What are Jelly Shoes?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Jelly shoes are shoes which are made from a porous type of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) known as jelly rubber. Jelly rubber is made by adding materials known as plasticizers to PVC, causing it to soften and become more flexible. It is also used in a wide variety of other products. Like other plastics, jelly rubber can be made in a wide assortment of colors and patterns, ranging from plain clear material to neon pink jelly rubber with sparkles.

Woman shopping
Woman shopping

The heyday of jelly shoes was in the 1980s, when these shoes were on the feet of women and girls all over the world, in a rainbow of styles and colors. In the early 1990s, jelly shoes began to fall out of fashion, and they can sometimes be hard to find today, tending to also be much more expensive than they were in the 1980s, when they frequently sold at very low prices in discount stores.

The term “jelly rubber” is a bit of a misnomer, as anyone who has worn jelly shoes knows. It is in fact a bit stiff, and sometimes quite uncomfortable; jelly shoes could contribute to the formation of large blisters, and they also tended to get very unpleasant when the wearer started to sweat. Some people put pads in their jelly shoes to stay fashionable in comfort, in response to these issues.

Jelly shoes tend to be flat, although versions with chunky heels are also available, and they are usually designed to be worn as sandals, with a woven or interlaced upper. “Jellies,” as they were called, were often worn with stickers, and they might be decorated with patterns of flowers and other motifs. Glitter was a common feature on jelly shoes in the 1980s, and some designers embedded objects into the jelly, ranging from tiny plastic fish to geometric shapes.

As a general rule, jellies are viewed as women's shoes. In addition to being fashionable for a brief period in human history, these shoes can sometimes also be practical. For example, the partially enclosed design makes jellies ideal for casual wading in rivers and streams, as they protect the feet from rocks while allowing the shoe to drain freely and dry quickly on dry land. For people with feet of the right size and shape, jellies can also be very comfortable casual shoes.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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I know these shoes are out of favor now, but they were great back in the 80s. I wish I still had a pair. They were especially useful when swimming on rocky beaches. Getting into the ocean on a sandy beach is easy to do barefoot; but on a pebble-y beach, not so much!

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