Spanish espadrilles, or alpargatas, are one of the classic shoe styles made here in Spain, and it’s easy to get your own custom pair made.
Made of natural fabrics and fibers, they are not only comfy but also go with any outfit. Everyone in Spain wears them throughout the summer, and I’ve always thought they looked so sophisticated. So, I went on a quest to find out where to buy the best pair, but the search was overwhelming. There are so many different styles and varieties, so when I found out I could get a custom pair made…. well, bingo!
These are not the type of shoes you should buy in any retail store. No, shoes with such a long history need to be found in their original habitat. So, I headed down to Madrid’s historic district to create the perfect pair of Spanish espadrilles for me.
A brief history of alpargatas
This shoe’s exact origin is unclear; however, many say the shoes descended from ancient Egypt thousands of years ago. Later the Romans adopted it, adding the fabric covering, and by the 14th century, the shoe had made its way to Spain.
The typical espadrilles are flat, with soles made of coiled rope and an upper part of cotton hand sewn to the sole. They were worn by people from the pueblos (countryside), as they are lightweight, comfortable, washable and durable.
Over time, the espadrilles became popular among city dwellers, as well. Styles have evolved to include open sides, laces to hold the shoe in place, wedge heels, and different prints and fabrics. Some of them even come in lace or crochet.
While doing research on where to get custom, authentic alpargatas, I came across Casa Hernanz. I read that it was founded in 1845 and is where the royal family went for their espadrilles. It’s really popular with locals and tourists and has a good reputation.
It’s located in Calle Toledo 18, right outside the Plaza Mayor. If you take the Metro, it’s easiest to hop off at La Latina station (line 5). From there, the walk to the shop is only about 5 minutes. I went on a Monday afternoon, and thankfully there was no queue. There were just a couple of women already inside deciding which pairs to buy. (However, this was in July of 2020, so… obviously, Madrid’s tourism was not, shall we say, at its peak.)
Before even stepping foot into the store, you’ll see all the different styles and colors through the window. And the best part– the price! I noticed these espadrilles were nearly a 1/3rd the price of some commercial brands I had seen. With so many different colors, threads and styles, you’ll absolutely find what you’re looking for at Casa Hernanz.
Cinderella found her shoe
I picked ones made of beige cotton, so my feet could breathe in the sweltering summer heat. Then I went for wedge heels and long laces to keep the shoes in place. I went up to the counter and explained to the friendly attendant the exact combination I wanted. He disappeared for a few minutes and came out holding my dream espadrilles in his hand. Easy!
They fit perfectly, and I was surprised at how comfortable they were despite the heels’ height. Needless to say, I bought them and have been happily wearing them everywhere this summer. I even convinced a handful of friends to go buy some pairs, and they’ve all been delighted with their new Spanish espadrilles!
Alpargatas shopping tips:
Because cotton has a tendency to expand after some time, it’s best to get a size that’s just right or a little bit snug.
Casa Hernanz gets very crowded on weekends during the summer months, so try to make it on a weekday. Operating hours are 9:00 am – 1:30 pm, and 4:30 pm – 8:00 pm on Mondays to Fridays, and from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm on Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays because, Spain.
Other espadrille retailers:
If you can’t wait to get your hands on a catalog or don’t want to venture into Madrid’s tourist zone, then try La Alpagatería. Also based in Madrid, they’re located in Chamberí have an online store and a great reputation.
Diegos is another popular retailer that ships internationally. While not a quaint mom & pop shop, they promise that every shoe is hand-stitched in northern Spain using only organic material. Also, their website is in both English & Spanish.