What are Slingbacks?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Slingbacks are a type of women’s shoe, often a dressy sandal or pump that features a strap at the heel of the foot, at the ankle, crossing over or on the anklebone on each side of the foot. They may feature a buckle on the side of the foot, but many simply have the strap. Modern pairs may incorporate a little bit of elastic to keep them on the foot without needing a buckle.

Some types of tennis shoes incorporate the style of slingbacks.
Some types of tennis shoes incorporate the style of slingbacks.

Early slingbacks first became popular in the 1930s. They were usually one of two designs. They featured a pump front toe box, or had an open toe. In the second style, the top of the front of the foot was covered and the toes merely peeped out of the uncovered part. These are also called peep toe pumps. Strappy sandals with slingbacks have become increasingly popular, since you can simply slip your foot into the shoe without messing with buckles.

Modern variants of slingbacks are mules, also called "slip-on shoes."
Modern variants of slingbacks are mules, also called "slip-on shoes."

Sometimes this style of shoe is confused with sandals that feature an ankle strap. The primary difference between slingbacks and ankle straps is that the ankle strap crosses over the top of the foot. Ankle straps on sandals predate the slingback style and were often used, even on pumps, to keep the shoe on while pursuing some of the more vigorous dances of the 1920s. Slingbacks do have the occasional disadvantage of slipping off, especially when the shoe does not fit properly.

Modern variants of this shoe are slides or mules. Like slingbacks, these feature designs that cover the bottom half of the upper foot, in pump styles, strappy sandal styles or clog-like styles. They don’t feature the back strap, so they’re often called "slip-on shoes." Many prefer slides to slingbacks because they are easy to wear and won’t blister the back of the heel.

Since the 1930s, slingbacks have been reinvented with virtually every shoe trend to incorporate the latest styles. They are sometimes used on platform shoes, on loafers or comfortable shoes, and even on Keds® like tennis shoes. Espadrilles may feature this kind of design, as can shoes with kitten heels, stilettos, or any other varieties. They remain popular and stylish shoes and a nice variation on the traditional closed shoeback look.

If you do enjoy wearing open-backed shoes, be aware you’ll be showcasing part of your heel. In order to keep this look attractive consider regular exfoliation of the feet and moisturizing, especially when you don’t wear nylons. This will present attractive, exposed heels.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I have a couple pairs of dressy slingback shoes in my closet, but don't wear them very often. They are comfortable to wear, but I get tired of the strap constantly falling off my heel.

I also prefer to wear shoes that have an ankle strap instead of slingbacks. They feel much more secure on my feet and I don't have to worry about the strap falling down all the time.

Having said all that, I do have a casual pair of leather slingbacks that are one of my favorites. This pair of slingbacks fit me well, and I enjoy wearing casual shoes better than dress shoes.


I have a pair of slingback tennis shoes that I wear all the time. These are more comfortable for me than regular tennis shoes, and are much easier to slip on and off.

I don't go shopping for shoes very often, but was surprised at how many styles of women's slingbacks I saw the last time I did.

If you like to wear slingback shoes, you could find just about any style or color you would want. I don't think platform slingbacks would be any more comfortable any other platform shoes, but if that is what you like to wear, you sure have a lot of choices available to you.


I enjoy the look and comfort of slingback shoes, but usually only wear them when the weather is nice.

Where I live, it seems like we have more months of winter than summer, so I don't wear them as often as I would like.

Because we have a lot of cold weather, ice and snow, a slingback shoe exposes too much of my heel to feel comfortable.

I like to wear shoes that cover my whole foot instead of worrying about getting my heels too wet or cold.


My friend has a pair of slingback golf shoes. They are a little weird looking, but she says they are so comfortable that she can stand up and walk around for hours in them.

They are white and overall, they have the appearance of sneakers. However, they go down in the back like a mule and they have a strap across the heel. They also have cutouts on either side crossed over by pink leather straps for better air circulation.

One thing that really does look comfortable is the padded strap. It has what looks like a little pink cushion built into it, so it doesn't bother her when it rubs up and down a little as she walks.


@lighth0se33 – I can't stand up in stilettos, though I do think the slingback kind is cute. I prefer a solid chunk for a heel, so I stick with wedge slingbacks.

I have one pair that is peach colored on top and features a large flower over the toes. The heel strap has a golden buckle that goes well with the rope material on the platform heel.

I have always loved espadrilles. The woven part just seems so beachy and natural. I have also worn wedge heels with only a string that ties around the leg to secure them, and I must say that the slingback variety is much more comfortable.


I like funky shoes, so when I found a pair of black and white striped stiletto slingbacks at the mall, I had to have them. The thin heel is four inches high, so it's a challenge to walk in these shoes, but the strap helps stabilize things.

The thin stripes will mess with your eyes if you stare at them for long. There is a tiny peephole on top of the toes, and I've never seen shoes made like that before.

The back strap has a buckle, but it is black, so you barely notice it amongst the stripes. I'm glad that the manufacturer chose to make it black, because I think silver or gold would have been out of place on these slingbacks.


@strawCake – I love elastic slingbacks, but I prefer the kind without the buckle. I had to go shopping for a pair to where to my friend's birthday bash, and since I knew there would be a lot of dancing, I wanted something comfortable that would also stay put.

I found some black velvet slingbacks with stack heels. They are very unique looking, with the material covering most of the top of my foot with a section cut out in the middle. The strap across my heel is elastic and covered in a soft material for comfort.

I was able to dance for hours without losing my shoes! Plus, the slingbacks looked great with my strappy black gown.


I love dress slingbacks. I have a ton of pairs, and I don't think they'll ever go out of style. They've been going strong since the 1930's, after all! They come in so many different styles you could wear slingbacks every single day for a year and never get bored.

However, slingbacks do come with one drawback: they show part of your foot. I know sometimes in the winter, I don't get pedicures as often as I do in the summer. This doesn't work if you want to wear slingbacks and have your heel showing. You should definitely maintain your feet at all times if you want to make slingbacks a regular part of your wardrobe.


@ceilingcat - Have you ever tried the kind that has an elastic section and buckles shut? There are a ton of different types of women's slingback, and I think these are the best. The elastic is stretchy so your foot can move a little, and you can adjust it further with the buckle. This is my favorite kind of slingback.

I personally think slingbacks work really well when you want to look semi-conservative but still stylish. It reveals a little bit of your foot, but isn't as "sexy" as strappy sandals or something like that.


I cannot stand wearing a slingback heel. Most of the slingbacks I have tried have been much too tight on my heel. I end up with a ton of blisters after only wearing the shoes for a few hours.

And if they aren't too tight, they're too loose! Then your feet end up sliding out of your shoes all night and there's the possibility of tripping by accident.

Slingbacks are just not for me. I will stick with either an ankle strap or a shoe that is totally closed at the back.

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