June 29, 2016
Athletics and shoes have teamed up the last forty years to put their mark on fashion. Before that, shoes where considered just equipment and very little attention was given, even when Joe Willie Namath was donning a pair of white cleats in the AFL. As a kid I never thought the Converse Chuck Taylors, Joe Lapchicks or PF Flyers were anything so special that I had to have them. In fact, I would wear any damn shoe that my parents could afford and sometimes I wore my older brother’s hand me down shoes.
Then something started happening in the early seventies in shoe world. I am not an historian, but I think Adidas and Puma shoes became more and more visible. When a neighbor kid began wearing the white Adidas with the three black stripes, I was smitten. But still, my parents couldn’t afford them so when the neighbor kid was done with his old Adidas, he gave them to me. I wore them until they basically fell apart and then I taped them together to squeeze out a little bit more life. Then I had to settle for the Kmart brand that had either two or four stripes, not the same status and everybody knew it.
It wasn’t really until Michael Jordan came around for the athletic shoe market to take off. There were others before Jordan’s influence, but they never had the impact that his branding has. Jordan and Nike revolutionized how young people feel about shoes. It was no longer just a fashion piece but more about status and hipness. The rarer and more exclusive, the Jordan shoe, the more cultural value it had amongst the kids. Their parents had to shell out over a hundred dollars for a pair of basketball shoes that became unchartered territory for a “gym shoe.”
So, twenty-five years later we have reached the point of saturation for athletic shoe styles and brands and now has become just another commodity. Sure, it’s billion-dollar market but I don’t think we have seen a new revolution of shoes for a few years. I tend to believe the next wave with somehow incorporate smart technology much like a smart watch. You will be able to know the wear status and temperature of a shoe for optimum performance. Of course, you will know that your toenails are too long because the shoe will tell you so.
In the last decade athletic shoes are also being required to make statements about our beliefs and causes. I have seen many of pink shoes in a game supporting breast cancer awareness and numbers scrawled on them to support the passing of a fellow athlete. You also can get an athletic shoe in any color and style which make me longing for the days of Johnny Unitas black high-top cleats. As I age, I want fewer frills on my shoes because a $150 pair jogging shoes is not going to improve my performance. I own a pair of Stan Smith all white tennis shoes that were so hard to find that I had to wait weeks to get them on the internet. I guess simple shoes are not cool, but I think there comes a time when uncool is cool again. The day is coming.