The soles of espadrilles may be flat, platform, or wedge shaped made of natural fiber. Uppers may be made from nearly any substance and may have open or closed toes, open or closed backs, and can be slip-on or tied to the ankle with laces. Thousands of varieties of espadrilles can be found, from inexpensive bargain brands to high priced designer brands.
Espadrilles became fashionable in the USA in the 1940s. Lauren Bacall's character in the 1948 movie Key Largo wore ankle-laced espadrilles.
Wedge shaped espadrilles were first popularized by French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. At a trade fair in Paris in 1970, he came into contact with the Spanish espadrille manufacturer Castañer. Yves Saint Laurent had been looking in vain for months for someone to make him a wedge espadrille. Castañer managed to interpret Yves Saint Laurent's vision and the wedge espadrilles were an instant hit, influencing fashion even today.
The espadrille style was revived in the USA in the 1980s, due to the success of Miami Vice—the shoe was worn by the character Sonny Crockett (played by Don Johnson). In 2013 at luxury shoe stores in New York City, a pair of espadrilles could cost nearly $500.
Only second to cotton in favor as a natural fiber, jute is exclusively used in the manufacture of genuine espadrilles.The soles of espadrilles are now commonly made with jute rope or braid, which is favored because of its eco-friendliness compared to synthetic substances. The natural bright white color of jute is a major design feature of modern espadrilles.
Bangladesh is the producer of high quality jute and has become a manufacturing center for premium quality jute soles and complete espadrilles. Ninety percent of the world's total production of complete espadrilles, as well as jute soles, is now manufactured in Bangladesh, although some manufacturers in Spain, France, and Italy import jute soles from Bangladesh to finish espadrilles in those countries. Complete espadrilles are also assembled in Argentina (known as alpargatas), Bolivia, Chile,Colombia, Paraguay and Venezuela with imported jute from Bangladesh.
Jute soles typically include fully or partially vulcanized rubber beneath the jute soles for long-lasting espadrille shoes. Sometimes crepe soles are used as out-soles although those are not as durable compared to vulcanized ones. Jute braid soles might include heels made of wood or EVA foam.