting 10 to 20 years.

Originally a native or peasant shoe, the early huaraches came in only limited sizes.  The sizing was based around a typical Mexican foot, which tended to be rather short and stout.  These days you can find many different interpretations of the classic huarache.  Some come with leather soles, some with rubber.  Others use a synthetic sole similar to sports or tennis shoes.  Still others have repurposed huarache-like designs as high end leather footwear.  Also, to accommodate a wider range of feet, many are now available in sizes up to size 15.  Huaraches come in women’s and children’s versions as well. Sometimes people disagree on what a huarache is, because they range from a simple flip flop type sandal up to designs that look like shoes. The more shoe-like huaraches are usually distinguished by some type of weave design that sets them apart from a typical shoe.

Huaraches are typically hand-made and many would argue that to truly be considered a huarache and not just a sandal, they have to be hand-made.  Rubber soles are hand cut, leather is worked and hand sewn, and all the stitching and weaving is done by hand.  The earliest huaraches were probably all natural leather and color.  Today, a range of colors are available ranging from dyed leather, to painted, to synthetic materials.  Because of the hand-made aspect of huaraches, it is true that you never find an identical pair.  In fact, proud huarache owners embrace the fact that each sandal is unique and slightly different from it’s other half.

Huaraches have been made in Mexico for hundreds of years, if not more.  They were the shoes of the native Americans who lived in the area of what is today Mexico.  Throughout the years, they were a low cost form of footwear for the masses in a typically warm region.  Huaraches became popular in the United States and some of Canada during the 1960’s when they became the shoe of choice for hippies and the generation that would become the Baby Boomers.  Huaraches were an economical, environmentally friendly shoe for their recycled soles.  After the counter culture movement died down it became harder to find huaraches in much of the U.S.  To this day there is still a large demand for the sandals.

Tips for your huaraches
Authentic huaraches are typically stiff and need to be worked in before they will adjust to your feet.  It is good to work the leather in your hands and flex the weave and the sole to start breaking in the leather.  Some people recommend wetting your huaraches and then walking around in them for the day so that as they dry, they mold to shape of your foot.  You should be aware that doing so makes it impossible to return them, so be sure before you try.  Sometimes the leather can shrink some, so some say it is good to have them a half size larger than what you typically wear.

Understand that authentic huaraches are sized and made according to Mexican sizes which differ from the U.S. sizing system.  Typically it is useful to consult someone who is familiar with the tricks of the conversion method.  Huaraches typically go consistently up to size 11, then the system changes from 12 to 15.  Changunga.com developed a sizing guide that may be useful for first time wearers to help them understand what size they are looking for.

For the do-it-yourselfer, you can purchase natural leather huaraches; that is the leather is untreated.  You can then paint or stain the sandals to make them any color or shade you wish.  In addition you decorate the sandals with different types of adornments or mark the leather with leather working tools.  We’ve even heard of huaraches being used in New York theater and then heavily modified to fit in with the visual theme of the play.

Huaraches Tip

Huaraches are also a traditional Mexican dish in which the stuffed cactus paddles look like little Mexican sandals.

Last updated: Sunday, April 05th, 2020 - 08:35:12 AM