Footwear is an important component of fashion. The clothes may make a man—or woman—but the shoes complete the look. From specialized steel-toe boots to 8-inch stilettos, the modern shopper can choose from a massive range of footwear to suit a myriad of needs and events. While many types of shoes enjoy a fervent following, few have the reach and range of the humble sneaker.
All Stars Only
Rubber-soled active footwear can be traced back as far as the 1800s. They were first designed for wealthy lords and ladies who desired performance-enhancing shoes for their tennis games. Because of their silent footfall, these shoes were called ‘sneakers’. Unfortunately, the design worked so well these shoes became the favorite of unsavory characters such as street thieves and cat burglars. This connotation of bad actors would taint the image of sneakers outside of the upper classes for many decades.
Come the 1920s and the end of WWI, and the industrial revolution allowed sneakers to be manufactured on a large scale, bringing down the prices and bringing the product to the masses. At the same time, faced with the physical weakness of the male population that was drafted into service, governments began to aggressively promote sport and fitness. These two elements collided on the basketball courts, where the team sport brought recreational athleticism out of the luxury domain.
Originally a producer of galoshes, the Converse Rubber Shoe Company revolutionized the footwear industry by being the first to use celebrity endorsement. In 1917, Converse launched its first sneaker created for basketball under the name of Non-Skids. A few years later, Charles “Chuck” Taylor, an American basketball player, joined the company. He provided numerous improvements to enhance the performance of the shoe, including the distinctive star patch that was designed to protect the ankle.
And so, the first celebrity-endorsed athletic shoe, the iconic Chuck Taylor All Stars was born. In a stroke of marketing genius, Converse established a basketball team in Chicago, who toured the country promoting the shoes. Soon, many basketball professionals were sporting the All Stars, propelling them into widespread popularity. Although the Chuck Taylor All Stars are no longer worn on the court today, they remain one of the most recognized shoes in popular culture. Kamala Harris made headlines when she wore them on her campaign trail last year.
High Tops to High Fashion
Over the last decades, the humble sneaker has changed in style and form. As sneakers moved out of the sports arena into shopping malls and dance floors, they moved beyond function to the loft realms of fashion. It started in 1972 with the Nike Cortez, when the budding sporting footwear company introduced a shoe with bright streaks and an eye-catching logo. In 1984, luxury label Gucci released their Italian-crafted tennis shoe, becoming the first high fashion brand to dabble in sneakers.
Then came the Air Jordans. Those of us who were alive in the 80s will remember how the launch of the Air Jordan in 1985 shook the sneaker world. Endorsed exclusively by Chicago Bulls player and rising star Michael Jordan, the striking red and black sneakers blazed across popular culture at a time when basketball was at its peak of popularity. The public fervor over the Air Jordans created a completely new subculture: the sneakerhead.
Since then, a slew of luxury brands have dipped their feet into the sneaker pool, so to speak. In 1996, Prada released their runway-worthy designer sneakers that were all about clean lines and aesthetics, made for the Luna Rossa yachting team. In 2005, old-school fashion house Lanvin created their version of the Converse sneaker for high rollers, featuring quality and craftsmanship in a casual model. Of course, Louis Vuitton would get involved eventually. In a massive statement, the Parisian luxury label collaborated with Kanye West to bring out the Don, cementing the status of the high fashion sneaker.
Ugly is the New Cool
The ugly sneaker is a breath of fresh air for the fashion world that has spent the last few decades being inundated with flowing lines and stark aesthetics. As the proverbial pendulum swings away from minimalism, fashion houses are leading the charge of chunky sneakers. Most of these sneakers feature wild splashes of color, thick soles, and unabashedly 90s designs. These fabulous ‘dad sneakers’ have taken the streets by storm, reflecting that we want our personal expression loud and proud.
Balenciaga has undoubtedly become the regent of all ugly sneakers. They have constantly rewritten fashion rules over the years and are a leader in the modern fashion footwear space. The permutations of кроссовки баленсиага (Balenciaga sneakers) are endless. They come with bulky layers of mesh for that retro-tech look, in sock sneaker form for maximum sneakiness, or with an LED light in the heel for those clubbing nights.
While many people have rallied against the gaudiness of the ugly sneaker, their appeal in this era of fast fashion and mass conformance cannot be denied. The sneaker will continue to be more than just footwear. It will change and evolve as we do, reflecting our values, culture, and identity.