are a type of casual shoe. They are generally a soft shoe with a rubber
sole worn for either sports or various casual occasions. This type of
footwear is designed for people to wear while running, playing sports, going to
school, or simply lounging around the house. The sneaker is a good general
purpose shoe for men, women, or children.
Sneakers are also referenced as
athletic shoes, tennis shoes, trainers, and a few other terms. This
type of shoe
was originally designed for sports or other forms of physical exercise. Over
the years sneakers have evolved to be used for casual everyday activities. The
term generally describes a type of footwear with a flexible sole made of rubber
or synthetic material and an upper part made of leather or synthetic materials.
Examples of such shoes include athletic footwear such as: basketball shoes,
tennis shoes, cross trainers and other shoes worn for specific sports.
Barefoot running has been
promoted by some people as a means of reducing running related injuries, but
this remains controversial and a majority of professionals advocate the wearing
of appropriate shoes
as the best method for avoiding injury.
The British English equivalent of "sneaker" in its modern
form is "trainer". In some urban areas in the United States, the slang terms
for sneakers have come and gone. On occasion they are referred to as
“kicks". In some countries they can be referenced as gutties, tennis, gym shoes,
sneaks, or takkies. Plimsolls (British English) are "low tech" athletic
shoes, and are also called 'sneakers' in American English and 'daps' in Welsh
Types of Sneakers
High-tops cover the ankle. The high-top is a shoe
that extends significantly over the wearer's ankle. It is commonly an athletic
shoe, particularly for basketball. It is sometimes confused with the slightly
shorter mid-top, which typically extends no higher than the wearer's ankle.
High-tops also should not be confused with shorter-length boots such as ankle
boots, since high-tops usually refer to athletic shoes, although can also refer
to other above-ankle shoes such as some hiking boots. Examples of
basketball shoes that are high-tops are Converse All-Stars, Nike Air Forces 1,
2, and 3, Reebok Freestyle, Reebok BB4600 and Fila's own "Foggia" range
Low-tops or oxfords do not cover the ankle.
Mid-cut sneakers are in-between high-tops and low-tops.
Sneaker boots extend to the calf.
Slip-ons like low-tops/oxfords do not cover the ankle and
don't have laces.
Low-top CVO (Circular Vamp Oxford) like low-tops do not
cover the ankle but unlike low-tops have a vamp in a circular form and typically
4 to 5 eyelets.
High-top CVO (Circular Vamp Oxford) like high-tops cover
the ankle and also have a circular vamp.
What is the origin of the word
The word was already in use at
least as early as 1887, as the Boston Journal made reference to "sneakers" as
"the name boys give to tennis shoes." The name "sneakers" originally referred to how quiet the rubber soles were
on the ground, in contrast to noisy standard
hard leather sole dress shoes. Someone wearing sneakers could "sneak up" on
someone while someone wearing standards could not. The word "sneaker" is
often attributed to American Henry Nelson McKinney who was an advertising agent
for N. W. Ayer & Son. In 1917, he used the term because the rubber sole
made the shoe stealthy. However, if it was really used in 1887, he
obviously could not be the originator of the word in 1917. For those of
you that are not good with math, 1887 came before 1917. By the way, if you
are curious, tennis was invented in 1873, so it is very possible that tennis
shoes existed in 1887. An Englishman, Major Walter C. Wingfield, invented
lawn tennis (1873) and first played it at a garden party in Wales. In 1877, the
All England Club held the first Wimbledon tournament, and its tournament
committee came up with a rectangular court and a set of rules that are
essentially the game we know today. When did they move from grass courts
to hard courts? Shoes don’t squeak on the grass.
Earlier the name "sneaks" had been used by prison inmates
to refer to warders because of the rubber-soled shoes they wore (a warder is a
guard in a prison).
What are Plimsolls?
These shoes acquired the nickname
'plimsoll' in the 1870s, derived according to Nicholette Jones' book The
Plimsoll Sensation, from the colored horizontal band joining the upper to the
sole, which resembled the Plimsoll line on a ship's hull. Alternatively, just
like the Plimsoll line on a ship, if water got above the line of the rubber
sole, the wearer would get wet. If concerned about the water, maybe they should
Plimsolls were widely worn by vacationers and also began
to be worn by sportsmen on the tennis and croquet courts for their comfort.
Special soles with engraved patterns to increase the surface grip of the shoe
were developed, and these were ordered in bulk for the use of the British Army.
Athletic shoes were increasingly used for leisure and outdoor activities at the
turn of the 20th century - plimsolls were even found with the ill-fated Scott
Antarctic expedition of 1911. Plimsolls were made compulsory in schools'
physical education lessons in the UK.
Are cleats sneakers?
They are athletic shoes, but probably not technically
British company J.W. Foster and Sons
designed and produced the first shoes designed
specifically for running in 1895; the shoes were spiked to
allow for greater traction and speed (you may want to also learn about cleats).
The company sold its high-quality handmade running shoes to athletes around the
Rubber Sole Shoes hit the USA Market
In 1892, the U.S. Rubber Company
introduced the first rubber-soled shoes in the United States, sparking a surge
in demand and production.
The first basketball shoes were
designed by the Spalding
as early as 1907.
The market for sneakers grew
after World War I, when sports and athletics increasingly became a way to
demonstrate moral fiber and patriotism. The U.S. market for sneakers grew
steadily as young boys lined up to buy sneakers endorsed by football player Jim
Converse All Stars endorsed by basketball
player Chuck Taylor.
Tennis Sneakers Go with Canvas
In 1936, a French brand, Spring Court,
marketed the first canvas tennis shoe
featuring signature eight ventilation channels on a vulcanized natural rubber
Which world famous sneaker manufacturer started in
Adolf "Adi" Dassler began
producing his own sports shoes in his mother's wash kitchen in Herzogenaurach,
Bavaria, after his return from World War I, and went on to establish one of the
leading athletic shoe manufacturers, Adidas.
He also successfully marketed his shoes to athletes at the 1936 Summer
Olympics, which helped cement his good reputation.
The history of sneakers
As sneakers grew in popularity, sneaker sales began to
adversely impact on the sales of conventional leather shoes. This lead to
a fierce advertising war for market share in the late 1950’s. Traditional
casual shoe manufacturers were having a challenging time competing with the new
In the 1970’s, jogging for exercise became increasingly
popular, and trainers designed specifically for comfort while jogging sold well.
Companies also started to market their products as a lifestyle choice. Soon,
shoes were available for football, jogging, basketball, running, etc.
By the way, Blue Ribbon Sports
was founded on January 25, 1964, by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight, and
officially became Nike, Inc.
on May 30, 1971.
During the 1990s, shoe companies perfected their fashion
and marketing skills. Sports endorsements grew larger, and marketing budgets
went through the roof. Sneakers became a fashion statement and definition of
identity and personality rather than simply athletic footwear.
As of 2015, brands with global popularity include:
Brooks, Converse, DC, Dunlop, Ethletic, Feiyue, Fila,
K-Swiss, Keds, Lescon, Macbeth, Merrell, Mizuno, New Balance, Nike, Onitsuka
Tiger, PF Flyers, Pro-Keds, Puma, Reebok, Skechers, Vans, etc.
Popularity in culture:
In addition to TV & movie celebrities, famous athletes
have contributed greatly to the general appeal of athletic footwear.
Clearly athletes such as Michael Jordan & Kobe Bryant have had a huge impact on
the sneaker market.
Sneakers have become an important part of hip hop culture
(primarily Pumas, Nike, and Adidas) and rock 'n roll (Converse, Macbeth)
cultures since the 1970s. Hip hop artists sign million dollar deals with major
brands such as Nike, Adidas or Puma to promote their shoes. Sneaker collectors,
called "Sneakerheads", use sneakers as fashionable items. Artistically-modified
sneakers can sell for crazy high prices at exclusive establishments like Saks
It is exciting to see how sneaker technology has improved
over the years. We can only imaging the amazing styles and construction of
shoes of the future. Most likely they will help us jump higher, run
faster, and exercise more comfortably.