During the 1980s sneakers or athletic shoes became a major component of the American wardrobe. Consumers, most of whom were young, favored certain styles for the attitude or personality they conveyed. Wearing a specific brand or style radiated status. One of the most distinctive styles of athletic shoe introduced in the 1980s was the trainer. Not designed for a specific sport such as basketball or jogging, trainers typically had heavier soles, more decorative and colorful uppers, and prominent display of the shoe-maker's logo. While traditional sneakers came in such colors as black, white, blue, or red, trainers could be a less typical color, such as pink. The shoes' laces were often colored and patterned or replaced by Velcro strips.
For decades rubber-soled athletic shoes, also known as tennis shoes and sneakers, had been worn primarily by children romping on playgrounds and athletes competing in sports and were considered inappropriate for work or school. The most well-known brands were Keds and Converse "Chuck Taylor" All-Stars. By the 1980s, however, more people of all ages began exercising and participating in sports, and shoe manufactures began designing different types of sneakers for different athletic activities: one style for jogging, another for tennis, and a third for basketball.
As sales figures skyrocketed, marketers realized that athletic shoes could be sold to the style-conscious as well as the sports-minded. Sneakers could be everyday fashion statements. Some of the fashionable trainers included KangaROOS, which featured small pockets for holding trinkets; L.A. Gear, which marketed high-top sneakers called Brats that had oversized tongues, the loose fabric that lies under a shoe's laces. Brats were worn with loosely tied laces, allowing the tongue to be visible. Young children favored Velcro trainers featuring colored patches that glowed in the dark.
Brand name trainers became popular with the help of celebrities. Adidas trainers featuring shell-shaped toes made of white rubber were popularized by members of the rap group Run-DMC; rap artists LL Cool J (1968–) and MC Hammer (1962–) exclusively wore Troop trainers. Trainers of all sorts, including the more athletically oriented cross-trainer, continue to be worn by men and women in everyday use into the twenty-first century, alongside the more specialized running, basketball, and other sport-specific shoes that make up the larger sneaker market.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Greenberg, Keith Elliot. Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight: Building the Nike Empire. Woodbridge, CT: Blackbirch Press, 1994.
Hays, Scott. The Story of Nike. Mankato, MN: Smart Apple Media, 2000.
Strasser, J. B., and Laurie Becklund. Swoosh: The Unauthorized Story of Nike and the Men Who Played There. New York: Harper Information, 1993.
Vanderbilt, Tom. The Sneaker Book: Anatomy of an Industry and an Icon. New York: New Press, 1998.
Woods, Samuel G. Sneakers from Start to Finish. Woodbridge, CT: Blackbirch Press, 1999.