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THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO TABI SHOES: The most resonant footwear of the season

Written by Helen Boogzel

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Posted on December 15 2023

The biggest fashion statements are often the most controversial ones. There are certain items that may immediately come to mind when you think of polarizing fashion trends, but none are quite as distinctive as Tabi shoes.

 

Inspired by traditional Japanese footwear and defined by their unique split toe silhouette, these shoes have captivated the fashion world this season. They are an embodiment of uniqueness and the pursuit of innovation, two qualities that many modern designers strive towards within their clothing, footwear, and accessory collections.

 

Popularized by one of the industry’s most extravagant, mysterious, and talented designers, Martin Margiela, Tabi shoes are the ideal choice for those who want to stand out. 

 

Below we’ll be sharing everything you need to know about these striking shoes, from their rich history to tips on how you can incorporate them into your own wardrobe. 

Tabi Shoes - Boogzel Clothing

THE HISTORY OF TABI SHOES

Contemporary Margiela Tabi shoes are a fairly recent invention, with the designer releasing his first version 35 years ago. But the origins of the design are much deeper, tracing back over 600 years to 15th-century Japan.

 

This era marks the introduction of Indian cotton to Japan. Artisans began experimenting with the lovely, soft fabric, and eventually created socks with separate toe compartments that were designed to be worn with traditional footwear like zori and geta, the iconic Japanese wooden platform sandals. 

A wooden T-shaped ruler used to measure the length between the foot's big toe and the heel is seen in Mukojima Myogaya in Tokyo's Sumida Ward 

Over time, Japanese split-toe footwear evolved to include sneakers and boots with rubber soles, otherwise known as jika-tabi. This type of footwear is still worn today by Japanese construction workers, soldiers, farmers, and other professionals who primarily work outdoors. 

Yoshikazu Ishii, fifth-generation head of traditional tabi shop
Yoshikazu Ishii, fifth-generation head of traditional tabi shop
"Han-tabi" socks without "kohaze" fasteners
"Han-tabi" socks without "kohaze" fasteners

Tabi shoes would eventually get a high fashion makeover in the late 1980s. After traveling to Japan and studying the country’s traditional clothing, the Belgian designer decided to create his own version of Tabi shoes. He was in the early phases of establishing his own brand after working as an assistant to avant-garde designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, and was determined to create designs that were radically different to everything else on the market. 

first models of fashion tabi shoes

3 decades later, and 14 years after Margiela’s retirement from his eponymous brand, Tabi shoes are as alluring as ever. Margiela’s Tabi shoes have been reimagined in various forms over the years, from the original Tabi ankle boots to Tabi ballet flats, loafers, thigh-high boots, wooden clogs, and sneakers. 

Despite the continuous debate that Tabi shoes seem to create, they have an unwavering fan base of fashion-forward individuals who aren’t afraid to go against the grain. 

Maison Martin Margiela Tabi boots, Spring 1990.
Maison Martin Margiela Tabi boots, Spring 1990.

TABI - FOOTWEAR FOR THE BOLD AT HEART

There are many ways one could describe Tabi shoes: unconventional, esoteric, and perhaps even eccentric.

 

Owning a pair of Tabi shoes means being part of an exclusive club of style trailblazers, whose members include stars like Björk, Rihanna, and A$AP Rocky. 

Rihanna  sports signature leather ‘Tabi’ boots in classic black.
Rihanna  sports signature leather ‘Tabi’ boots in classic black 
A$AP Rocky
A$AP Rocky

Tabi aficionados aren't concerned with adhering to conventional beauty standards or appearing sexy for the sake of it. They see style as an expression of art, and dress for no one besides themselves. They know that Tabi shoes are far from everyone’s cup of tea, but they drink theirs with delight. 

 

To them, Tabi shoes are a one-of-a-kind style of footwear that transcends typical dress codes and generic trends. Wearing them makes you feel different in the best way possible - bold, confident, and intriguing. They have an effect on everything about you, from your posture and walk to your entire attitude and mindset. 

Dua Lipa wearing Tabis seen on a night out at Chiltern Firehouse in London.
Dua Lipa wearing Tabis seen on a night out at Chiltern Firehouse in London.
Björk in Martin Margiela Tabi
Björk in Martin Margiela Tabi's

CRITICISM OF TABI FOOTWEAR

CRITICISM OF TABI FOOTWEAR

Some may find Tabi shoes un-aesthetically pleasing or strange. Many even compare them to hooves due to their signature split toe design. However, it's precisely this distinctiveness that gives them their special charm. 

 

Fashion designers have always experimented with styles and introduced unconventional ideas, and Tabi shoes are a perfect example. This bold, innovative design may not be for everyone, but it’s exactly what makes the world of fashion interesting and diverse. Even if it’s not something you would wear, it’s certainly something that can get you talking and thinking about personal style choices. 

 

It's important to remember that fashion is a form of self-expression. What may seem unusual to someone might be precisely what highlights someone else’s individuality and style. No matter what team you’re on, you have to respect the confidence of those who embrace the singularity of Tabi shoes

WHERE TO BUY TABI FOOTWEAR

Maison Margiela has established itself as the premier source of Tabi shoes over the past few decades, but split toe footwear has also been reinterpreted by several other brands

 

These eye-catching shoes form part of the Boogzel Clothing collection, and they can also be found in the collections of independent footwear website ShoeMighty, which has become a firm favorite of Gen Z fashion enthusiasts. 

 

If you’re ready to try out this fascinating shoe style for yourself, we’ve curated a list of our 7 most-coveted Tabi models. From dainty ballet flats to sleek boots, these styles will undoubtedly be the hits of the season. 

1. Tabi Mary Jane Shoes

Fans of the preppy aesthetic will love Tabi Mary Jane shoes. This classic style works well with casual outfits while providing plenty of comfort as you go about your day. They can be worn with skirts and dresses for a more feminine feel (keep the preppy theme going by opting for plaid styles), or paired with your favorite denim looks for a more relaxed feel

Tabi Mary Jane Shoes in Brown
 Tabi Mary Jane Shoes in Brown
Tabi Mary Jane Shoes - ShoeMighty
Tabi Mary Jane Shoes in Black

2. Tabi Loafers

tabi loafer shoes boogzel

Looking for an inimitable alternative to dress shoes or heels on an evening out? 


Tabi loafers pair perfectly with formal looks while also adding a touch of playfulness to your outfits. 


Dress them up with a suit or blazer dress, or make them appropriate for day with straight jeans and a structured jacket. 

3. Tabi Flat Ballet Shoes

Gone are the days when you need heels to make a style statement.

 Ballet flats are one of the biggest trends of the season, so Tabi flats will make your look even more on point. Keep an eye out for styles in cult-favorite silver; you’ll get the best of style and comfort. 

 

This versatile shoe style can be paired with basically any outfit, from casual jeans and t-shirts to elegant maxi dresses and suits. 

Tabi Flats outfit
French Girl Split-Toe Tabi Ballet Flats
French Girl Split-Toe Tabi Ballet Flats
 
https://shoemighty.com/collections/tabi-shoes/products/tabi-ballet-shoes-in-silver
Self Made Tabi Ballet Flats in Silver

4. Tabi Platform Sandals

Whether you still haven’t quite adjusted to flat soles or you want to pay homage to the origin of the shoes, Tabi sandals will be an ideal choice. They come in a wide variety of colors, from classic blacks and browns to trendy metallics. 

 

You can style them with your favorite everyday looks, like jeans and t-shirts, or more polished shirt dresses and tailored trousers. 

5. Tabi Flat Boots

Of all the varieties currently on the market, Tabi boots are definitely our favorite. 

They combine all of the design's advantages with their ergonomic platforms, their soft construction, and their versatility.

 You’ll be given an endless possibility for creating stylish looks, whether you’re wearing them with simple denim outfits to sophisticated tailored pieces. Like regular ankle boots, Tabi styles can be paired with just about anything! 

Silver Tabi Oxford Shoes
Silver Tabi Oxford Shoes - ShoeMighty
 
https://shoemighty.com/collections/tabi-shoes/products/white-tabi-oxford-shoes
White Tebi Oxford Shoes - ShoeMighty

6. Tabi Flat Slippers

They may look simple, but the split-toe design of Tabi flats brings a special twist to any outfit. This easy slip-on style is perfect for enhancing casual looks with denim or soft cottons. You may choose to wear them around the house or bring them with you on trips as a beloved travel companion. 

Maison Martin Margiela black tabi slippers
Maison Martin Margiela black tabi slippers

7. Tabi Mary Jane Heels

This edgy design allows you to enjoy two trends at once. Mary Janes have been in the style spotlight for two seasons now, while Tabi has long enjoyed its place as the fashion world’s unconventionally cool shoe of choice. 

The juxtaposition between feminine Mary Janes and androgynous Tabis may seem unlikely, as Tabi promotes comfort and ease, but fashion rules have always meant to be broken. 

 

You can wear cutting-edge Tabi Mary Janes as your new going-out shoe for the season. It pairs well with dresses, duster coats, matching sets, and blazer looks

Ballet Core Bow Sandals
Ballet Core Bow Sandals - Boogzel Clothing

WHICH SOCKS SHOULD YOU WEAR WITH TABI SHOES?

You now know how incredible Tabi shoes can look on the feet, but you may be wondering what goes on underneath their surface. 

 

You may be able to get away with conventional no-toe round socks with a lot of models, but you’ll definitely be more comfortable with Tabi-style socks. It’s not always easy to find split-toe socks, which is why we’ve got your back with our excellent selection of Tabi socks. Believe us - once you’ve worn them once, you won’t want to go back to your regular socks. 

 

 

Which socks should I wear with tabi shoes?
https://shoemighty.com/products/ribbed-tabi-split-toe-socks
Ribbed Tabi Split-Toe Socks - ShoeMighty
Ribbed Tabi Split-Toe Socks - ShoeMighty
Split Toe Tabi Socks - Boogzel Clothing
Split Toe Tabi Socks - Boogzel Clothing

If you’re ready to join the style elite and make a bold statement, be sure to browse our full selection of Tabi footwear and corresponding accessories today!

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Keywords: tabi, tabi shoes, tabi flats, tabi boots, tabi mary jane shoes, tabis

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