Reebok Freestyle is an athletic shoe style that was introduced in 1982 and designed for aerobic exercise. It quickly surged Reebok into the mainstream athletic wear market and fashion scene along with becoming one of the most popular athletic shoes of all time. In 1984, the shoe accounted for more than half of the Reebok sales. As a result, the Freestyle became a 1980s fashion icon and is still manufactured to this day.
The original Freestyle was a low-top Oxford-style shoe made of leather with a yellow gum sole. The shoe was white with "Reebok" in light blue lettering and the British Union Jack flag on the one side. In the mid-1980s, Reebok introduced a hi-top Freestyle which became more popular than the low-top version. The Freestyle hi-top was ankle-high and consisted of two Velcro closures. Both the low-top and hi-top were offered in white, black, red, yellow, blue, pink, orange, and green colors over the years.
In addition to low-top, hi-top, and various colored patterns, Reebok has made modifications to the Freestyle, although, mostly to the hi-top version. The most common production material used is leather; however, an all canvas shoe and a synthetic mesh shoe have been offered. In the late 1980s, the sole pattern was slightly changed with the word "Reebok" enlarged and moved from the center to bottom edge of the sole (near the back of the shoe). In 1987, Reebok introduced the "White 'n Brights" Freestyles that had splashes of color like turquoise, red, yellow, and midnight blue. These colors were added to the terry cloth lining, the laces, logos, and the sole.
More drastic Freestyle versions came out in the late 1990s. A Freestyle hi-top with ripple soles and a "high-rise" (thicker sole) were created to compete with the chunky-soled shoes. Also, a higher hi-top called the "Double-Bubble" was produced. Around 2002, Reebok introduced a completely redesigned and updated Freestyle called the Freedom. None of these recent versions really caught on with consumers and were soon discontinued.
The Freestyle was one of the first athletic shoes to be specifically designed for women and was introduced at a time when the aerobic exercise fitness craze started. Women were impressed with the styling, comfort, and support the shoe provided for working out. The Freestyle's athletic use quickly spread to walking, bodybuilding, dance, and cheerleading. Ms. Olympia Cory Everson wore Freestyle hi-tops frequently in competition, working out, and on ESPN's BodyShaping program. Reebok sponsored the Los Angeles Laker Girls in the late 1980s and supplied them with white Freestyle hi-tops. Since then, other professional cheerleading and dance teams have used Freestyles. Even high school and college cheerleading teams have used Freestyles as their shoe of choice. It is also used in competitive aerobics.
Fashion and Work Use
Outside the gym, the Freestyle quickly hit the streets as popular casual wear. Women could wear Freestyles with jeans, shorts, capri pants, sweatpants, tights or leggings, and even as commuter shoes to work. In the 1980s, Freestyles were often seen with flop or slouch socks which were usually stretched over the bottom of the pant leg to help highlight the shoe. Actress Cybill Shepherd wore a bright orange pair, with a black strapless gown, at the 1985 Emmy Awards. Some women would own more than one color of Freestyles allowing some to wear two different colored shoes like white and black or red and yellow. This trend occurred after the Punky Brewster television series.
The slang name for the shoes was a "fifty-four eleven's" because the retail price for a pair was usually USD $49.99 and with tax, in New York City, they cost USD $54.11.
The Freestyle's popularity, comfort, and styling quickly spread to the work place. Nurses and waitresses gave up ordinary uniform shoes for the Freestyle. It was not uncommon for many Hooters girls to be wearing Freestyles. Many men have also started to wear Reebok Freestyles for the comfort, and style. Nowadays, it is not uncommon for men to be wearing these shoes on the streets. That being said, they're more of a unisex shoe, rather than women's.
Competition, Decline, and Following
The Freestyle success and the athletic shoe fad of the late 1980s saw new competition from the likes of Avia, which Reebok owned during that time, LA Gear, and Nike. Many competitors, like LA Gear and even off-price retailers like Fayva- even had models that looked like the Freestyle hi-top complete with Velcro enclosures. By the mid-1990s, the Freestyle sales began to decline as fashion trends changed. Hi-top athletic shoes were out of style and consumers were choosing high-tech shoes. In the casual shoe market, consumers opted for non-athletic, "brown shoes" while fashion conscious teens opted for new styles from Nike, Adidas, and Skechers. Sales continued to decline and Reebok eventually pulled the high-top Freestyle model from many retail stores (the Reebok Princess, a low-top shoe similar to the Freestyle in design, is still widely available by contrast). Today, the Freestyle is still widely available on the Internet and has a strong following with dedicated consumers, including many men. Many consumers have purchased the Freestyle for years while others like the support the hi-top shoe provides for weak ankles.
The Freestyle celebrated its 25th anniversary with a special collection of six limited-edition shoes that debuted at a New York City exclusive event on March 1, 2007. The Reebok sponsored event called "Freestyle Forever" included celebrities and highlighted moments in past and present Freestyle history.
- Reebok International (March 1, 2007). Freestyle Forever! Reebok Celebrates the 25th Anniversary of One of the Most Successful Women's Footwear Collections of All Time -- the Freestyle. Press Release.
- Mahoney, Sarah (March 2, 2007). "Reebok Reinvents The '80s: Will Kids Fall For Mom's Old Shoes?" Marketing Daily.
- "Reebok Freestyle 5411". It's the Shoes. 2006. No. 5, Season 2.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Reebok Freestyle.|