Ever Wonder How Sneakers Evolved from Running Shoes to Cultural Phenomenon? Then Run to the Brooklyn Museum for this Unique Exhibit.

Converse Rubber Shoe Company. All Star/Non Skid,1917. Converse Archives. Photo: Courtesy American Federation of Arts.

It’s hard to imagine our everyday world without sneakers. It’s certainly a lot easier on our feet because of them. Worn by billions of people worldwide, sneakers add readily identifiable, egalitarian style to global culture. In recognition of these contributions, the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto launched The Rise of Sneaker Culture, the first extensive exhibition on the history of the ubiquitous footwear. The touring exhibition is now on view at The Brooklyn Museum through October 4, 2015. It includes some 150 examples of sneakers - from their humble nineteenth century origins (1860s spiked running shoe) to the status-symbol designer models that have become an urban phenomenon and collectors line up for. Presented chronologically, the evolution is fascinating to view, with selections from the archives of Adidas, Converse, Nike, Puma, Reebok, as well as from notable private collectors and hip-hop legends.

The Rise of Sneaker Culture also includes films, photographs, designs and drawings that help contextualize sneakers historically and socially, as well as in terms of technical innovation and fashion trends. The evolution of physical and sports activities, especially running, are of course a big part of the sneaker story. But so too are cultural movements such as punk, and it’s interesting to consider how a product such as the black canvas, high-top Converse transcended from the sports realm to the club realm. The ultimate example is of course hip-hop culture, having influenced footwear trends around the globe. Of prominence in the exhibit as well are celebrities such as Michael Jordan who have helped shape sneaker culture by way of their endorsements, and Kanye West, who designed his own line. Also on view are designs by the likes of Alexander McQueen and Prada.

The exhibit poses some interesting questions: “How have some sneakers come to be valued more highly than others? How have sneakers expressed both privilege and inclusion? How were specialized sports shoes transformed into staples of street fashion and, in turn, icons of masculinity? How is it that at a single glance, a pair of sneakers can reveal nuanced social information?” So if you happen to be looking for a thesis for your master’s dissertation, there’s definitely food for thought here – or “foot” for thought


Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik. Modell Waitzer,1936. Adidas AG. Photo: Adidas AG/ Studio Waldeck. Courtesy American Federation of Arts