Sometime today, I’ve got to go out and find some na’aley bayit to send to America. It may seem odd to be writing about bedroom slippers just as the summer heat hits its full stride but my sister’s birthday was last week, and she apparently already bought the Yael Naim disk sent her. So, if it is na’aley bayit she wants, then na’aley bayit she shall have.
Na’aley bayit translates literally as “house shoes” and indeed, the classic Israeli “naal bayit” is far more a shoe for the home than a slip-on slipper. Firstly, it’s ankle-high with a zipper, so there’s no casual sliding in and out of the thing. Secondly, it’s got a hard rubber sole – perfect for the faux casual “whoops, I’m just slumming here at the café and didn’t notice I had my bedroom slippers on” sort of way of life. Thirdly, they’re plaid! How cool is that?! They make a total statement.
Now, the question is, what is that statement? Is it:
1. I’m accidentally on purpose walking around my neighborhood where I feel so comfortable that I wear shoes that don’t coordinate with my outfit which I had to zip myself into.
2. I was locked out of my house. Really. I’m not kidding.
3. I’m an ex-kibbutznik or have spent some time on kibbutz.
The answer: All three are possible.
In the Israeli mentality, na’aley bayit are inexorably bound to two things: the kibbutz and Rehov Sumsum, the Hebrew language version of Sesame Street. On the Socialist side, their original and largest manufacturer was HaMegaper, a rubber manufacturing cooperative established under the aegis of construction company Solel Boneh and then the Koor concern. Initially, according to Haaretz’s Dalia Karpel, HaMegaper manufactured tires for the British Army during Israel’s pre-state period. Later on, it began manufacturing hiking boots and slippers made of cloth, leather – all with polyethylene rubber soles. The unique manufacturing method enabled the cloth, leather and rubber to fuse seamlessly without stitching.
Wearing na’aley bayit in public gained ground in the 1970s, Karpel writes, “HaMegaper’s ads promised us that we’d feel at home in their shoes, but many who wanted the ‘laid-back look’ walked around in slippers outside as well. Kibbutzniks did it first, but city dwellers jumped on the bandwagon and turned wearing HaMegaper slippers into one of the most visible indicators of Israel’s youth.’” Popstars such as Shalom Hanoch, Meir Ariel and Alon Oleartchik popularized the look by wearing their plaid slippers outside and onstage, and HaMegaper promoted it to the hilt:
And who better to wear indoor wear outside if not Kipi Kipod, the urban hedgehog host of Rehov Sumsum, who sported a pair of outsized na’aley bayit throughout the show’s run.
All pop culture trends tend to wane once they hit the kindergarten set. And so it was with na’aley bayit. HaMegaper was dissolved some years ago, and other, lesser manufacturers took up the na’aley bayit mantle. So you can still get them, but only really unhip stores or the open market shuk. Sad to say, despite a few feeble retro attempts to bring back the look, (and my sister’s loyalty), na’aley bayit are part of Israeli fashion history.