Tabi is a style of shoe or sock that features a split between the big toe and the rest of the toes. This design promotes flexibility while providing extra comfort and support for the foot. Tabi socks date back to 15th century Japan when they were worn with traditional thonged sandals in the colder months. Due to cotton scarcity, only samurai and members of the upper classes could afford tabi socks, but they eventually became the standard socks in Japan when trade opened with China in the 19th century.
In the 1900s, the founders of the tire company Bridgestone invented a tabi shoe intended for outdoor use called jika-tabi. These shoes feature rubber soles and are still worn by construction workers in Japan today due to the increased flexibility and grip that they provide. Additionally, some sportswear manufacturers have adapted jika-tabi to be worn as athletic shoes. They are commonly used in martial arts, cross-country running, climbing, and hiking. The design is credited with reducing foot pain and increasing balance by providing three different points of contact with the ground: the heel, the big toe, and the pinky toe.
The hooved design of tabi has also made its footprint on the world of high fashion. Maison Margiela launched their leather tabi shoes with a bang at their debut fashion show in 1989. In a moment that has achieved legendary status among fashion industry followers, models walked the runway wearing tabi shoes dipped in red paint, leaving distinctive tracks on the floor and drawing attention to the strange hooved shape of the shoe. Margiela has been making tabi shoes in a variety of shapes and sizes ever since, and to this day, they continue to be a statement piece on red carpets across the world.
Written by Diarmuid O'Connor