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The 5 Pivotal Shifts In Society That Made Sneakers A Powerhouse In Everyday Fashion

Editorials

Jonathan Leong
June 14, 2020

In the early parts of human civilization, the sartorial aspects of most societies seemed bent towards major themes that were usually reinforced by the cultural traditions or technological limitations of that era.While most of ancient humanity revolved around a sort of perpetual sword and sandals attire, things started to change gradually with the invention of pants.

An alleged early pair of pants from ancient China - via the collection of the German Archaeological Institute
An alleged early pair of pants from ancient China - via the collection of the German Archaeological Institute
“I firmly believe that with the right footwear one can rule the world.”

— Bette Midler

In the 1920s the societal attire for both work and play (except for when one usually turned in for the evening) centered around the sensibilities of formality. Men looked like Sherlock Holmes and women mimicked a style of victorian clothing that seems absurdly uncomfortable now.

Sherlock Holmes (film)
Sherlock Holmes (film)

People aspired to look dignified and stately, well tailored customized formal attire was a signal of prestige, wealth or position. These days, with the exception of an IPO launch, funeral, prohibition era themed-party or wedding dinner, few occasions mandate one to be suited up to the heavens.

“Clothes, maketh, the man” - Kingsman (film)
“Clothes, maketh, the man” - Kingsman (film)

This continued even throughout the second World War and for a few decades during the postwar era, which came to represent a pivotal rubicon from which the tide began to turn gradually.

1  - The First Mass Casualization (1960s)

Still from Forrest Gump (film), Jenny a classic hippie rebel character
Still from Forrest Gump (film), Jenny a classic hippie rebel character

Although humanity had just gotten used to a world without global conflict, the fractures in ideology (sans internet) were beginning to take shape.

A world focused on progress gave rise to the gradual growth of Multinational Corporations at a scale previously unseen in human society as the globalization machine became a mainstay by which businesses would seek to dominate and remain competitive in a post-war era.

Still, humanity found ways to stay at odds with itself in the form of landmark occurrences in the 1960s such as the Vietnam war, civil rights protests, cuban missile crisis, the assassination of US President John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

Left, actual hippies…right still from Forrest Gump (film) people protesting the vietnam war.
Left, actual hippies…right still from Forrest Gump (film) people protesting the vietnam war.

Against the backdrop of all this was the first mass casualization movement, spurred in part by the hippie movement in the 1960s which represented a generation of youth disillusioned by a world which sought to force them into clearly defined societal pathways. Hippie culture and its laid back often dreamy aesthetics would form a wave of liberalization by youths who were rejecting conservative casual wear in favor of comfortable fits that signalled a sense of identity intermingled with youthful rebellion.

Image via NASA
Image via NASA

Thankfully, the 1960s ended on a good note with Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. The next few decades would usher in a period of economic growth that enabled fashion and society as a whole to move past a mass adoption of a similar aesthetic - into various subcultures as a new form of identity signalling and expression.

For the uninitiated looking for an entertaining glimpse at how popular culture and society evolved from the 60s, 70s and onwards till the 1980s - the Academy Award-winning film Forrest Gump (1994) aptly summarizes certain world events via the eyes of its low IQ but big-hearted protagonist. The iconic Nike Cortez even makes a notable cameo in the film, undoubtedly an early example of brilliant product placement.

forrestgump.jpg

2  - Sneakers Enter Globalized Media and Popular Culture (1980s)

The Nike Air Mag, Back To The Future II (film)
The Nike Air Mag, Back To The Future II (film)

The rapid proliferation of mass media across the globe and the rise in a globalized entertainment market resulted in the emergence of various subcultures that appealed to different audiences and interest groups.

With the mass media as a dissemination tool, strong globalized tribes began to form across major lifestyle interests such as Hip Hop, Skateboarding and Basketball.

Michael Jordan in his early days with the Chicago Bulls
Michael Jordan in his early days with the Chicago Bulls

The emergence of the NBA and Michael Jordan as avatars of sports as entertainment gave rise to the visibility of then growing brands such as Nike and more established heritage sportwear brands such as Adidas which had a longer history.

Global entertainment hits such as Back To The Future II with the Nike Air Mag, reimagined what and where the sneaker could go in terms of aesthetics and technology.

3 - The Internet Propels Sneaker Culture (Early 2000s)

Ebay, in the early days.
Ebay, in the early days.

With the foundations and subcultures behind many iconic sneakers already cemented in the pre-internet era, the early 2000s made it easy for people with similar obsessions to congregate in digital town-halls in the form of early message boards and pre-facebook-era social media portals.

Everyone from casual enthusiasts, hardened collectors, early stage sneaker resellers and streetwear entrepreneurs would use the internet to research and communicate with other members of what was fast evolving into a worldwide movement, built atop various lifestyle pillars such as music, fashion, sporting culture and design.

Run DMC wearing their iconic Adidas superstar sneakers
Run DMC wearing their iconic Adidas superstar sneakers

The Internet, paypal, ebay and the emergence of peer to peer commerce was what sparked the chase for both collectors and bedroom entrepreneurs who would do anything to chase down coveted pairs. It didn’t matter if a particular colorway wasn’t released in your country, if there was a will there was a way to get it.

Early Paypal logo
Early Paypal logo

The gamification and online ‘street-cred’ elements of sneaker collecting only intensified with the explosion and normalization of social media as a mainstay in human connectivity and communication with the rise of dominant platforms such as facebook, instagram and youtube. Now you could participate in more than the chase for sneakers, you could use them as a form of creative expression.

@TheCyborgSamurai concept customs for @OxStreet Content LABS
@TheCyborgSamurai concept customs for @OxStreet Content LABS
tiger-king-TCS-4x4-v4_ox-Street.jpg

The emergence of tech companies with their global reach and dominance (with notably casual office dress codes) gradually led to sneakers creeping into the contemporary workplace consciousness. What was once confined to sporting events or weekends was now seen as an acceptable form of daily wear.

Google’s casual office setting, image via: officelovin
Google’s casual office setting, image via: officelovin

Almost overnight, tailored and expensive formal fits were no longer seen as the only ways to signal one’s success or sense of taste. People began to flex with their new everyday staple - the once humble sneaker.

“Maybe you have a cool belt and cool shoes, but everything else you keep simple.”

— Chris Evans

The Common Projects Achilles Low - a popular luxury sneaker
View fullsizeThe Common Projects Achilles Low - a popular luxury sneaker

In 2019 Goldman Sachs began to allow sneakers into the workplace, probably in a bid to connect to a more diverse workforce that was more astute to the changing global dynamic centred around the rise of tech companies that had popularized a more relaxed working atmosphere.

4 - Urbanization, Athleisure & A Desire For Convenience

Gigi Hadid rocks a mean Athleisure fit - image via teen vogue
Gigi Hadid rocks a mean Athleisure fit - image via teen vogue

As the world became more connected and in a way compressed - so did our working schedules. Relaxation in office dress codes were not the only push factors that ushered in the proliferation of sneakers in our everyday lives.

Our careers became more demanding due to the pressures of globalization and digitalization, and so did our schedules. A generation that grew up with the internet and an amplified sense of awareness in the challenges they faced in both progressing in life, health and relationships now needed fitness wear that could double up as everyday-wear - seamlessly blending between environments such as commuting, the gym, office, as well as after office social gatherings. All areas that (for the better part of the century that preceded our current era) were previously viewed in largely separate paradigms.

Acronym, a cult “techwear” brand, operates on the bleeding edge of functional streetwear
Acronym, a cult “techwear” brand, operates on the bleeding edge of functional streetwear

Urbanites around the globe began to have a desire to look presentable when working out or even while transitioning between multiple activities - both for social and aspirational reasons.

“I feel that flip-flops are the downfall of many relationships. It’s like, first it’s the flip-flops, and then it’s the sweatpants… it’s the gateway drug to no sex.”

— Lady Gaga

Advances in textile R&D and how brands began to think seriously about how technology could give them an advantage in the marketplace - further spurred the breadth and depth of casual wear and athleisure in both form and function. A generation of workers with an increasingly time strapped schedule began to become more demanding in terms of what their clothes could endure, while still looking sharp and presentable.

Acronym’s Nike Vapormax collection
Acronym’s Nike Vapormax collection

All this led to the explosion of a whole entire apparel category with sneakers as the fundamental building block that would carry or even elevate how an average fit looked and felt.

“Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life.”

— Bill Cunningham

Acronym lookbook
Acronym lookbook

5 - The Blurring of The Lines Between Streetwear and Luxury Clothing

Filling Pieces, a design-focused sneaker and apparel brand operating at the intersection of streetwear and luxury.
Filling Pieces, a design-focused sneaker and apparel brand operating at the intersection of streetwear and luxury.

As we continue down what is the early phase of a new 100year trend towards more comfortable and functional clothing, the lines between streetwear and luxury clothing will continue to blur.

In an effort to appeal to the everyday consumer as well as the consumer of the future, fashion houses have tapped into the best and most relevant minds of our time to further bridge the gap between luxury fashion and everyday streetwear.

Why limit luxury wear for special occasions when you can appeal to the expressive needs embedded within each and every human being, eager to max out their daily wardrobe.

“Shoes transform your body language and attitude. They lift you physically and emotionally.”

— Christian Louboutin

This can be seen in the rapid rise of collaborations between luxury brands and streetwear brands, once seen as two distinct categories.

Image via Louis Vuitton x Supreme collection
Image via Louis Vuitton x Supreme collection

The humble sneaker, once confined to the arenas of sport have been elevated to a form of individual expression.

“Craziness in a shoe is great — you can have much more freedom, you can exaggerate and it doesn’t feel stupid. But to have too much craziness near your face, that would just feel weird.”

— Miuccia Prada

The above quote is relatively true, unless of course you’re Tekashi 6ix9ine.

The G-Dragon Nike Peaceminusone
The G-Dragon Nike Peaceminusone

We hope you’ve enjoyed getting a glimpse into the world around sneaker culture, for more updates on article postings do follow our Instagram account and Facebook page.

At OxStreet, we’re excited for the future of sneaker culture and streetwear and we’ve only just begun. Join our community as an early stage seller or buyer and get $20 off your first purchase.

A.K.A The Cyborg Samurai is the Head of Content & Advisor for Ox Street. His career highlights include branded content & direction work for the likes of Nike / Kobe Bryant, MTV, Tiger Beer and New Balance. Since 2008 he has been behind content & campaigns that have been seen by millions across both traditional & digital platforms. He is also a meme enthusiast and has a satirical blog called The Singaplex