Casual Sneakers: From Basketball to A Fashion Statement

by | Nov 18, 2013 | Shopping


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Sneakers are a multi-billion dollar business in the United States. Yet, it was not always like this. At one point, not even casual sneakers were on the market. It was all about athletics. In fact, the history of sneakers is tied to the sport of basketball.

The Early Days

In the early 1900s, sneakers were synonymous with basketball. In 1907, Converse sought to break into the field of producing basketball shoes. In 1917, they produced high top sneakers and soon sponsored a basketball team to promote them. At the head was a man who was to become their major spokesperson and became the first example of branding.

Chuck Taylor an American basketball player became associated with Converse in the 1920s. He wore their shoes at games and during his workshops and demonstrations at local high schools. He also sold the product and, along the way, redesigned it. Converse acknowledged his contributions in a concrete fashion. They worked his name into the shoe design. This was an early example of branding – a shoe, a company and a celebrity linked together to create a solid impression.

After World War II

Following the war, sneakers took on a new life. Soon the athletic shoes worked their way into normal life. The appearance of teenage iconic actor, James Dean, ensured Casual Sneakers to become part of the American way of life. His appearance on the street wearing sneakers was the start of a movement in which sneakers symbolized rebellion, youth and the style of the day.

In the 1960s, the trend continued. Youth wore them in marches and to concerts. Many musicians wore them on stage. While canvas shoes featuring rubber soles remained popular, leather sneakers had begun to replace the older classic.  Converse still ruled, but new comers were making inroads into the field of casual sneakers and athletic wear. Among them were Nike and Puma.

The 1970s saw an increase battle for the market. These sneaker wars involved celebrities such as basket ball stars Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Technology began to make sneakers into super shoes. The Air models appeared and, in the 1980s and 1990s, color began to leak onto the court with Michael Jordan along with “pump” sneakers.

A variety of innovative designs as well as some seemingly useless frills made the athletic shoes appeal to those beyond the basketball court in a different way. New materials, advanced technology encourage everyone to wear sneakers. The once lowly and casual sneakers appeared more off the court than on it. It began to mark an entirely new era.


Today, sneakers are designed with more than the sport in mind. While they address the shape of feet, gender differences and specific sports, they are also a prominent fashion item. Casual sneakers appear on the feet of celebrities and regular people around the world. They can be glitzy enough for formal wear or designed to wear every day.

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