History: Stylish Sneakers

Sneakers can be an athletic shoe, a fashion statement, or both. While various characteristics can make a shoe what you need for running, basketball, hiking, or cross training, brand and style can also factor into many consumers’ decisions as to what shoes to buy. In this post, we’ll focus on lightweight flat-soled sneakers. These canvas shoes are generally marketed as comfy yet fashionable footwear suitable for casual wear. We’ll give you the rundown of how sneakers were invented, a few key brands that you’ll find in our store, as well as some summer styling tips.

The earliest sneakers  were known as “plimsolls”. They were made in the 1830’s and had a canvas upper with a rubber sole. The slip-on design made them more similar to slippers than to the lace-up sneakers we see today. The interesting thing about sneakers is that many of the most recognizable brand names go way back. So do familiar advertising concepts like athlete and celebrity endorsements and specialty lines.

A company called Keds (sound familiar?) was one of the first to create an improved design on the plimsols. The shoe still had a comfortable canvas upper and a quiet rubber sole that would eventually result in the term “Sneakers” but had the addition of laces. The word “Keds” was chosen as a brand name because it was derived from the term “peds”, which comes from the Latin word for feet. The name”Peds”  did not sound marketable enough,  so Veds and Keds were considered as stronger and more distinctive sounding alternatives. Keds is still around today. They have developed tons of different styles over the years, but they still make variants of their original canvas and rubber sole design, “The Champion”.  One of their latest celeb spokespeople is Taylor Swift, who often pairs the brightly coloured shoes with flirty and feminine dresses.

Another popular sneaker that has become a style staple are Converse.  Marquis Converse created the shoe company and ended up being behind one of the most well-known basketball shoes of all time. The Converse sneaker was endorsed by basketball star Chuck Taylor.  The basketball player’s name was added to the logo on the classic Converse basketball shoe, and is still associated with the brand today. Today, Converse or “Chucks” have been part of a variety of different wardrobes, ranging from sporty, chic, and grunge-influenced. Over the years they have been sported by everyone from sports stars to musicians to the tenth incarnation of Doctor Who’s protagonist. Converse come in a variety of colours, as well as a high-top and low-top design. We like that there is plenty of room for individuality with the shoes themselves: even if you don’t draw on your shoes or change the laces, we think that the unique broken-in look of a pair of Chucks is fantastic. In fact, many of our customers who shop for vintage canvas or leather shoes seek out the perfect the worn-in appearance. Converse has caught on to the love of the worn-in look and put out a line of shoes that are pre-faded and feature small worn in detailing.

One of Converse’s longtime rivals in terms of style are Vans. These skate shoes were made in the 1960’s. They were popular throughout the 1970’s with skateboarders for their grippy soles and the wide range of colours and styles. Today, this company’s most well-known sneakers come in a variety of colours, patterns, and styles.

While they continue to manufacture new and innovative sports shoes, these three companies that started out with the original plimsoll style shoes are most widely recognized as fashion brands. At Urban Thrift, we carry both these classic brands and those created by lesser known-companies. Our staff loves putting together casual-cool summer styles, so if you’re in store shopping for that perfect summer outfit, don’t forget to ask whether a pair of laid-back and classic canvas sneakers would compliment your favourite finds.


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