Our go-to shoe of summer . . . reef sandals

Ask some people and they'd tell you that, if they could, they would wear flip-flops year 'round. Some, in fact, do.

Most, though, wait for those first signs of warm weather. That's when flip-flop fanatics break out their go-to footwear for the sunny season.

You don't have to be a shoe lover to know that flip-flops are the ideal summer footwear and have come a long way from being just a rubber flat bed, a thong between the toes and thin straps over the top of the foot. That was then.

Now, flip-flops are bedazzled with rhinestones, charms, built-in arches and thicker soles. They're worn in the office, with evening-out attire and even by brides marching down the aisle.

No longer are they just for sandy strolls or community showers at summer camp. Somehow flip-flops went from casual to couture, acceptable footwear regardless of the occasion.

Well, almost any occasion. In the flip-flop flap of 2005, the national champion women's lacrosse team from Northwestern University caused an uproar when a team photo taken with President Bush at the White House showed that some of the women chose to wear some very casual footwear with their skirts and dresses. While some were appalled, others didn't even bat an eye.

Although the question of who makes the best flip-flop can be heavily debated, there is one company that, while it didn't invent them, definitely enhanced the flip-flop playing field when it came on the scene more than 20 years ago.

Reef originated in 1984 and continues to deliver surf-inspired footwear for its worldwide contingent of "Reefers." Two brothers from Argentina, Fernando and Santiago "Santi" Aguerre, started the company. Dedicated surfers, they wanted to create durable, active footwear. In the early '80s, Santi moved to California and was later joined by his brother. They co-founded Reef and eventually turned it into a leading surf brand worldwide.

Other sporty flip-flops abound, including Teva, Merrell, and Chaco -- all popular brands that offer versions built for comfort and speed. Havaianas, a Hawaiian import that's been around since 1962, is an all-rubber number that's a favorite of fashion magazines, and plenty of designers, such as Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman, have their own glitzy versions.

What started as the simplest of shoes has now become a creative canvas, beckoning designers to see who can pack the most punch on a limited work surface. Some have added kitten heels, others have enlisted ornamentation.

Taking it a step further, Reef has come out with flip-flops for men and women that stay true to the shoe's high comfort, but they've also added some extra touches that quickly make you realize this isn't your ordinary flip-flop.

First up, the women's sandal, the Stash, which features a pullout drawer under the heel where you could put a credit card, some cash or a key or two. For the men, there's the Fanning, which has a bottle opener on the bottom of the shoe. Along those lines is the new Dram, a sandal with a flask built into the heel that can hold up to 3 ounces of the liquid of your choice. The concealed canteen opens with an accompanying key. There's also a miniature funnel to help with the pouring and a measuring bar on the foot bed so you know when you're about to run out. And, for kicks, there's a martini-shaker tread pattern.

Unlike wedges and slides, flip-flops are keepers. Whether it's your lasted-through-everything pair of rubber flip-flops you got 10 years ago for under 10 bucks, or the $200 pair you splurged on because you just had to have them, you know they'll never go out of style. They'll always be comfortable and you'll always find a reason to wear them.

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