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What is the Difference Between Mules and Clogs Shoes?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 21, 2024
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The difference between mules and clogs can be significant or insignificant depending upon who is defining them. Throw in the third term, slides, and people may spend some time wondering why they just can’t all be called shoes. Yet looking at any shoe store online, most shoppers will find these shoes classed together, while slides may be classified elsewhere.

The typical clog may be thought of as a closed toed wooden (or other) bottom shoe with a heel no more than a couple of inches high. These shoes are backless, unless they are clog boots, which may be mid-thigh length and have wooden soles. Various countries have different names for them, including the French sabot, which dates to approximately the 18th century.

At around the same time, the French also developed shoes that are now often referred to as mules, and these represent a difference between mules and clogs. Instead of the sturdy wooden heel, these typically had a high heel, and may have been modeled on a much earlier shoe worn by Roman senators. These were called calceus mulleus, and the name may have been shortened to mules by English speakers. Hence the primary difference between mules and clogs in early days was that clogs were likely to be worn by working people, and mules were fancier and favored by the aristocracy. Ultimately, mules become more associated as common dresswear among prostitutes, and it would take several centuries to rescue their reputation.

The main distinction between mules and clogs (dressy and workmanlike) may still exist in some parts of the world. Yet other people simply use the names interchangeably, and things like heel height or degree of dressiness are given little consideration. Still a closed-toe shoe that has fancier heel is more likely to be called a mule.

These definitions of mules and clogs wouldn’t be complete without considering shoes called slides. Sometimes people incorrectly define mules as backless shoes that can feature an open toe. Actually, this description is more appropriately attributed to slides. Slides generally have open toes, and can be either dressy or simple depending upon design. To confuse matters though, sometimes either mules or clogs are called slides because the foot slides in, and no consideration is given to whether the toe is opened or closed.

In lieu of a true definition, it’s best to just view these shoes as ones that come in a variety of styles. Backless shoes can have distinct advantages, since they are so easy to put on. They also have some disadvantages, including the fact that an unsecured back may occasionally slip or not provide enough stability for walking long distances.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Antome — On Jan 11, 2014

@Post 5: You don't really want to wear socks with mules, as your feet would lose friction and adhesiveness. But if you want, you can wear any tights or pantyhose, opaque or sheer.

By Antome — On Jan 11, 2014

What I know: Slides are open toed, low vamped and backless. Clogs are closed toed, high vamped and backless. Mules are closed toed, low vamped and backless.

By anon337042 — On Jun 02, 2013

Would a person wear socks with clogs or mules? If so,what color would be best?

By anon318266 — On Feb 06, 2013

Kalso Earth Shoes do not have "heels" on them since they have a 3.7 incline (heel below toe) yet they have shoes considered clogs and mules and also slides. I have yet to see the difference between clogs and mules defined with regards to their shoes.

Note: Some of the shoes labeled as mules actually have a "lip" in the back, although it does not go up the entire back of the foot's heel. It seems they use the term "slide" for a shoe that slips on rather than zipping, tying, or buckling into. It is rather confusing!

By musicshaman — On Oct 21, 2010

Very interesting article -- I never knew there were so many differences. I wonder how many womens clogs and mules are actually mislabeled?

Now that is definitely going to give me something to do the next time I go shoe shopping with my wife.

But I do totally come down on the comfort side of the issue. If they're comfortable, wear clogs, wear mules, wear flip flops, wear whatever you want.

I am really glad I know all these differences though, even if I don't really ascribe to using them as a method of choosing my shoes. At least it gives me one more thing to do while I'm waiting in the shoe store!

By FirstViolin — On Oct 21, 2010

So what about Dansko clogs -- are they true clogs, ore are they more like mules since they have a little heel on them?

I know that the whole clog is kind of raised, so technically I suppose it would be a clog since there's no separate raised heel, but still, does a raising of any sort automatically put it in mule territory?

Now that I know all these distinctions I'm going to be scrutinizing every pair of mules and clogs I see!

By yournamehere — On Oct 21, 2010

Wow, I had no idea that there were so many distinctions between shoes, much less mules and clogs. I have my favorite comfort clogs, and that's pretty much all that matters to me in choosing shoes -- I'll wear mules, clogs, whatever, as long as they're comfortable.

Although I guess if I were to get super technical, then I probably prefer clogs, since I don't like to wear shoes with heels on them.

However, all that aside, I am all for comfort above semantics. Nicely researched article, though.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia...
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