Sneaker is a synonym for "athletic shoes," the generic name for the footwear primarily designed for sports or other forms of physical exercise. Additionally, sneakers have come to be used for casual everyday activities. The term describes a type of footwear with a flexible sole made of rubber or synthetic material and an upper part made of leather or canvas. Examples include athletic footwear such as: basketball shoes, tennis shoes, cross trainers and other shoes worn for specific sports.
Sneakers is the more common term used in northeastern United States and southern Florida. The British English equivalent of "sneaker" in its modern form is "trainer". In some urban areas in the United States, the slang for sneakers is kicks. In Hiberno-English, Canadian English and Australian English the term is runners or sneakers or running shoes. In South African English the term used is takkies.
The word "sneaker" is often attributed to Henry Nelson McKinney, an advertising agent for N. W. Ayer & Son, who, in 1917, used the term because the rubber sole made the shoe stealthy. The word was already in use at least as early as 1887, as the Boston Journal made reference to "sneakers" as "the name boys give to tennis shoes." The name "sneakers" originally referred to how quiet the rubber soles were on the ground, in contrast to noisy standard hard leather soled dress shoes. Someone wearing sneakers could "sneak up" on you while someone wearing standards could not.
Earlier the name "sneaks" had been used by prison inmates to refer to warders because of the rubber-soled shoes they wore.
Popular brands include: Air Jordan, Adidas, Asics, Converse, Ethletic, Feiyue, Fila, K-Swiss, Keds, Lescon, Mizuno, Merrell, New Balance, Nike, PF Flyers, Puma, Reebok, Skechers, Vans, Macbeth Footwear, DC.
Types and Number of Models
- High-tops cover the ankle.
- Low-tops or oxfords do not cover the ankle.
- Mid-cut sneakers are in-between high-tops and low-tops.
- Sneaker boots extend to the calf.
- Slip-ons like low-tops/oxfords do not cover the ankle and don't have laces.
- Low-Top CVO (Circular Vamp Oxford) like low-tops do not cover the ankle but unlike low-tops have a vamp in a circular form and typically 4 to 5 eyelets.
- High-top CVO (Circular Vamp Oxford) like high-tops cover the ankle and also have a circular vamp.
From 1970 (5 models) over 1998 (285 models) to 2012 (3,371), the number of sport shoe models in the U.S. has grown exponentially.
Sneakers have become an important part of hip hop (primarily Pumas, Nike, and Adidas) and rock 'n roll (Converse, Macbeth) cultures since the 1970s. Rapper musicians sign million dollar deals with major brands such as Nike, Adidas or Puma to promote their shoes. Sneaker collectors, called "Sneakerheads", use sneakers as fashionable items. Artistically-modified sneakers can sell for upwards of $1000 at exclusive establishments like Saks Fifth Avenue.  In 2005 a documentary, Just for Kicks, about the sneaker phenomena and history was released.
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- Mental Floss magazine, Sept-Oct 2008
- Frederick William Robinson [A Prison Matron], Female Life in Prison, 2 vols. (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1862)
- Aichner, T. and Coletti, P. 2013. Customers' online shopping preferences in mass customization. Journal of Direct, Data and Digital Marketing Practice, 15(1): 20-35.
- 2014 Saks Fifth Avenue catalog