Now & Then: The History Of the Sneaker

Isabel Marant’s trending hidden wedge sneakers add a new twist to the most American of footwear styles.

 “All the other kids with the pumped up kicks, you better run, better run, outrun my gun.” If “Pumped Up Kicks” became that song perpetually stuck in your head last year, prepare yourself. Because the about-to hit-the-masses-in-a-big-way sneaker wedge is sure to be accompanied by a glut of fashion stories invoking the lyrics of the Foster the People’s hit.

Adding some leg-lengthening glamor to a high top sneaker was the genius idea of designer Isabel Marant, who debuted her Bekket and Willow models last year. Before long celebrities like Anne Hathaway, Dakota Fanning and model Miranda Kerr were wearing them, and Beyoncé even wore a pair in her Love on Top video. Starting at a whopping $760, the styles are already sold out. Retailers were hot on the trail quickly creating replicas of the shoes.

In the 1950’s, James Dean – seen here in Jack Purcell sneakers – the Rebel Without a Cause star inspired rebellious teenagers to wear the sports shoe with their jeans rolled up as street wear.

Fashion’s talent to keep a basic style perpetually trending has never enjoyed more success than in the field of sneakers. When you consider that the original rubber soled “plimsols” was first conceptualized as early as the 18th century and we’re still begging for the latest style 200 years later, it’s testament to their inherent appeal – and the endorsement campaigns they’re famous for.

Baby’s out of the corner and discovered Ked’s were perfect for Dirty Dancing in.

Known as sneakers because they were so quiet, a person wearing them could “sneak up” on you, the first mass-made brand was Keds made by the U.S. Rubber Company in 1917. By 1923, an Indiana hoops star named Chuck Taylor endorsed some basketball shoes, and the Chuck Taylor All-Stars went on to become the most famous athletic shoe in history and set a precedent for high profile celebrity promotions.

Grunge King, Kurt Cobain
 wore his in concert in the 1990’s.

Following in Chuck Taylor’s footsteps, Michael Jordan’s Air Jordan I’s hit the shelves in 1985. Despite being fined every time he wore them while playing with the NBA (only white shoes were allowed on court) the shoes are widely considered the most famous sneaker ever made. Nine years after Jordan’s retirement, the Air Jordan’s remain Nike’s top selling signature basketball shoe.

President Obama clearly happy about Spike Lee’s gift of a custom pair of Air Jordan Spizikes that were made bearing the presidential seal.

Want to catch up on some more fashion history?

Now & Then: The History of the Statement Outfit.

Now & Then: The History of Flared Pants

Now & Then: The History of the Ballet Flat

Now & Then: The History of the Breton Shirt

Now & Then: The History of the Platform Shoe

Now & Then: The History of the Pencil Skirt

Now & Then: The History of Skinny Jeans

Read more Now & Then articles here.

Rowena Ritchie

Rowena is EcoSalon’s West Coast Fashion Editor and currently resides in San Francisco, CA.