Sneakers were an accessory for the rebellious youth, now business people and senior citizens also wear the casual sneakers. What’s behind it.
Why don’t you put it to the test: sit down one afternoon in the café on the market square or town hall square of your city and watch the people. More precisely her feet. It is certain that more than half of those passing by will be wearing sneakers. It doesn’t matter whether you try it in Frankfurt, New York, Illertissen, Kempten or Paris starts, you will see: the sneaker, the forerunner of which was invented as a cricket shoe in England around 1860, is – well, there is no other way to put it – on the advance and no longer the first choice only for sport.
Sneaking in the world makes pumps, loafers and sandals look old
This can also be underpinned by a number: A consumer consumption study by the textile industry in 2017 found that for the majority of men and women (56 and 60 percent respectively) the sneaker has become the most popular street shoe. Whoever looks at people’s feet four years later does not have the impression that this proportion has decreased since then: the “sneaking up” of the world continues and makes pumps, low shoes and sandals look old. Or you could put it like Claudia Schulz from the German Shoe Institute in Offenbach: “The sneaker has become a popular shoe.”
Because “sneaking up” is actually a phenomenon that spans generations and genders and has affected all layers. The sports shoes can be found in the boardrooms as well as in the schoolyards. They are worn with business suits, light summer dresses and jeans in any case. “This means that every outfit can be turned more quickly,” says Claudia Schulz, one of the reasons why the former sports shoes can now be found on completely different occasions than tennis and basketball.
Also suitable when it rains and on the subway stairs
Comfort and versatility also make them the plus points of this footwear. “We travel a lot, so our shoes have to withstand a downpour and also be suitable for rushing down the subway stairs,” says Claudia Schulz, describing the everyday suitability of the sneakers, which makes them attractive to so many. The fact that they are so comfortable is probably one of the reasons why many older people also choose these shoes. “With its wide fit and thick sole, the sneaker is of course very suitable as a senior shoe,” says the specialist.
Comfort, practicality, versatility and nonchalance – all well and good, but you don’t capture the aura that has always surrounded this footwear, especially during this time.
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“Sneakerhead” Sergie Maurer has up to 800 pairs
Anyone who talks to Sergio Maurer advances into other dimensions. Words like “statement” and “cult” are already mentioned in the first few sentences of the phone call. Maurer, 40 years old, is barefoot for once because he likes to walk around with bare feet at home in his Zurich apartment. When he leaves the apartment, however, he usually wears sneakers. At the moment he prefers the “Nike Air Max 90 Infrared”. It could also be others, Maurer has the choice, because in addition to these he has another 700 to 800 pairs, which he stacks in his apartment, in the basement, with his parents and now also on a cover of the bathtub. “I only take a shower,” he says with his Swiss accent and you can well imagine that he is grinning.
Sergio Maurer is one of the founders of “Sneakerness”, a trade fair for everyone who, like him, doesn’t want to stick their feet in anything else. In 2008, the Swiss, who was still at home in Bern at the time, initiated a convivial get-together among like-minded people. 13 years later it has become a huge event in cities like Amsterdam, Zurich and Cologne. Up to ten thousand people streamed in before the pandemic-related cancellations last year, said Maurer, sighted and bought the latest models and exchanged views on colorways (coloring), heel caps (heel caps) and samples (the prototypes of a shoe that collectors become hunters be let).
$ 1.8 million for a pair of worn sneakers
As a sandal wearer, you can’t have a say. Because sneakerheads, i.e. those people who passionately wear and collect sneakers, are – and this also promotes the hype – a community with its own language and special rituals. Unboxing, for example. This is the moment when you take the new sneaker out of the box. “Something of the hottest thing there is,” enthuses Sergio Maurer enthusiastically and tells how he takes the shoes out of the box, unthreading and re-threading shoelaces, how he carefully puts them on and first wears them a little in the apartment. It “smells and tastes” as he puts it. This brings you closer to the myth of the sneaker.
And you are even more amazed when you hear how the originally inexpensive consumer item has become an exclusive collector’s item and even an expensive work of art. This happened recently when a black sneaker that the American rapper Kanye West wore to an Academy Awards was auctioned for 1.8 million dollars by the auction house Sotheby’s. Sneakers have long been an investment and are traded like securities on the StockX online exchange.
Buy, store, take a photo, indicate: this is what happens with deadstock shoes
Anyone who still believes that the main reason for buying shoes is to walk around with them doesn’t know about the magic of a deadstock. This is an unworn pair of sneakers in their original packaging with all accessories such as hang tags, shoelaces and stickers. It stays safe on the shelf of the collector, who enjoys telling the world what he has just got hold of on social media under the hashtag #LPU (Latest Pick-up). “This showing off has taken on bizarre forms in recent years through social media,” says Sergio Maurer himself. He no longer has to have every new shoe himself. “I went from being a collector to being a connoisseur,” he says.
Even in their early days, when they were just sports shoes, there was something special about sneakers, starting with the name. They were called “sneakers” because their flexible rubber soles, in contrast to the leather soles previously used, promised quieter strides. Two American companies, Keds and Convers, took the English cricket shoes as a model and developed special shoes for the sport in 1917. Convers teamed up with basketball player Chuck Taylor for the legendary “All Star” baseball shoe, which is still one of the best-selling shoes under the name “Chucks”. Convers set a trend that to this day has contributed to the fact that sneakers are so popular, especially with young people: collaboration with stars and designers. Yes, you read that right. The term collaboration is usually only known from the military sector, in the world of sneakerheads it almost gets a solemn sound when it comes with the names of Michael Jordan or Kanye West, the godfathers of sneaker models.
With Joschka Fischer they were still a protest, with Kamala Harris not anymore
Well-known stars were also in the 1950s and 60s who brought the shoe out of the sports hall and into everyday life. James Dean, Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger, idols of a youth who wanted to be different from their uncool parents in every way, put their sneakers on display and thus inspired the younger generation. In the 1980s it was the rappers who not only set the tone musically, but also fashionably with their caps, baggy pants and oversize shirts. Including the right sneakers, of course.
All of this plays a role in the universal popularity of the sports shoe. However, this means that the sneaker is no longer just a symbol of a youth that is conscious of demarcation. The original nonconformity has given way to uniformity when everyone wears casual shoes for every occasion. Kamala Harris, Vice President of the USA, with her chucks just doesn’t seem as rebellious as Joschka Fischer, when he appeared in 1985 in his white Nikes for the swearing-in as environment minister in the Hessian state parliament and thus insisted on his individuality in the army of low-shoe wearers.
Today the sneaker stands for young and dynamic
Rather, the sneaker has become a reflection of our society. Or more precisely: to symbolize the ideals of our society. We want to be young and dynamic. We want to get rid of constraints and conventions like bulky leather shoes and we no longer want it to be comfortable only on Casual Friday. Sneaking on soft soles is more popular than walking through life on high heels. Demonstratively, female stars under the sign of #MeeToo also refrain from stumbling across the red carpet. And the sneakers are definitely the right footwear to not only find the right footing in a professional world that is geared towards mobility and flexibility, but also to get started with your career.
White sneakers – “the holy grail” among sports shoes
The mass phenomenon of sneakers will certainly not end quickly, even if it is forecast again and again. “The trends will change, but sneakers will definitely not go away,” says Sergio Maurer with certainty. Dad shoes with a deliberately chunky design, futuristic sock sneakers that cling to the ankles like stockings come and go. At the moment, retro sneakers, variations on classic models from the 1970s, are particularly popular. And the white sneaker, for Sergio Maurer “the holy grail” among sports shoes.
In addition, high-tech offers new possibilities again and again: With materials such as Goretex and recycled plastic or soles from the 3D printer and self-lacing with a built-in small motor, modeled on Michael J. Fox’s wonderful shoes in the film “Back to the Future”, the Sneaker reinvented over and over again.
Is this now the chance for a low shoe revival?
And so back to Claudia Schulz from the German Shoe Institute in Offenbach. She, too, is of the opinion that the possibilities offered by sneakers are far from being exhausted. However, she also wonders how long this will continue to be the case with young people’s enthusiasm for sneakers. “When grandmas and grandpas are walking around in sneakers, a countermovement has to set in at some point so that the young can break away from the old.” For the good old shoe, this could be an opportunity for a creeping revival.