Know Your Flats: What’s the Difference Between Slides and Mules?

Tuesday Bote - Dec 18, 2020


Mules and slides have seen a huge comeback lately. Yet how do you tell these shoes apart?

First, the basics: both mules and slides are backless shoes. That is, they both don’t have that part of the shoe that wraps around the heel, making it easy to slip your foot into the shoe. This is precisely why slides are called “slides.” Since neither is a fully-closed shoe, many may consider them as sandals, although mules and slides specifically define which part of the foot is exposed. 

The main difference between slides and mules is slides are open-toed, while mules are not.


Because of this difference in structure, slides are considered more casual shoes, while mules can be worn to more formal functions. However, this does not mean that slides, which easily resemble slippers, are strictly casual, or that mules cannot be comfy enough to wear every day. Comfort is actually the main reason why people wish to wear mules and slides in the first place - mules were commonly found in dressing rooms and boudoirs in 17th century Europe.

Mules: Comfort by design

In the last few years, mules had a resurgence on fashion week catwalks and was called “the shoe of 2017” by Elle magazine. Recent mules designs by Oliver Cabell have established the shoe as versatile style icons that men and women can wear on dressy nights out.


Design styles for both mules and slides can be as diverse as you wish - they can be round- or pointy-toed, have diverse silhouettes, and be made of different materials. When they were strictly indoor shoes, mules used to be typically frilly and made of satin or fur. The marabou mules of the 1950s, popularized by Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in their movies, was a pink mule covered in feathers, with short heels.


When it was developed as an outdoor shoe, leather, felt, and suede mules became trendier. Oliver Cabell’s dream mules for women come in both Italian suede and leather variants. The leather mule is available in a sleek, sexy black, while the suede mules come in three colors - caramel, a creamy tan; light, soft off-white; and truffle, a rich olive green.

Oliver Cabell’s dream mules feature an elasticized vamp, which helps keep the shoe from slipping off and are ideal for women with high arches. The suede material is also very comfortable to the skin.


Both men and women can wear both mules and slides. The Albert was known as the most popular indoor men’s shoe in England in the 1880s. Although generally deemed inappropriate for the office and as formal wear, designers have made mules shoes men’s selections look so sleek and luxurious that many fashion-forward risk-takers have redefined their style just for a chance to wear them. It is not uncommon to see men wearing mules at parties or on a date.


There are several designer mules shoes for men that are actually unisex and can and have been worn by women.

Slides as a sporty slip-on shoe

Slides, on the other hand, have been popular with men because of how they were developed as sportswear. Shoe manufacturers started designing comfortable footbed inserts, later developing them into actual shoes by placing a strap over the simple contoured footbed. This simple design was originally as “gymnastic shoes,” to wear while walking from the locker room to the gym mat. Outside the gym, the slide became popular as casual wear.


A rubber version of this slide sandal was then developed for swimmers and water sports enthusiasts. The poolside slip-ons are also worn while showering off after a session in the pool. They were also seen at the beach and have gained so much popularity that they were eventually worn everywhere.

Even when summer ended, slider devotees would adjust to the changing temperatures by wearing them with socks - actually a much-despised practice until they made an appearance on fashion runways in 2017. If you HAVE to wear socks with your slides, take your cue from fashion week, pick crew-length socks in darker colors. Not white, never white. Preferably new ones, too.


Slides for men are perhaps more popular than men’s mules shoes because it was easier to develop and design slides as sportswear. Slides shoes men used for sports trended in mid-2019 and the placement of oversized logos of high fashion brands on the slides’ straps made the shoes a statement piece. 

Flats are the way to go in 2020

Far from being just a sports shoe, slides shoes women’s designs have also hit fashion runways. Rather than limiting the design to just a strap over the toes, slides can cover as much of the foot as the designer would like, as long as they show off your toes.


Like mules, slides shoes for women can have heels of varying heights, from short kitty heels to high stilettos. However, this year’s trend is flat mules, and have been used on fashion runways to complement the year’s big fashion trends. Or rather, fashion trends of “big-ness”; oversized shirts, billowy sleeves, rich pastels in overwhelming amounts, strikingly large patterns, and so on. When wearing statement pieces on your body, you need a subtle shoe that doesn’t disrupt the sentiment of big-ness. Flat mules accomplish this and have that sophisticated silhouette that even adds elegance to the overall look.

Oliver Cabell’s dream mules in black leather are such an example of subtle, understated elegance, and you can wear them with any fashion style, as well as to the office. 

A few tips to show them off - because it would be tragic to hide them - consider wearing cropped pants to expose the ankle and make your legs look longer.



Wrapping up, flat mules and slides shoes combine glamor and comfort, which is why they’re still bestsellers and must-haves, three years after mules were declared the shoe of 2017. We predict that they’ll be around for even longer.