Sneaker, tennis shoe, athletic shoe, trainer…these are all common and often interchangeable names for a rubber-soled shoe that’s worn for exercise or casual comfort. This kind of shoe is typically made of a combination of canvas, nylon and leather and has laces. Although the various forms of sneakers have the same origin, their purposes and specifications have evolved into a vast and diverse industry. Let’s learn more.
What Are Sneakers?
Sneakers originated in the US in the late 1800s and Keds, a popular company at the time, was the first to mass produce a canvas-top sneaker in 1917. The term came about when it was used to refer to a pair of shoes which made the wearer able to stealthily walk without any noise, hence to ‘sneak’ in unnoticed.
‘Plimsoll’ was the British equivalent of the term ‘sneaker’ which typically refers to any type of athletic shoe with a flexible sole, made of rubber or any synthetic material, with a canvas upper part. Sneakers (also called trainers, athletic shoes, tennis shoes, gym shoes, kicks, sport shoes or runners depending on the part of the world you’re in) are shoes primarily designed for sports or other forms of physical exercise, which are now also widely used for everyday casual wear.
A canvas-topped athletic shoe will be classified as a pair of sneakers, tennis shoes or trainers depending on where you live and anything designed for a specific sport or activity would be classified as trainers or sport specific like running or basketball shoes. How confusing! As sneakers continue to become popular for casual, non-sport use, we also have terms like fashion sneakers which are versatile, comfortable and on-trend.
What Are Tennis Shoes and Trainers?
The most commonly worn footwear during the 1880s in America was a hard-soled leather dress shoe. The hard sole made a very distinctive noise as wearers walked, and it was easy to tell when someone was approaching. Plimsolls are the original name for tennis or athletic shoes and the term stuck for a while in British English terms, but the shoes quickly became known as sneakers in American English.
When athletic shoes began to enter American culture on and off of tennis courts, the rubber soles were much quieter than the standard dress shoes of the period. Those rubber-soled shoes soon became known as “sneakers”. As the application of the rubber-soled shoe became more diverse many more types of athletic style shoes were created and all were referred to as sneakers.
In the UK Brits call tennis shoes “trainers” and in the US we mostly use the term “sneaker” but we’re all talking about the same thing! Aside from an overarching term for athletic looking casually worn shoes, tennis shoes otherwise refer to a type of shoe worn for playing the sport and trainers refer to a shoe designed for athletic pursuits like weightlifting.