I like to believe that everyone owns at least one pair of sneakers. I remember my first sneakers, a pair of Converse that I wore to literal death. Sneakers are, arguably, the easiest pair of shoes to rock because they provide a good balance of functionality and style. They easily flow from casual to formal anytime, and I find myself drawn to the different styles. Sometimes, I wish to be the perfect sneaker-head who collects, trades, and customises sneakers as a hobby, but then I think, “Where do I begin?”
Exploring sneaker culture
Over the years, sneaker culture has evolved from a niche interest to a global phenomenon, captivating individuals of all ages and backgrounds. Beyond being footwear, sneakers have become a canvas for personal expression, reflecting individual styles, interests, and societal shifts.
The evolution of sneaker designs, collaborations, and limited editions often mirrors cultural moments, from music and sports to art and technology. The popularity of certain brands or styles can be indicative of prevailing tastes and attitudes, making them cultural artifacts that resonate across diverse communities.
Whether you’re a newcomer or a seasoned enthusiast, navigating the world of sneakers can be exciting and, sometimes, overwhelming.
On TikTok, influencers Sherlina Nyame (@sherlinanym) and Rebecca Hyldahl (@rebeccahyldahl) educate us about the ever-evolving landscape of sneakers. When asked about her love for sneakers on Foot Asylum, Sherlina Nyame expressed, “I love that there’s such a big variety of styles and colours. Whether you’re young or old, there’s something for everyone. Also, fashion repeats itself. I bought my first pair of Reebok Classics when I was nine years old, and now, 17 years later, I’m repurchasing them! Same for so many other retro pairs we have on the market.”
This guide demystifies the essentials of sneaker culture, providing insights into key terminologies. We also delve into the rich history of classic sneaker brands, and showcasing some iconic models. Let’s dive in.
Decoding sneakers terminology
Before delving into the vast universe of sneakers, you need to get familiar with the common terms used in the community. Here are some key terms to get you started:
- Grails: This means the most coveted sneakers on a collector’s wishlist.
- Collab: Short for collaboration, this is when two brands or designers collaborate to create a unique sneaker design.
- Colourway: This is the specific colour scheme or combination used on a particular sneaker model.
- Grading: This means the condition assessment of a pair of sneakers. They are often categorised as Deadstock (DS), Near Deadstock (NDS), or Used.
- Deadstock (DS): Refers to brand new, unused sneakers that are no longer in production.
- High-top: These are sneakers with a higher cut that extends above the ankle. They provide additional support and are often associated with basketball shoes.
- Low-top: Opposite of high-tops, these have a lower cut, typically ending below the ankle. They offer a more casual and versatile style.
- Resale value: The market value of a pair of sneakers on the resale market, is often influenced by factors like rarity, demand, and condition.
- OnFoot: Refers to how a pair of sneakers looks when worn. Sneaker enthusiasts often share on-foot pictures to showcase their style and fit.
More terms to know
- OG: Means original, this denotes the earliest release or colourway of a particular sneaker model.
- Customs: These are sneakers that have been customised or modified by individuals or artists to create a unique, one-of-a-kind pair.
- Quickstrike (QS): They are limited edition sneaker releases that are produced in small quantities and often have a surprise drop by the brand.
- General Release (GR): Refers to sneakers that are widely available and not limited in production, making them more accessible to the general public.
- Beaters: Describes well-worn sneakers that are still in use for daily activities, often contrasted with pristine or collectable pairs.
- Hybrid: Sneakers that combine design elements from different models or brands are called hybrid because they create a unique and interbred aesthetic.
While discussing releases, evaluating a pair’s condition, or engaging with the community, having a solid grasp of these terminologies enhances your overall sneaker-head experience. Now, let’s talk about the sneaker brands you should know as a sneaker-head.
Iconic sneakers & brands to know as a newbie
Nike, a global athletic footwear and apparel giant, has left an indelible mark on sneaker culture since its inception. Founded by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight in 1964, Nike has consistently pushed the boundaries of design and technology, creating some of the most iconic sneakers in history. The brand’s signature swoosh logo and their slogan ‘Just do it’ contributed to pop culture.
Classic Nike sneakers:
- Air Jordan 1: Launched in 1985, the Air Jordan 1 holds a special place in sneaker history as Michael Jordan’s first signature shoe. Its timeless design and numerous colourways have solidified its status as a streetwear and basketball icon.
- Nike Air Max 1: Debuting in 1987, the Air Max 1 introduced visible air cushioning and set a new standard for sneaker design. Its sleek silhouette and innovative technology continue to influence modern sneaker aesthetics.
Adidas is a German sportswear giant founded by Adolf Dassler in 1949, that has seamlessly blended heritage and contemporary style throughout its history. Known for its distinctive three stripes, Adidas is a pioneer in athletic footwear, gaining prominence across various sports. Over the years, the brand has successfully transitioned into streetwear, collaborating with designers and artists from Gucci and Prada to Bad Bunny and Pharell to create sneakers that resonate with fashion-conscious consumers.
Classic Adidas sneakers:
- Adidas Superstar: First introduced in 1969 as basketball shoes, the Superstar model transcended its athletic origins to become a cultural phenomenon. Its clean, shell-toe design has made it a streetwear staple for decades.
- Adidas Samba: A classic design born in the 1950s as an indoor soccer shoe, this model recently made a return to the spotlight in late 2023. With its unmistakable T-toe design, the Samba has seamlessly transitioned from sports-only to streetwear, capturing the hearts of sneaker enthusiasts anew.
Converse, founded in 1908 by Marquis Mills Converse, boasts a rich history and legacy deeply embedded in sneaker culture. It was probably your first sneaker as a child. The Chuck Taylor All-Star, named after the basketball player and Converse salesman Chuck Taylor, was introduced in 1917 and quickly became a favourite among athletes and musicians alike. Converse has retained its authenticity and rebellious spirit, evolving beyond sports to become a symbol of counterculture and self-expression.
Classic Converse sneakers:
- Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star: Originally designed for basketball, the Chuck Taylor All-Star has become an iconic symbol of casual cool. Its canvas upper, rubber toe cap, and classic silhouette have made it a go-to choice for generations of sneakerheads.
- Converse Chuck 70: An elevated version of the Chuck Taylor All-Star, the Chuck 70 retains the classic features while incorporating modern details like thicker canvas and better support, appealing to both purists and those seeking a contemporary twist.
New Balance has carved out a distinctive niche in the sneaker market by focusing on craftsmanship, quality, and comfort. Founded in 1906 by William J. Riley, New Balance was originally known for its arch supports and running shoes. The brand has consistently prioritised functionality and performance throughout the years. New Balance sneakers often feature the iconic “N” logo. The brand has gained a loyal following for its dedication to providing shoes that seamlessly combines style with comfort.
Classic New Balance sneakers:
- New Balance 990: First introduced in 1982, this set a new standard for running shoes with its advanced cushioning technology. Over the years, it has become a symbol of classic design and comfort.
- New Balance 574: Launched in 1988, this versatile lifestyle sneaker is known for its timeless design and variety of colourways. It has evolved its running origins to become a staple in streetwear fashion.
Now, you are no longer a newbie. With this guide, you can now consider yourself a sneaker-head. Let us know if you’d like to see a sneaker style guide or a list of emerging sneaker brands next. Also, don’t forget to show off your collection, tag us on Instagram for a repost – @marieclairenigeria.