As the line between our work and play wardrobes is further blurred, sneakers have come to play a part in various aspects of our lives. But where did sneakers come from, and how have they had such a prosperous, long run in fashion?
Sneakers originally got their name because they were worn by people who wandered around quietly or were up to no good (in other words-sneaks). The first "sneaker" on record was called a plimsoll and was created in the late 18th century. There was no distinction between the left and right foot. So imagine the foot problems that most likely plagued our late ancestors. The first Keds were introduced in 1892 but weren't officially mass produced until 1917. This was the same year that Marquis Converse introduced the Converse All-stars-the first shoe created specifically for sport (basketball). Once Chuck Taylor endorsed the shoes in 1923, it was the birth of the celebrity shoe endorsement.
Fast forward a bit to 1972 when Nike introduced the Cortez, which was designed more for fashion than pure function. In 1984, Gucci was the first luxury brand to enter the sneaker game. Then, in 1985, the Air Jordan 1 forever changed the sneaker business creating diehard fans that would stick around for decades to come. From that period forward, sneakers have been embraced by hip hop culture and high-end designers alike.
Sneakers have a long history, and what's covered here is just the tip of the iceberg. Arguably, sneakers have stuck around as long as they have because they're a versatile piece of fashion. They work equally well in discount and luxury markets. They work in casual, sport, and professional environments. And the opportunities for reinvention and redesign are endless. The key to longevity in fashion is the ability to adapt and change with the rest of the world. Over several decades, sneakers have done just that.
If you're in the NYC area, check out Brooklyn Museum's sneaker exhibition, "Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture", running now through October.
References: cnn.com, todayifoundout.com, factmonster.com, npr.com, about.com