Sneakers have evolved from their humble beginnings in the mid-nineteenth century to high-end sneakers developed in the last decade. The Rise of Sneaker Culture is the first show to look at the complicated social history and cultural meaning of the footwear that billions of people worldwide have worn by billions of people.
The show, which includes about 150 pairs of sneakers, examines the sneaker’s evolution from its humble origins to its present position as a status symbol and cultural icon. Works from the collections of brands like Adidas, Converse, Nike, Puma, Reebok, and private collectors like hip-hop legend Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, and Obsessive Sneaker Disorder’s Dee Wells, are included.
Sneakers by Prada and other major fashion houses and designers and collaborations with artists such as Damien Hirst and Shantell Martin are also on display. Film clips, digital media, photographs, and concept sketches are all used in this context. Check Amos Avis to get more views on this history
Film footage, interactive media, photographic pictures, and concept sketches place the sneakers in the background and examine the social history, technological advances, fashion trends, and marketing strategies that have influenced sneaker culture over the past two centuries.
Sneakers became a footnote in the Civil Rights movement’s timeline. I Spy was the first weekly TV drama to star a black actor in a leading role (Bill Cosby) in 1965. His character, a pleasant CIA agent posing as a tennis coach, wore white Adidas sneakers with a famous trio of stripes. This redesigned gumshoe pointed to the sneaker’s “sneaky” roots while still acting as a symbol of new-school chic.
At the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, American gold medalist sprinter Tommie Smith and his bronze-medal-winning teammate John Carlos took off their Puma Suedes. They walked up the medal podium in their Puma Suedes. Their heads were lowered and black-gloved fists raised in a Black Power salute to symbolize African-American poverty. The resulting uproar did not harm the Suede’s success, and it is still in production today. Follow up Snipes for more information
Simultaneously, the jogging craze necessitated low-rise, high-tech sneakers that looked nothing like the traditional canvas-and-rubber basketball high-top. But these cutting-edge shoes weren’t just for running; they were also eye-catching fashion statements. Popular non-athletes like Farrah Fawcett and Mick Jagger wore “actual runner’s shoes” as status symbols, according to Vogue in 1977. People wanted a whole wardrobe of shoes, custom-made for various activities—or genders—rather than just one pair. Sneaker companies used women’s empowerment to promote sneakers made exclusively for women’s bodies and lifestyles.
As joggers flocked to the suburbs, basketball players flocked to the cities, especially New York, where a bold new playstyle transformed the game into a spectacle of masculine swagger. Schoolyard basketball, like break dancing, cultivated a competitive physicality that bled into the popular (white) culture. The sneaker historian Bobbito Garcia states in the Out of the Box catalogue that “in the 1970s, New Yorkers in the basketball and hip-hop communities shifted the understanding of sneakers from athletic equipment to instruments for cultural expression.”
One of the issues that may occur with socially conscious sneakers is that the purpose, message, and manufacturing realities do not always align. Consider how many of today’s politicized kicks are out of reach for the majority of citizens. Except for those who can afford the shoes, there’s no need to take them out of the box and risk scuffing them on the sidewalks.
These more expensive sneakers are more likely to be investment pieces—the hard-won fruits of waitlists, raffles, and overnight queues outside speciality shops. While their designers can see them as advocacy works, their owners are more likely to see them as investment pieces. An article about how the Out of the Box exhibition came to be is included in the catalogue.