The Gist: Flip-flops are worn primarily by beach and pool-goers. Those who do not wear flip-flops tend to rate themselves much more attractive, and flip-flop wearers may have taken note. Those who do wear flip-flops are more interested in cosmetic surgery and exercise, indicating they may feel they have big shoes to fill.

It’s mid-July, which, for those of us above the equator, means that summer is in full effect. And with summer comes the return of the perennial fashion statement: the flip-flop. It’s hard to miss these classics going up and down the street.

Since the only thing more reliable than flip-flop season is our curiosity, we had to take a look and see what was behind this fashion trend.

First, as you may have assumed, flip-flops are really popular. In fact, 60% of the US population wear flip-flops in general.

As far as we can tell, flip-flops have never been officially designated for a particular activity. So we polled our respondents to see where they wear these popular shoes.

What we found is that 50% of the population wear flip-flops for a water-focused activity, like going to the beach or lounging by the pool. So, although not officially sanctioned, flip-flops may be the shoe of choice for our water-based fun.

But who are these flip-flop wearers? Well, for starters, they’re probably your Gen X neighbor, boss, spouse, or even you. Adults between the ages of 35-54 comprise 37% of flip-flop wearers in the US. Millennials lag behind at 33%.

And Baby Boomers? Well, with only 23% of flip-flop wearers coming from this age range, it’s safe to say the 55+ set may not be jumping on the flip-flop bandwagon any time soon–and perhaps for a good reason. After all, flip-flops are one of the more risky shoe choices available, especially for those who may be seeking more foot support or traction to prevent slipping and falling.

Not to be left out is Gen Z, which is the least likely generation to wear flip-flops, with only 7% donning the shoe. So what are kids wearing these days? Well, that is a different story.

When we took a look at gender, we found that 55% of flip-flop wearers are women. This scratches the surface of what could be an interesting divide in marketing. Although the shoes themselves can be perfectly gender neutral, it is possible that flip-flop advertisements are skewed slightly more female.

We can’t discuss flip-flops without mentioning that the other name for the shoe is a ‘thong.’ And while the languaging may be harmless enough, there is certainly the potential that some of this subliminal messaging could be impacting the female to male flip-flop-wearing ratio.  

All this talk of perception is the perfect segway to this fact: those who don’t wear flip flops are the most likely to consider themselves much more physically attractive than most people their age and gender. As the data reveals, those who do wear flip-flops only believe themselves to be somewhat more physically attractive.

Flip-flop wearers are also more likely to be interested in elective surgery for cosmetic or weight-loss purposes, with 19% expressing a desire to have elective surgery in the future.

With this in mind, could there be a link between flip-flops and image? Well, according to our data, flip-flop wearers do spend more time on social media than their non-flip-flop-wearing counterparts.

Flip-flop wearers are also 30% more likely to exercise several times a week than non-flip-flop wearers, indicating that those who wear flip-flops may have some concerns over how they look.

All of that exercise appears to be paying off. 23% of those who wear flip-flops rate themselves as very healthy. By contrast, only 20% of those who do not wear flip-flops consider themselves the same.

Whether it is a placebo effect or genuine improved health is something the data can’t say, but it does leave us with a lot to unpack about this particular shoe phenomenon, namely its subtle yet very present connection to society’s focus on appearance.

In general, flip-flops tend to be very casual shoes, not typically associated with the peak of attractiveness. While non-flip-flop-wearers may rate themselves the most attractive, it seems flip-flop wearers are taking strides to help themselves feel the same way.

So, lest you write off the flip-flop as an inconsequential part of the summer season, just remember, flip-flop wearers abound and could be a key demographic to target not just in fashion, but also in health and wellness spaces–anywhere image takes center stage.