Espadrilles have been made in Pyrennean Catalonia and the Occitania region since the 14th century at least. There are shops in the Basque country still in existence that have been making espadrilles for over a century. The word comes from French language but dates back to ancient Catalan "espardenya", a term that indicates the esparto, Mediterranean plant used to make the special soles of these shoes.
The Archaeological museum of Granada owns a pair of espadrilles that were found on human remains inside the “cueva de los murielagos” (the bat-cave). It is estimated that these shoes are around 4000 years old. Clearly, they are a very primitive version of today’s espadrilles.
Designed as an easy-to-wear utility shoe in canvas with a jute rope sole, it was worn not only by the King of Aragon’s infantry in XIII century. In the XV century espadrilles became the peasant class shoes, not only in Spain but also in Portugal. Later espadrilles became also mine workers and priest’s shoes, because of low price.
In the XVII century began to make espadrilles from spinning plants of the family Malvaceae - jute. The fiber of jute has high wear resistance in comparison with esparto fiber.
In the XVIII century espadrilles got a fabric top - it came up in French where for these purposes were used cotton and linen. But this does not mean that in Spain they laid down arms: in 1776, was born Rafael Castaner, who became the founder of a whole dynasty of shoemakers, specializing exclusively in espadrilles. In 1927, the family founded a company Castaner.
The espadrille reached widespread popularity around the world in the 1940s - when espadrilles were seen on actresses Lauren Bacall, Sophia Loren and Grace Kelly - that the fashion world caught on.
In 60s Yves Saint Laurent came into contact with Isabelle Castanet on one of industrial exhibitions in Paris. Castaner Spanish shoe factory at that time was on the verge of bankruptcy. Yves Saint Laurent offered Castanet to make wedge espadrille, which had never been done before. It was an instant hit, influencing fashion even today.
Surrealist artist Salvador Dali was often photographed in a pair of black ankle lacing espadrilles and JFK sported a similar pair for a trip around the Mediterranean.
The famous shoe designer Manolo Blahnik began his career decorating espadrilles made by his parents with pebbles and seashells. These shoes were adored also by wealthy ladies.
The espadrille style was revived in the USA in the 1980s, due to the success of Miami Vice—the shoe was worn by the character Sonny Crockett.
Today, espadrilles are everywhere. But especially they are extremely popular both in France, Italy and in Spain, especially in the summer. People seemed to like it because of the sole, which is 100% natural, molds itself to the shape of the foot, and allows the skin to breathe.
By the way, do not think that espadrilles are only women's shoes! They are a lot of models for men's that perfectly demonstrated last collections for summer 2016.