Design Icons: slippers

From my regular series of Design Icons written for ABC RN Blueprint. You can find others on my Blueprint and Podcasts pages.

Slippers was broadcast on 21st August 2021. You can listen to the audio here.


There’s surely no better icon of comfort than a pair of slippers. And yet the phrase ‘pipe and slippers’ is often used to describe someone who wants only to sit at home and lead a quiet life. The pipe is now long-gone but what of the slipper? Is it, in fact, an icon of dullness and stay-at-home resignation?

For many, slippers are the first thing they put on when they arrive home, especially if they’ve spent the day in less forgiving footwear. Snug and warm, a pair of slippers takes us back to babyhood, when our fat little feet were kept toasty in knitted bootees. And perhaps that’s why slippers are both rejoiced and reviled, reflecting babyfication and a lack of sophistication. Did Audrey Hepburn wear slippers? Did Jean-Paul Sartre?

Slippers are not the glass slippers that Cinderella wore, which are more like the satin shoes a woman might wear at a ball. And they’re not the light, woven shoes popular for centuries across Asia. In 12th century Indo-China, female slaves wore baggy fabric shoes to prevent them from running away. For some, the modern slipper is still like that, a symbol of domestic drudgery, a shackle of sorts.

In North Africa elaborately tooled leather slippers called babouche were soft enough where carpets were laid and sturdy enough for tiled surfaces. They became fashionable for bohemian types in Georgian and Victorian times. For the Japanese, wearing outside shoes inside the home is regarded as disrespectful and soft slippers called uwabuki have long been worn.  These are swapped for a different pair when visiting the bathroom and removed altogether if you walk on tatami mats. But it was away from Japan that Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, really brought the slipper into vogue. He favoured a light, indoor shoe with a leather sole and a fabric upper usually made from velvet and sometimes embroidered. Often referred to as smoking shoes, they were worn when the master of the house retired to his study, a hint of where the idea of pipe and slippers comes from. They were also part of dinner attire, more refined than a stout leather shoe worn only outside.

By the middle of the twentieth century the slipper had become commonplace, widely available. In Australia in the 1930s, the ugg boot appeared, a byproduct of sheep shearing, which found great favour with surfers in the 1970s. While these were designed to be used outside, they’ve remained the embodiment of indoor winter cosiness, and even fashionable.  So, too, has the velvet slipper favoured by Prince Albert which is seen as more sophisticated than anything more tweedy. The idea of slippers makes sense, too. With toxic pesticides and bacteria-laden dirt on our footpaths, who would want to trudge that into the home? The pipe may be long gone, then, but the slipper remains popular. Whether high fashion from Italy or cheap and cheerful from the supermarket, there’s a slipper for everyone. An icon of comfort, definitely, but of so much else, too.

Categories: Design, Icons, radioTags: , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Lovely! I must admit I have only recently been converted to the slipper as I am travelling about and cannot fit my beloved ugg boots in my luggage! But I have come across some divine Tibetan felted sole and knitted upper slipper-socks which keep my tootsies toasty in the frosty Canberran and South Coast climes 🙂

  2. This reminds me of the French word for slippers which is ‘pantoufle’ and from that comes ‘pantouflard’ which means someone who is more of a homebody and a stay-at-home. It evokes that feeling of cosiness and almost ‘slopping about’ in your slippers. I only manage slippers in the winter when it is particularly cold!

  3. Love me a good pair of slippers. In fact, I can’t bear wearing outdoor shoes inside so perhaps there’s something Japanese in there. BTW, as you may well know, ask for your slippers but not for a pipe in France — different connotation completely! 😳

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

La petite musique des vendredis

Le blog culturel d'Hélène Cascaro- arts visuels, cinéma, patrimoine, artisanat d'art, architecture,...


This site is the bee's knees

Avisha Rasminda

Hi, I'm Avisha Rasminda Twenty-Two years old, Introduce Myself As A Author , Painter , A Poet.

Ananda Only

an empty space between silence & stillness

A r e w e t h e r e y e t ?

Diversions, detours and discoveries

Nick Alexander

Author of Perfectly Ordinary People, From Something Old, The Road to Zoe, You Then Me Now, Things We Never Said, The Bottle of Tears, The Other Son, The Photographer's Wife, The Half-Life of Hannah, the 50 Reasons Series. And more...

Dr David T Evans, OBE NTF PFHEA RN(T)

Sexual health matters! It really does!

Dr. Eric Perry’s Blog

Motivate | Inspire | Uplift

Cole Moreton

Writer and broadcaster, Interviewer of the Year for the Mail, winner of Radio Academy gold with BBC Radio 4

British Wildlife & Photography

Place, Plots and Plans

The PlaceMatt Blog

viewer site

Barbara Heath & Malcolm Enright - our viewer site blog

kirilson photography

the stories behind the pictures, and vice versa

Not-So-Modern Girl

Thoughts of a twenty-something girl navigating her way one blog post at a time

Anthony Hillin

Training, Facilitation and Policy development

Notes from the U.K.

Exploring the spidery corners of a culture and the weird stuff that tourist brochures ignore.


T.V/Movie News & Reviews

SAVING OUR TREES - Marrickville municipality

Community Tree Watch - working to protect healthy public trees in Marrickville municipality from inappropriate removal


Film Score Reviews by Jonathan Broxton since 1997

A life in books

Book news, reviews and recommendations

150 great things about the Underground

An unofficial birthday salute to a public transport titan

Mistakes & Adventures

What I've always wanted


Literary Geography

UNSW Built Environment's Blog

Information from students and staff at Built Environment at the University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia.

joe moran's words

on the everyday, the banal and other important matters

The Back Road Chronicles

Curious soul...and it makes me wanna take the back roads!


My occasionally weird life in France

Wee Notions

Notes on a napkin

Philip Butler Photography

Architecture & Observations

Susie Trexler

Secret Knowledge of Spaces

Rebecca Renner

Welcome to Gator Country

kidlat habagat

Portraits of Urban life


DynamicStasis is basically an attempt to think about and discuss integrity, beauty, and delight - in architecture and elsewhere.

%d bloggers like this: