How Sneakers Became Stylish

Once used exclusively in sporting activities, the humble sneaker is now as likely to be seen on the racetrack as it is on the runway. With unlimited scope for design and color, sneakers have appeared in a multitude of iterations over the years, from the classic white tennis shoe to a rainbow of running shoe styles.

How Sneakers Became Stylish

When they were first introduced in the 19th Century, sneakers were broadly considered luxury items, owing to the time and money the upper classes could spend on more leisurely activities. As time went on, sporting activities became more widely available, as did the use of athletic wear.

Since then, both athletic companies and fashion houses alike have made strides in creating fashionable, functional footwear that can be used to elevate and add a sporty edge to any outfit ( gets our recommendation for their great range of designer kicks).

Chuck Makes the Shot

Converse, or “chucks”, named after semi-pro basketball player and founder of the Converse sneaker company Chuck Taylor, were the first ever athletic shoe to be endorsed by a celebrity. Created in 1921, the simple design of Converse All-Stars made them a cult classic whose association with music is second only to the Adidas Superstar.

Walking On Air

In the 1970s, the Nike Cortez with its inimitable “swoosh” logo became one of the first shoes to be widely used, but it wasn’t until 1985 that the Nike Air Jordan was introduced, named after another world-famous basketball player Michael Jordan, and appearing in over 30 different versions to date.

Sneakers On the Silver Screen

Just as the influence of music on fashion cannot be understated, so can the effects of some canny product placement. Nike shoes have famously appeared onscreen a number of times in films like Forrest Gump and Back to the Future, while the white Keds worn by Jennifer Gray in Dirty Dancing  increased sales tenfold.

Fashion in the Fast Lane

It wasn’t long before leading luxury brands caught onto the style potential for sneakers, with Gucci’s signature tennis shoe arriving on the scene in 1984, complete with the distinctive green and red stripe. Other brands were relatively late to the game, yet still scored on style points, like the Prada PS0906 in 1996, which signified a shift towards a sleeker aesthetic.

Run Like A Girl

The 18th Century was a turning point for gender equality and participation in sporting activities. Even so, the women’s sneakers of the time maintained a high-heeled aesthetic, a look curiously remodeled during the Y2K era with the wedge-heeled sneaker. More recently, the sneaker and dress combo has proved to be a more comfortable (and practical) alternative to wearing heels.

Add a Little (Sporty) Spice

In addition to the sneaker heel other “hybrid” shoes have also made an appearance over the decades, famously including the platform sneaker, as worn by the Spice Girls. Even more formal styles of footwear like brogues and loafers have also been given a more athletic look.

Best Foot Forward

Sneaker companies have often found themselves embroiled in controversy, much of it related to ethical and environmental practices. Increased consumer awareness of these issues in recent years has placed additional pressure on sportswear companies to review their practices and create fairer and more sustainable methods of production.

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Tags:fashion, style, footwear, sneakers, shoe styles

About the Author

Stella Cooter

Journalist, traveller and mother, Stella writes about fashion and style, luxury and adventure.

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