Tennis shoes, also called athletic shoes or sneakers (which are called so because wearers of these shoes are able to sneak silently), aren’t just for tennis. As we all know, they’re used for just about every aspect of life, from a fashion statement to playing several major sports.
The Origin of Tennis Shoes
The tennis shoe can actually trace its origins back to the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. The discovery of canvas and vulcanized rubber, along with the advent of mass production, meant that shoes were now more commercially available. The rubber shoes or sneakers were also much cheaper compared to individually hand-made footwear.
Plimsolls (or plimsoles) are said to be the precursors of the tennis shoes. Like tennis shoes, plimsolls are made of canvas on the upper part, with a rubber sole underneath. They’re also lightweight compared to other kinds of footwear, which could be chunkier, heavier, or simply less comfortable. It was at the Liverpool Rubber Company in England where plimsolls were first created and developed. At one point, they were even used as a form of beach footwear.
However, plimsolls were quite crude versions of the tennis shoe as we know it today. For one thing, like most early shoes, they were crafted in the same manner, with no curving for a right or left foot.
The Spread of Sneakers
By the late 19th century, more rubber companies were engaged in the production of sneakers. One of them was a small shoe company named Goodyear, which used to manufacture rubber and canvas shoes. Now, of course, Goodyear has become a corporation principally known for its rubber tires.
Another rubber shoemaking firm, Keds, was established in 1916 and became the first company to manufacture and sell more affordably-priced sneakers for the masses. In 1920, the German shoemaker Adi Dassler started producing handmade athletic shoes at his home. When his business grew, Dasslerestablished his new company, Adidas. Eleven years later, Adidas has become one of most internationally-recognized shoe brands today.
In fact, some sources even say that Adidas came out with the most coveted athletic shoe around the world. Jessie Owens, the renowned track star, wore a pair of Adidas sneakers at the historic moment of winning no less than 4 gold medals during the 1936 Olympic Games. The success of Adidas and competition between brothers caused the company Puma to rise up in its stead. The brother of Adidas’ founder, Rudi Dass, started this company, which also specializes in athletic shoes.
In 1908, Converse was established to make rubberized sole footwear for customers of any gender and age. But it was only in 1915 that the company began to manufacture tennis shoes. Twenty years later, Converse introduced a new style of shoes. These were originally made for the tennis champ Jack Purcell.
Since then, these shoes have found their way to the feet of Hollywood stars as well as the “bad boy” gangs, breaking well beyond the shoes’ athletic purpose. One example is James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause”. This movie actually sparked the sneakers fad among the young viewers.
The Rapid Rise
By the 1950s and the “baby boomer” era, the popularity of the sneakers rose at an unprecedented rate. Sneakers were becoming more popular, especially among children and young adults. In fact, this particular kind of footwear was often criticized as a symbol of rebellion. Matinee idol James Dean represented those rebellious youths in his way of living and also his preferred style of clothing. He was often photographed wearing jackets, a pair of denim jeans and white sneakers.
The face of the athletic footwear took a different turn in the 1970s. Because of the development of sports medicine, particularly in podiatry, companies began manufacturing athletic shoes designed for a specific sport. Now, we can find a wide range of shoes with features specially designed for sports such as tennis, basketball, football, jogging, etc.
Tennis Shoe Endorsements
Since the late 20th century, tennis or athletic shoes have become wildly popular, largely due to glittering endorsements by famous sports personalities. Michael Jordan, Roger Federer, and Ronaldinho have all been part of some brilliant marketing campaigns by competing for athletic footwear companies such as Nike, Reebok, and Adidas. These three brands hence became more cutting edge in the world of sports shoe fashion.
Rather than just shoes which are basically adapted for athletic purposes, tennis (or athletic shoes or sneakers) have also become a fashion statement. They have even caused riots, such as when the latest Air Jordans are released. In fact, Nike is even said to have played up the rule-breaking that Air Jordan cause on the NBA court. They paid the fines that would allow Michael Jordan to keep wearing the shoes, and then cashed in on the distinctive red/black coloring becoming something like forbidden fruit.
The Price of Innovation
While sneaker sales were increasing at a rapid rate during the 1980s, the competition was also in full force. Nike had the endorsement of Michael Jordan, which meant the Air Jordans were a hit even after the player retired. Adidas, Puma, Reebok, and other companies were all striving to get their own share of the market, adding wild prints, all sorts of colors, and even eliminating the signature laces.
Hence, sneakers were produced for almost every kind of physical activity, from jogging to skateboarding. There was also a lot of research on sneaker technologies, where companies patented their secrets for long-lasting material, springy soles, etc. These innovations were quite impressive, but they also drove up the price. Even now, many professional athletic shoes can easily cost $100 per pair and more.
Sneakers might be looked upon as casual footwear, but they can actually be quite flashy. Their rich history makes them quite an interesting accessory. Many people who wear sneakers now do so because of the comfort they provide, even if they don’t play a particular sport. Of course, the fact that sneakers or tennis shoes are a staple in movies and TV shows doesn’t hurt their popularity either.
No matter what reason anyone has for wearing a comfy pair of sneakers, it’s safe to say that this type of footwear is a wise choice. When we buy a pair of tennis shoes from a decent brand, we can look forward to excellent grip, steadiness, and overall great performance no matter what kind of activity we choose.