Tennis Shoe Trends Across History
Sneakers, trainers, gym shoes, running shoes… casual tennis shoes have had many names throughout history, all reflecting the same sort of style: a shoe meant for activity and comfort. Maybe that means exercise, maybe it just means jetting to the store, but either way, this type of footwear is meant for maximum comfort when you’re going to be on your feet for a while.
You probably had a certain style of shoe that you remember being “the shoe” when you were in grade school, high school, or college. Maybe that’s the rubber-soled canvas shoe or a sportier style with subtle logos sewn in, maybe it wasn’t a tennis shoe at all, but more of a hiking boot, sandal, or slide.
Nevertheless, it’s fair to assume that most people have had a preferred tennis shoe at one point in their lives. Let’s rewind the clock a bit to see how this common athletic shoe has evolved and adapted throughout the decades.
Tennis Shoes Across Time
First up for footwear fame are the household name, Keds.
These low-top canvas sneakers flourished among teens and young adults alike in the 50s clear through the early 70s due to their presence in mainstream cinema as well as family TV. Characters in shows like Saved By The Bell, Full House, Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood, and film stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and characters in Dirty Dancing in ‘87 are some big-name instances where Keds were choice shoes. Since then, many celebrities have donned the simple sneaker, including Yoko Ono at her wedding to John Lennon in the late 60s. Since then, the shoe company has kept running with high-profile collaborations with fashion brands such as Kate Spade New York, Alice & Olivia, Madewell, as well as special collaborations exclusive to retailers like Barneys.
Photo by Camila Damásio
Photo by Wesner Rodrigues
Photo by Alin Surdu
During the same decade, Nike released 2 different shoes prior to their big 80s release of the Air Jordans. The shoes in question? A modernized Nike Cortez sneaker in ‘72, and the Air Tailwind in ‘78. The latter shoe was the first to introduce the ‘air’ technology now signature to Nike shoes, with the former having different technological advances making it have improved shock resistance specifically in the heel area.
In 1984, basketball superstar Michael Jordan signed a massive deal with Nike to design and distribute the now household-name sneaker, Jordans. They came in red and black, the staple colors of the Chicago Bulls, and sold for $65 a pop. Also during his shoe run, Jordan won Rookie of the Year, causing the shoe’s popularity to skyrocket simply by association. Later that decade in 1986, the Nike Air Force 1’s were rereleased 4 years after their ‘82 release and subsequent discontinuing.
One brand we haven’t touched on yet is Reebok. Their Freestyles began gaining traction in 19282 with the aerobic exercise trend starting to take flight thanks to Jane Fonda. Instead of having laces, the early shoes had velcro straps, more ankle support than average, and featured an all-white design. In ‘89, however, the Reebok Pump debuted with unique technology promising the ‘perfect fit’ due to the special pump mechanism, hence the name.
In this decade, the previously mentioned brands had more success with different style shoes. Nikes came out with Air Max 90s, Air Huaraches, and Air Jordan XIs. Adidas came out with Sambas. Converse had a resurgence of success. The chunky sneaker came into the limelight, with Sketchers at the helm. Platform shoes (specifically platform sneakers) were popular in music videos, specifically with the Spice Girls debut. Light-up shoes were popular, not only with kids but adults alike. Basically, this decade was a fun one for spunky colors and chunky styles, with jazzy features like lights.
Photo by Olivia O'Connor
The early 2000s were when Heelys rained supreme, at least for a little while. You know, the sneaker with a wheel in the heel so you could roll down the hallway to avoid getting a tardy? Until they were banned, that is. Many celebrities, including Usher and Shaquille O’Neal donned this unique fashion-meets-function shoe.
Skater brands and hip-hop labels also had their run, with different shoe collaborations and logos becoming the ‘big thing’ of the mid-2000s. This is also when Vans started to see their rise in becoming a commodity, specifically their checkerboard black and white print.
Later, sneakers had a bit of a refresh to appear more business casual, thanks to French brand Lanvin. Thick soles became a must-have thanks to edgy fashion magazines featuring them substantially (think, Nylon) as well as the fact that Gwen Stephani’s backup dancers donned this style in various music videos and concerts.
2010s & Now
Then, fads like the ‘wedge’ sneaker saw traction due to red-carpet debuts in 2012, Nike released lighter, more form-fitting Flyknit sneaks, and Kanye West and Adidas’s Yeezys first appeared. Vans saw a resurgence in popularity in the late 2010s, sock-sneakers hit runways in 2017, and chunky ‘dad’ sneakers became popular in 2018, thanks to supermodels like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid.
Vessi Footwear Pushes Tennis Shoes Forward
The idea behind our brand is to provide “an everyday, anywhere kind of sneaker” fit for all the elements, from rain to snow and slush. If you’re wanting a one-shoe-fits-all brand, Vessi Footwear is here for you. In all these years, there’s never been a tennis shoe or sneaker that is 100% waterproof. Too often, people have had to change footwear if they know they are going to get wet. Fortunately with Vessi, you can sport a classic athletic shoe that will also protect you in the rain or marching through a puddle.
Say goodbye to bins overflowing with different shoe styles that only work for certain occasions, and say hello to a more simple wardrobe. These shoes will get you places and stay trending much longer than any of the other styles mentioned above because they’re meant to be comfortable, classy, but most of all, timeless.