Sneakers today are as much of a fashion icon as they are an athletic shoe. Even in the office, sneakers are more acceptable compared to just a few years ago. And with the rise of working from home, workers have gotten used to wearing more comfortable, accessible outfits.
So how did the sneaker evolve? How did it become a cultural collectible that can be bought at places like Hype 24/7, and how have sneaker trends changed over the past few years? Here is a brief history of how sneakers have changed over time.
From Athletic Wear to Fashion Icon
Sneakers were first developed in the 19th century to be worn on tennis courts, as their rubber soles would not wear on the turf. Initially designed for the rich, they became steadily popular throughout the next hundred years as athletic wear.
By the 1970s, sneakers had started to become accepted as casual wear. They became especially popular among rappers who enjoyed their greater customizability compared to traditional leather shoes.
But while sneakers have been accepted, they became “cool” in the 1980s thanks to Nike’s Air Jordans. By being connected to the most popular athlete of the day, sneakers became a major status symbol as much as footwear. Other companies like Reebok and Adidas joined in to make their own stylistic sneakers.
It was at around this time that modern sneakerhead culture began to develop. Driving for hours to get limited edition sneakers. Paying hundreds of dollars at the least for the latest, most stylish designs which came out yearly. Buying multiple copies of the same sneaker, with no plans to ever wear them. Sneakers were meant to be collected.
To the Modern Age
The Internet changed the sneaker market just as much as Michael Jordan did. Internet forums, and then social media, served as a venue for sneaker aficionados to get together, trade, and verify authenticity. Furthermore, the sneaker reseller market became a major market as well. Now, sneakers were not just meant to be collected, but resold.
Today, the sneaker resale market is valued at $6 billion as of March 2022 according to Entrepreneur. The market faces new opportunities and challenges. On one hand, sneakers have evolved not just from athletic wear to casual wear, but from shoes to commodities. Sneakers can end up being traded like stocks, bonds, or cryptocurrency, with investors buying the shoe not to own it, but out of the hope that they can pass it on at a higher price.
But this commodification means that there are legitimate fears that sneakers will not be designed for those who want to wear them. Are sneakers in a bubble? Are companies like Nike and Reebok designing sneakers for the benefit of those who want to use them, or those who want to resell them?
It remains to be seen how the sneaker market will continue to evolve and change. But sneakers themselves have become far more than athletic wear and are now an iconic part of American and global culture.