From Kanye's record-breaking Yeezys to T. Swift's beloved Keds collaboration, sneakers have experienced a definite renaissance in recent years. And where do products of a renaissance belong, you might ask? Why, in a museum of course!
Sneakerheads, lace up those kicks and head to the Brooklyn Museum for your dream exhibition! The Rise of Sneaker Culture explores the stories behind the sneakers we love, pulling all the way from awesome archives of big brand names (think: Adidas, Nike and Converse) to the personal collections of professional sneakerheads (like your fave '80s hip hop legend Darryl "DMC" McDaniels).
We spoke with the exhibition's curator, shoe expert Elizabeth Semmelhack, about what most people don't realize about their footwear – including how the street-ready shoe style is actually older than your grandmother. Ahead, five things you never knew about your sneakers!
1. Your Converse sneaks go everywhere, but you'll only sport your basic running shoes at the gym. What makes some sneakers legendary and some just lame?
Elizabeth narrowed millions of sneakers down to the 150 pairs you'll see at the exhibit. The secret behind the fab-forever sneaks? It's actually all about what you and your friends think!
She explained, "It's the consumer that makes certain shoes memorable over others. It's sort of a unique way of taking the pulse of a generation."
2. Sneakers existed way before Michael Jordan was slamming dunks in the '80s. They've been hitting the pavement since the late 1800s - when basketball was invented – and they've been running ever since.Elizabeth said, "Sneakers have been able to stay topical to our culture despite the ins and outs, in terms of fashion ability."
Still, Elizabeth said when Adidas and Nike moved from canvas and rubber soles to the slick leather and colorful nylon you know today, that was a major moment in sneaker history.
"That captured people's imaginations for athletics and fashion," Elizabeth said. "If the earliest sneakers were signifiers of privilege – they were worn by people with the luxury and time to play [basketball] – the sneaker is reestablished as a signifier of status by the 'me' generation."
3. While girls can rock a set of sneaks as well as any guy, back in the day, that wasn't the case.
"Growing up in New York, #sneakerculture was part of everyday life. When you met someone new, you peep their sneaker game first above all else. We look at people from the bottom up. Talking, collecting, and comparing sneakers was something I grew up doing with all my friends." —#SophiaChang (@esymai), Designer & Illustrator. We're asking local sneaker heads for their #sneakerstory. What's yours? bit.ly/sneakerstory
Elizabeth said her exhibit doesn't feature many women's sneakers because, historically, women simply didn't wear them on the level men did.
"While women today are interested in sneakers and they've become important, historically, ideas of femininity and athleticism have had such a fraught relationship," she said. "And yet, masculinity and athleticism have been celebrated for centuries."
What's interesting, though, is that sneakers are now where men take the greatest sartorial risks to express their individuality, Elizabeth said. They allow men to break their uniformity.
4. A generation's sneaker preferences can tell the story of a society.
"My mother is the reason I love sneakers. I remember her going to work wearing these really ill–looking Nikes. Although growing up, I couldn't afford the pricey kicks, I now own over 60 pairs." —Calvan Fowler, Owner @jhbk23 & @jordanheads director. We're asking local sneaker heads for their #sneakerstory. What's yours? bit.ly/sneakerstory
You might be surprised to find out that footwear doesn't play second fiddle to clothes in fashion history. A shoe's complicated details come down to everything from Velcro or lace fastenings to platform treads or wedge soles – and you probably feel differently toward each one than your grandparents do.
"It's in that hemming and hawing that so much cultural information can be discovered," Elizabeth said. "So I think the history of footwear and how it plays out in a particular moment in time is an amazing lens for which to view a culture."
5. Sneakers are still a work in progress – redesigns change the game every day.
Nike recently debuted a new Flyease sneaker that makes it possible for you to fasten the shoe with one hand. The seconds-saver might not seem like a biggie at first, but the quick access makes sneaker-wearing a whole lot easier for those with disabilities.
Not to mention, its one-handed zipper means the sneaks easy slip on and off in airport security!