When we talk about the history of sneakers, our mind recalls legendary Sports Brands such as Nike and Adidas, which still dominate the market today. Discover how their trainers developed from the primordial model of sneakers, and how influencing they were back in the 20th century.


There was a time when only athletes had sneakers. Entertainers having sneakers, on any level, is a blessing.

Cameron Ezike Giles, aka Cam’ron, American Rapper

As Cam’ron said, sneakers were once strongly linked to Sports: we all know how influencing were the Converse All-Stars in the basketball scenery.

Let’s discover not only the origins of the sneakers but how did this model of shoe spread to become the everyday iconic fashion symbol.


The Origins Of The Sneakers

When we think about the sneakers, the first thing it comes in our minds it’s the rubber sole.

As a matter of fact, the history of sneakers began with the invention of the vulcanized rubber by Charles Goodyear, in 1839: this process made the rubber a pliable, waterproof, and mouldable substance.

In 1870, this rubber sole was applied to a pair of shoes: these were called Plimsolls, due to a colored horizontal band joining the upper to the sole which resembled the Plimsoll line on a ship’s hull.

Charles Goodyear and the vulcanization of the rubber
Charles Goodyear receives the patent for the rubber vulcanization, 1844

Initially, Plimsoll used to be worn by vacationers, but soon they spread among sportsmen of Tennis and Croquet. The key was indeed their comfort, but also their functionality.

The rubber sole began to develop with different sole patterns, to increase the grip of the shoe.

This process marked their massive diffusion in the Sports field: Plimsolls were commonly worn by students in schools’ physical education lessons in the UK.


The Industrial Production Of The Sneakers

The industrial production begins with the exploitation of the rubber sole.

So that the British company J.W Foster and Sons produced the first shoes designed for running, in 1895. Their success was based on the exploitation of the rubber sole, which was spiked to allow for greater traction and speed.

This feature quickly made the sneakers desirable to athletes around the world. As a result, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell won the 100 m and 400 m events, wearing Foster’s running gear.

Following the Sports thread, the manufacturing company Spalding designed the first basketball shoes in 1907.

After World War 1, sneakers’ success continues as Sports and Athletics increasingly became a way to demonstrate moral fiber and patriotism. 

As a result, these shoes became very popular among teenagers, following idols such as football player Jim Thorpe and basketball player Chuck Taylor, who endorsed Converse All-Stars.

Chuck Taylor and his Converse All Stars
Chuck Taylor facing a rival, while wearing the Converse All-Stars.

Sneakers Feature In 1936 Olympics

Another important player contributing to the spreading of the sneakers was Adolf “Adi” Dassler: the German cobbler began producing his own sports shoes in Bavaria.

After World War 1, he established one of the most successful sportswear brand, Adidas.

Mr. Dassler managed also to feature his own sneakers at the 1936 Summer Olympics, where this type of shoe reached success. The “Dasslers” were selling 200,000 pairs of shoes each year before World War 2.

1936 olympics
Award ceremony during the 1936 Olympics. Women are wearing the first models of sneakers.

Sneakers Going Global

After World War 2, children and adolescents began to wear sneakers as school dress codes relaxed.

In the 1970s, jogging for exercise became increasingly popular, with the sneakers being a trusted partner for the everyday sportsmen.

Soon these shoes began to be the “athletic shoes” par excellence: you may remember Sports Legends such Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with his flat-soled Adidas, or the legend himself Michael Jordan and his iconic Nike’s Air Jordans.

Nike Air jordans
A model of the Nike’s Air Jordans.

Not only jogging and basketball, but also football and rugby featured these type of shoe.

Sneakers then began to spread outside the Sports and fitness field: they were comfortable, casual, and easy to move around in.

They are now seen in the street scene, featuring hip hop stars such as Travis Scott and Drake, representing also as a symbol of rebelliousness, and willingness to step outside of society’s restrictive system.

With a plural and ever-moving meaning, sneakers are now featured in the Pop scene with multiple movies, such as Marty McFly futuristic Nike trainers in Back To The Future, to Uma Thurman’s bright yellow trainers in Kill Bill completing her sunshine-bright ensemble.


Sneakers Enter Luxury Fashion

We have seen how the history of sneakers has surpassed the domain of athletics, with many designers and creatives, such as Virgil Abloh and Pharrel Williams, embracing the sneaker world.

The result comes in an evolution that sees our beloved trainers being featured with premium materials, luxury detailing, superior craftsmanship, and signature design.

This kind of luxury sneakers makes the use of expensive high-grade leather, which is also thicker than the normal.

Remember that good quality shoe needs to smell like good quality leather. If it smells like glue, you know it’s been made on the cheap!

Fratelli Borgioli Sneakers
A pair of Fratelli Borgioli’s Sneakers.

Also, lightweight is usually associated with expensive soles, which also means better general quality.

In 2020, the most trending sneakers are:

  • Neon Sneakers: eccentric but yet stylish; if you want to be noticed, these are the perfect type of shoe for you. Surely an homage to the 90’s exuberant and poppish style.
  • White Sneakers: a total white that matches perfectly almost every outfit, classic and vintage.
  • Chunky Sneakers: back to an eccentric style, but with an elegant shape and sober colors.
  • Basket Sneakers: the Air Jordan confirms as an iconic shoe, perfect also outside the basketball field.

Even if they started as a typical sporting shoe, now the sneakers are perfect for every occasion, to match a casual outfit or to complete an elegant but comfortable ensemble.

If you liked history of sneakers, we suggest to check out the history of loafers. Enjoy the reading!