Sneakers may be the mother of all shoe inventions. Yet, from their decidedly humble start as purely functional footwear to the recent advent of the high-fashion sneaker, the fitness staple has elevated from street to chic; and, is now a mainstay in every well-curated woman’s wardrobe.
In recent years, sneakers have exploded in prominence, simultaneously becoming icons of pop culture colloquialisms as well as signifiers of designer insider fashion, it’s an obsession that has hit such a fevered pitch as to spawn a sneaker subcultures in which new designer ‘drops’ and limited-edition style names convert into short-hand vernacular amongst the contingency of sneakerheads who religiously chart and collect sneakers upon their release.
But, the origin of the sneaker is actually a bit deeper and more storied than one may think. In fact, the prestige inherent to today’s hottest kicks has been a part of the sneaker’s heritage from the start. As co-author of the authoritative book on the subject, The Rise of Sneaker Culture, Elizabeth Semmelhack points out that in the 1800s,
“when the first sneakers debuted, they were themselves luxury items”.
In 1839, American scientist Charles Goodyear created vulcanized rubber, an invention that would be applied years later to the soles of shoes to make them more durable and, by extension, become the original version of what we recognize today as the modern-day sneaker. By the early 20th century, savvy industrialists were looking for ways to capitalize off of these new rubberized shoes and mass-produce sneakers at a larger scale to bring down prices and create options not just reserved for the elite, wealthier classes. The U.S. Rubber Company developed Keds in 1916 and Converse launched the All Star the following year. By the 1940s two brothers by the name of Dassler would create a sneaker that would debut the global stage, worn by Jesse Owen as he won 4 gold medals in the 1936 Olympics. The brothers would later split off to create two of today’s leading sneaker giants: Adidas and Puma. By the 1950s, everyone across every socioeconomic class were wearing sneakers. And, the stylistic concept of pairing sneakers with blue jeans, became the directional new look for Hollywood starlets [see: Marilyn Monroe’s iconic off-duty Keds with jeans look] to high school students across America. In the 1970s, sneaker giant Nike launched on to the scene and, with its stylish new Cortez sneaker rendered in a range of bright color options, it instantly ushered in the concept of a sneaker as a fashion statement, no longer strictly a fitness shoe.
By 1984, the fashion world took note as Gucci become the first brand to launch a designer iteration of the common sneaker with its [now staple] red, green, and white logo tennis shoe. That same year, a young Michael Jordan famously partnered with Nike on the iconic Air Jordans and was fined $5000 per game for refusing to adhere to NBA commissioner’s ruling that all sneakers on the court had to be predominately white.
Jordan’s black-and-red sneakers, designed to match his Chicago Bulls uniform, quickly became a symbol of non-conformism and came to symbolize the power of personal style as personified though a sneaker.
Not inconsequentially, Nike’s public Air Jordan release one year later is commonly credited as the impetus behind the start of sneakerhead culture as fans of the style started obsessively tracking each new styles’ release and design. Reebok was not far behind jumping on to the sneakerhead bandwagon, launching their famous FreeStyle sneaker, focused on the women’s market, in the same decade.
Meanwhile, off the courts, sneakers were taking on added prominence on the streets and on the hip-hop scene as some of the most influential talents in that space from Run-DMC, to LL Cool J to Grandmaster Flash were seen sporting sneakers with their every look. Most notable of these was Run-DMC’s now-iconic Adidas tracksuits paired with matching cap-toed Adidas Superstar sneakers. His look became so influential, Run-DMC went on to ink an endorsement deal with Adidas that would trailblaze the first of many future musicians’ deals and collaborations with sneaker brands, including Jay-Zee and Reebok in 2003 and Kanye’s ongoing collaboration with Adidas for his Yeezy collection. High fashion designer collaborations soon followed, with Miucia Prada showing the first fashion sneaker in 1996; and, Adidas’ collaboration with high-fashion designers Yohji Yamamoto and Jeremy Scott in the early 2000s. And, perhaps most notable of these, Kanye West and legacy French fashion house, Louis Vuitton’s, 2009 sneaker collaboration that reportedly sold out in minutes.
The sneaker trend, however, is more of a marathon versus a sprint as the market is just getting started. The sneaker trend shows no signs of slowing. In 2018, the global footwear market is estimated to hit over $95 billion by 2025.
For your part, here are the key new fashion sneaker styles to invest in for the new season and how to style them for a thoroughly modern update that will have you cruising in high comfort and fashion this season and beyond.
From nostalgic colorways to retro silhouettes, what’s old is new again in the season’s hottest sneakers. Take a cue from throwback New Balance or Adidas classics and work them in with modern mom jeans or some of the season’s luxe ath-leisure ensembles for a look that registers laid-back chic with aplomb.
Kamala Harris ushered the storied Chuck Taylor sneaker back into the limelight on the trail of her 2020 Vice-Presidential campaign run and we can’t get enough of it. Styled with everything from stovepipe jeans to more tailored trousers, the iconography of this sneaker injects every look with fresh energy and a relatable ‘cool-girl’ vibe.
Nothing is quite as cool as a girl sporting a pair of sneakerhead-approved high top kicks. Style your pair with a cropped jean [finished or raw hem is fine] so that you can fully register your high fashion and street style cred without hemline interference. The versatile high-top designer sneaker is one of fashion’s “it’ pieces of the moment and read especially chic when peeking out from a hyper-chic trench coat or similarly polished fall/winter topper.
Few things are as en vogue as a sustainable shoe moment. With the plethora of new sustainable sneaker options on the market, incorporate them into everything from your gym look to your day-to-day look for a highly- versatile sneaker that will easily transition you from fitness-to-fashion.