Some shoes get all the glory. Women covet pairs of sexy Louboutins, they drool over delicate Manolos and marvel at avant-garde Camilla Skovgaards. But with such beautiful high-fashion heels to admire, it’s easy to take our everyday shoes—the workhorses of our closets—for granted. What poor underappreciated sneakers! With Earth Day on the horizon and a gorgeous new season to celebrate, let’s take a moment to pay homage to them: a staple of every active woman’s wardrobe. For the latest fashion news, you can check out StyleWe’s blog to stay up to date with all things fashion.
allow us to run through the streets, to dance all night at rock shows, and to nurse our much-abused feet back to health when we’ve spent too many hours in 4-inch-high wedges. Rubber-soled shoes have been around since the days of Henry VIII, but it wasn’t until the 20th Century that their mass appeal was established. Today sneakers (AKA tennis shoes, AKA athletic shoes) are a multi-billion dollar industry and with such fun, fashionable and yes, comfortable styles to choose from, it’s easy to see why. —RACHELLE BERGSTEIN
10. TOMS Classics
They’re by far the youngest shoes on this list, but TOMS classic slip-on have quickly become the go-to casual shoe for an entire generation of women. After visiting Argentina with the reality competition The Amazing Race, TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie vowed to start a philanthropic footwear company that would match each retail shoe purchase with another pair donated to a child in need. His versatile slip-on are the quintessential feel-good shoe: they’re comfortable, and they give customers an opportunity to be charitable while adding to their collections. Best business model ever.
9. New Balance W320s
New Balance creator William J. Riley’s source of inspiration was slightly less glamorous; he’s said to have had his “eureka!” moment while observing a group of…chickens. Before founding the company in 1906, he noticed that his feathered friends had three points of support in each claw, and aimed to create shoes that offered humans that same sense of balance. But it wasn’t until 1978—after Riley sold his company—that New Balance recognized a long-ignored group of buyers: women. They modified the popular 320 running shoe and released the elegant W320, suede and nylon sneaker designed for female runners.
8. Reebok Pumps
The original Pumped up Kicks, these high-tech Reeboks were the status sneakers of the 1990s. At the time, they were the most expensive athletic shoes on the market (which made them seem even more desirable). Pumps were basketball shoes, but their interactive element appealed to kids as well as sporty adults. By pressing a bubble-shaped pump at the top of the tongue, a wearer could “inflate” her shoe to provide additional arch and ankle support. Whether or not Pumps enhanced performance—on the courts or the playground—is up for debate, but their over-the-top design is an obvious example of the late-80s/early 90s excesses.
7. Nike Dunks
Intended as a hybrid of Nike Terminators and Michael Jordan-endorsed Air Force Ones, the Dunk was primed for success. Today, Dunks are worn by everyone from rappers, to pop stars, to skateboard legends, but their roots are a little bit less cutting-edge. Nike created this colorful sneaker for college basketball teams who could order in bulk to match their uniforms. But these days, people who wear old-school dunks are more interested in standing out than blending in…like Lil Wayne, who frequently wears them on the red carpet.
6. PUMA Suede Classics
Once upon a time two brothers from a shoemaking family—Rudi and Adi Dassler—founded a footwear company in their hometown of Herzogenaurach, Germany. Their hand-sewn sneakers were popular, but rivalries stirred between the pair until the 1940s, when they agreed to go their separate ways. Rudi founded RUDA, which then became PUMA, known for sleek, sporty shoes with a thick stripe on either side. The Suede Classic holds a special place for New Yorkers: soon after its debut in 1968, the cat-like sneaker was endorsed by Joe Namath.
5. Adidas Sambas
But don’t cry for brother Adi—he became equally successful with his shoe company Adidas (a portmanteau of “Adi” and “Dassler” and not, as urban legend holds, an acronym for All Day I Dream about Sex). The boys’ hometown was so divided in their loyalties that neighbors, at first glance, would often check each other’s feet to see if they were wearing Adidas shoes or Pumas. The brothers fiercely competed for local team’s loyalties and celebrity endorsements, and the Samba—an elegant black sneaker with a long tongue and seven white stripes—has become one of the most recognizable shoes in history.
4. Checkerboard Vans
When the van Doren family noticed that loyal kids in Southern California were customizing their white caves slip-on with a DIY checkerboard pattern, Vans decided to give buyers what they wanted: black and white printed canvas. But it wasn’t until a teen movie premiered in 1982 that checkerboard Vans achieved icon status. Fast Times at Ridgemont High entertained audiences with stories of poorly behaved high schoolers, among them Jeff Spicoli (played by Sean Penn), a charmingly thickheaded pothead. He wears these popular skate shoes throughout the film, thus introducing them to an enormous audience.
3. Keds Champions
Sometimes less is more when it comes to shaping a legend. A slab of rubber, a few panels of plain canvas, white laces and a signature blue rubber name plate and voila: the Keds Champion is a national staple, holding steady on the market since 1916 among increasingly high-tech sneakers. Champions were initially sold as tennis shoes, but with so much competition in the sports sector, Keds has managed to keep afloat by cultivating an aura of sweet Americana and good old-fashioned style. Embraced by stars like Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O, the champion is a true classic, surviving vast shifts in fashion through the 20th and now early 21st centuries.
2. Reebok Freestyles
The W320 was the first running shoe sold exclusively to women, but it was still a man’s sneaker re-envisioned for a woman’s body. The Freestyle, on the other hand, was the first athletic shoe created for female athletes. At the start of the aerobics craze in the 1980s, Reebok executives noticed a hole in the market: what should women, primed to jump and kick and stretch, wear on their feet? The answer was the Freestyle, a cushioned leather shoe with Velcro straps, available first in white, low-top styles. The shoe caught on, and Reebok unveiled a high-top version, offering them in a rainbow of colors to match bright gym outfits and even street clothes. But no one predicted the extent of their reach: in 1985, television star Cybill Shepherd wore a pair to the Emmy’s.
1. Converse Chuck Taylors
You know that part in Zoolander when Derek flips through crime scene photos of murdered male models and realizes that black widow Katinka is in every single one? Chuck Taylors—in this weird metaphor— are like the Katinka of pop culture; page through any glossy music retrospective and you’ll see that bands since the 1950s have embraced these effortlessly cool basketball shoes. No matter the dominant trends, Chuck Taylors remain at the forefront of alternative style. So if by murder we mean killing it…you’re killing it, Converse. One sexy rock’n’roll band at a time.