The Truth About Tsinelas

Nina Somera
Posted November 15, 2009 from Philippines

As a child back in the mid-80s, when there were only five channels to choose from, there were only few personages, including mascots to remember. One of these colorful characters was a showbiz talk show host who was cajoled every now and then for wearing tsinelas or slippers everywhere, even when she was summoned by the court. I was one of those who found such behaviour odd. Not until years later, when I learned to understand the profound value of even the most nondescript and battered pair of tsinelas.

However long or short my journeys are, I always come home slipping my feet into a comfortable pair of tsinelas. Homey is indeed a pun for tsinelas – it may be the most ordinary of footwear in a tropical country like the Philippines but it is the footwear that gives us the most freedom to be our own selves.

The latter has made me take extra miles with my pairs of slippers, literally. I wore them in college and later, in my work.

My stint as a student at the premiere state university was a privilege but it was also a breeze especially for people who enjoy learning without the weight of protocols and procedures such as uniforms. And so tsinelas, jeans and shorts were part of the students' everyday get-up, enhancing the flow of thoughts and ideas from our brain cells through the classrooms and hallways. For us, this was an exercise of the “academic freedom” the university stands for.

Such freedom inevitably made it difficult for me to leave the campus for I knew that this would not be as available in the professional world, where people are pressured to perform and most of the time, under pretense. I think the love for such freedom has led me to work in non-government organisations (NGOs).

Generally, there is more leniency among NGOs when it comes to clothing and rightly so. Feminism and other social movements are supposedly spaces for self-expression, where people develop their advocacies based on realities and their own capacities and resources, including their own biases due to their class, gender, ethnicity, geographical origin and so on. The opportunity to choose the clothing that suits one's chosen identity is an obligation of these spaces, where ideas and commitment are of paramount importance, more than a fashionable lifestyle or even an amusing performance. And great ideas and sincere dialogues often comes when people are on their own selves, even if this means being on slippers.

In the two organisations I had been, I worked with grassroots leaders, along with members of their communities. For most them, tsinelas is the only footwear available to them. It would have been odd had I been on heels while the rest of them wore slippers in a meeting. Of course slippers can indicate and even assert class, with brands such as Havaianas and Dupe or even style, with the sequins on the thongs or the added height through a wedge. Nonetheless, they can communicate camaraderie and solidarity.

In December 2007, I joined the Manila leg of the march of the Sumilao farmers from Bukidnon in Southern Philippines to the presidential palace in the capital Manila. Dispossessed of their ancestral land by the Philippine's old rich and later the largest food conglomerate, San Miguel Corporation (SMC), the farmers decided to talk to the president herself.

I initially thought of using running shoes. Little did I know that walking through the first two cities in Metro Manila can outrun the efficiency of my running shoes, leaving my feet red and swollen. Learning from the farmers and their support groups, I walked on my slippers through the next six cities. However dirty our feet were, we reached Malacanang Palace.

Slippers have been so much a part of me that most of the time, I forget to change from the slippers I use outside to the pair inside the house. Maybe this signals the difficulty of distinguishing rest from work, the personal from the political, the private from the public. But then again, can we ever separate them when they all make up our lives?

Comments 6

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Jade Frank
Nov 16, 2009
Nov 16, 2009

Hi Nina,

I really enjoyed reading this article as it has opened a window for me into every-day life in the Philippines. You raise some really important issues. We are most efficient when we feel comfortable and like ourselves. If this includes wearing slippers, why should it be an issue? And as you pointed out, when working with grassroots leaders in rural communities, it is important for you to treat them like equals.

This reminds me of when I lived in southwest China several years ago, teaching English to young children in kindergartens. One day I wore my slippers (we call them flip-flops here in the US) to work because it was pouring rain and the streets were flooded. My feet were submerged under water for the long journey to the school and I figured slippers were the best bet for not ruining a pair of shoes. Later that week the kindergarten pulled me aside to say that I shouldn't wear slippers again to their school because it made the parents uncomfortable to see their students being taught by someone who dresses like a peasant. I was really offended - not that parents had likened me to a peasant, but that they made the distinction. Why are slippers looked down upon when they are so functional? Why should women be stuck wearing expensive, uncomfortable heels that are bad for our bodies and make us taller (I am tall enough without heels)?

Thanks for bringing up this interesting topic! I hope that you will continue to share your ideas, thoughts and development work with us.

Cheers, Jade

Emilia Zozobrado
Dec 07, 2010
Dec 07, 2010

Hi Jade! Thongs, flip-flops, slippers (tsinelas) - it is our own culture. It is something a Filipino is very much identified with, even in foreign lands. We bring our tsinelas wherever we are, may it be domestic or foreign travel, because of its all-around use, at home, at work, at play ... however and wherever. In fact, most working women have their pairs of slippers always ready and available under their office tables. In most offices (except with frontline jobs like bank tellers), women automatically shift to wearing slippers in their work places. Really, you're right, Jade! We are most effective when we are comfortable! All the best ...

Always, Emie Zozobrado

Rhea Penaflor
Nov 16, 2009
Nov 16, 2009

Physically and practically, wearing slippers is comfy. Makes your feet breathe. As you also said and I agree, "slippers are functional."

Go to rural and far flung areas and they wear slippers, some don't wear anything at all.

The mechanics of the slippers touching the land and the person reaching his destination can be dramatic.

Cheers, Nina! I'm new here and I like it here at


Nusrat Ara
Nov 17, 2009
Nov 17, 2009

I want to see the Tsinelas. So plz post a pic.

Nov 17, 2009
Nov 17, 2009

I loved reading this piece and you captured beautifully the symbolism of tsinelas in everyday life. Your last paragraph particularly struck me as it made me think about what my chinese slippers mean to me. Every day, as soon as I enter my door, I slip out of my work shoes and don my slippers. They represent home to me, wherever I am. In all my travels, through Europe, Asia and the Americas, my slippers accompany me grounding me and giving me the comfort of home even when in a foreign land. Here in America, friends have found them cute or quaint but they are more than just decorative house shoes... they are at once my childhood, my life's experiences, and my sense of place and home.

Nina Somera
Dec 31, 2009
Dec 31, 2009

Dear Jane, Rhea, Nusrat and Janice,

Apologies for my belated response. I have been swept by too many events in the last months. Thank you for your encouraging and warm comments, which also allowed me to know some of you more. I am happy that this has provoked interest and to a certain extent, acquaintance.

...I still use my good old tsinelas, even when I go to the office. They really enable to think and work better, even though I am one of those which has this weird health condition which in Filipino we call pasma. That is when the hands or feet perspire and then they become quite cold at certain times of the day. I have it in both hands and feet. Doctors say that there is no medical literature on it but activist practitioners and I trace it as a result of a bitter experience.

Nonetheless, my slippers bring such comfort. To some extent, they helped me become a little bit daring. There were times when I felt proud. For however homey they were, their owner performed far better than the one on stylish and noisy heels :-)

Nusrat, I am so sorry I did not take a picture of it but they are actually your ordinary thongs.

Thank you and take care, Nina