It's been four months since the Brooklyn Museum closed its "Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe" exhibition, but there's a new shoe-focused show coming up, hot on its tracks: The Rise of Sneaker Culture (July 10-October 4). This one should appeal to a wider audience, not just because men wear more of these shoes, but because women do as well.
High-heels tend to carry enough symbolism to keep a conference on feminist discourse going for days on end: sex appeal, power dynamics, physical alteration (think about how your poise changes when you wear them, not to mention your height), and for many of us who waited years for our mothers to finally deem us old enough to wear our first pair, a rite of passage. But sneakers, though they can be heavily fraught with their own cultural influences, are the very symbol of casual footwear. They're non-gender-specific, they're easy, they're comfortable. And each and every person reading this has owned a pair.
Fashions change, but style is something far more ingrained in our individual selves. And when I look at the sneakers in my closet now, it's funny how they all seem to resemble the classic kicks that became various sartorial touchstones of my youth.
+ Converse All-Stars (low-tops) - For years these actually WEREN'T my shoes—they were my brother's, who usually wore the high-top version in black all summer long until they'd become faded grey and stinky in the way that only an adolescent boy's shoes could turn. Sometime in early high school I finally bought myself a pair of the relaunched Chuck Purcell low-tops, which had a chunkier retro look. Still, to keep a respectful stylistic distance from my big bro (we were very territorial siblings), I got them in a plaid pattern and kept them in pristine condition. Today I own the classic, low-cut style in black, and while I wear them rarely, tossing them out feels like a denial of my very identity.
+ Nike Running sneakers - While I was in high school, shopping for running shoes with my father was always a high point of my spring. It meant that training for varsity track season was about to start, my anxieties and fears about competing weren't quite real yet, and this annual ritual of finding a pair of trainers and track shoes (the slipper-like kind that you screw studs into for the rubber tracks) became the unofficial kick-off to the end of the school year, a two-month period of early morning drives to meets, and evening drives home, often just us, with perhaps a victory story to share with the rest of the family. When I was three-years old, my father and I were asked to leave Harrod's in London, because I threw a tantrum in the children's shoe department over a pair of red mary-janes. Until track, that had been the last time he ever took me shoe shopping (and probably the only time thereafter). The care and attention paid to ensuring the right fit, weight, and style (fashion played a role, even then), often meant sprints around the shoe floor, visiting multiple stores, and more purchases for things like socks and bags—all of which he encouraged. Those memories are so special to me now. Today I own a pair of Nike Inneva sneakers that have a vague likeness to the track shoes I used to compete in. They compliment everything from jeans and cropped wool trousers, to bare legs. Most especially, the feeling of being a sprinter comes back whenever I wear them.
+ Nike Air Waffle - When I tried these on a few years ago in Boston, my sister and brother mocked them for their old-school, 70s-era looks—they're the vintage style made in collaboration with J. Crew—and that's exactly what I love about them. They're about 20-percent old-school, and 80-percent timeless. I had a pair when I was three years old, and while my legs are longer, they're still as thin, so there's that. Some things never change.
+ Feiyue Fe Lo classic white lace-ups - My friend Maisie only introduced these to me last summer, and I wear them maybe more than any other shoe. They. Make. Any. Outfit. Look. Good. If I had to compare them to the sneakers from my youth, the obvious go-to would be the standard-issue white Keds and PF Flyers that I wore for years, as well as the classic canvas Tretorns that my mother still rocks.
Of course this is all just my own personal history of sneakers and their presence in my wardrobe through the years, while the show at the Brooklyn Museum reflects a more cultural one. Very few types of shoes have as much of an impact on both.