History of sneakers, the hottest urban footwear of the 21st century
Our last post dove into the world of street style and highlighted one of its key features: the sneakers! Now we want to zero in on these athletic shoes and take a look back at how they went from sportswear to street cool to the hottest urban footwear of the 21st century.
From sneakers’ first steps to taking over sports
The and boots are intrinsically linked. We invite you to check out our post How did the design of our contemporary boots first come to pass? to get the full background story and Designer boots from 1950 onwards, where we talk about the rise of sneakers and their leap from sportswear to young, hip fashion.
This new journey through the growth of sneakers begins in the 19th century, when plimsoll shoes were first popularised as athletic footwear. Their initial purpose, in fact, was for beach use, which is why in Spanish they are often called playeras, from the word playa meaning “beach”.
Whilst production lines were introduced into factories at the start of the 20th century, sporting activities began to surge and new professional competitions popped up everywhere. Companies did not take long to see the potential in this footwear. With state-of-the-art processes lowering manufacturing costs, they could now market these shoes to all sorts of consumers.
It was around this time too when people began calling them “sneakers”, a play on the fact that their soft soles let you sneak up on someone while wearing them.
The first design to become popular in the United States were Keds, which jumped on the scene in 1916 and are still produced today. In 1917 Converse took the court, launching its All Stars model. In the 1920s these would become a smash hit thanks to their connection with basketball player and coach Chuck Taylor.
In Europe, sneakers had a family name: Dassler. Brothers Rudolf and Adolf designed athletic footwear in Germany to great success, so much so in fact that they managed to get the German competitors to wear their shoes at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Meanwhile, most of the US teams were wearing Converse, causing great furore in the media.
By the 1940s sneakers had laid full claim to the world of sports. That decade also saw the Dassler brothers go their separate ways, with each one founding his own company: Adidas (Adolf) and Puma (Rudolf).
1950s onward: sneakers’ leap into young street fashion!
The 1950s were key in the history of young street fashion. That is when sneakers were first worn with jeans, a pairing that shocked adults. Soon after, film stars would begin to emulate the fad and take it to the next level, some of the top examples being James Dean, Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe.
In the ’60s sneakers remained a badge of rebellion, a trend that would continue bubbling well into the ’70s. American punk bands often wore Converse, a symbol of the underground scene that would make a powerful return at the start of the 20th century
Nike’s consolidation as an athleticwear powerhouse in those years gave sneakers the final push they needed to become the hottest street shoe on the market. Celebrities from both the silver screen (Farrah Fawcett) and the sports court (Michael Jordan) were signed on to promote the designs, paving the way for sneakers’ ultimate world domination.
Sneakers have consistently been tied to new fads and urban tribes, including punk, hip-hop, indie and trap. They made their most recent leap from the street and sporting arenas to the catwalk. Indeed, they have been showing up all over the fashion world in recent years, and even luxury brands have not skipped a beat in launching their own designs.
At O.SUR we love delving back into the history of sneakers and imbuing them with our own charm. Urban designs with character, versatile enough to be worn in all sorts of settings, and, of course, always handcrafted by local shoemakers. Itching to check them out? Find our sneakers at exclusive prices!