Pre-Columbian in origin, the sandals are believed related to the cactle or cactli, of Náhuatl origin. The name "Huarache" is derived from the Purépecha language term kwarachi, and directly translates into English as sandal.
Early forms have been found in and traced to the countryside farming communities of Jalisco, Michoacan, Guanajuato, and Yucatan. Originally of all-leather construction, the thong structure around the main foot is still traditionally made with hand-woven braided leather straps.
After originating in the peasant communities, they were adopted by some religious orders, such as the Franciscan friars. In the 1930s, wider variations began to appear, with soles derived from used rubber car tires—.hence the modern "tread" form of a sole. After the Second World War, veterans started to travel deeper into Mexico; they gained popularity in North America thanks to their adoption as part of the 1960s hippie lifestyle. By the end of the 20th century, they were to be found all over North and South America.
Traditional huarache designs vary greatly but are always very simple. Originally made of all-leather, later early designs included woven string soles and occasionally thin wooden soles. Later more elaborate upper designs were created by saddlers and leather workers.
The modern huarache developed from the adoption in the 1930s of rubber soles developed from used rubber car-tires. Modern designs vary in style from a simplistic sandal to a more complex shoe, using both traditional types of leather as well as more modern synthetic materials.
Many shoes claim to be huaraches, but they are still traditionally only considered a huarache if they are handmade, and have a woven-leather form in the upper.