Posted in North America, Travels, United States

Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture

So I ended up at the Oakland Museum of California a few weeks ago for an event with my school. Except I never found any other people from my school who were supposedly attending this event, so I took the free student admission (first Sundays) and gave myself a tour of the fancy sneaker exhibit they had. Honestly, I saw the crowd, and I’m nosey, so I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Read on …

Pump-up shoes

One of the featured exhibitions was “Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture.” Now, I’ve never been one to be a shoe fanatic. I only have two feet — I don’t understand why I would need a whole collection of shoes (but people would probably say the same thing about me having a shot glass collection when I don’t really drink). But for any Shoeheads out there who are also interested in the history of the evolution of the “kick,” you may find this interesting.

This exhibit starts from the very beginning. Literally. One of the first displays is of some ugly shoes from the 1800s and an informational display about the rise of rubber use in shoes and the beginning of using shoes as a fashion statement. As you walk around the room, each display case is filled with pairs of shoes, from regular everyday wear to gaudy to strange, like these “pump-up” shoes from Reebok. I’ve never seen shoes like this before, and it seems like a lot of trouble to fill your shoes with air every time you wear them. There are also several pairs of signed shoes, like a pair of Adidas autographed by Run-DMC. They have some Kanye West shoes on display too, including a pair that he did in partnership with Louis Vuitton.

Steph Curry “Ghost Ship” shoes

Of course, being a Bay Area museum, one of the cases pays tribute to Golden State point guard Steph Curry. The exhibit displays three pairs of his shoes: A pair that Curry wore during the playoffs the year they won the championship (complete with his handwriting), and two custom pairs that were auctioned to benefit a charity to assist families affected by the Ghost Ship Warehouse fire last year. Oakland Strong.

Any exhibit about the history of footwear has to pay homage to the legends, the styles that even I recognize. There are several Converse All-Stars on display, as well as the famous Nike Air Forces and Air Jordans.

Even though I’m not a fan of fancy shoes, I did learn some interesting facts, and I’m always up for learning. Apparently, Jordan was fined for wearing his famous shoes, like along the lines of thousands of dollars, just because they didn’t conform to the NBA dress codes. And apparently it happened more than once. I hope he made whatever point he wanted to make.

Nike Air Forces are also apparently the best selling athletic shoe in history. I learned that from the video about shoes that they show in the middle of the exhibit. Air Forces sell so well that Nike doesn’t even have to really advertise it. I also learned that the plain white shoes are the most popular.

Customized shoes are also a huge market. There are a number of customized pairs on display, including one with artwork depicting the Joker from the Batman series, a pair that had a comic book-pop theme, and one I remember that looked like it was drawn on and colored by hand.

A lot of work goes into designing shoes also. Not just the outside to make it look pretty, but the inside also to make it functional. One of the walls is covered in sketches of shoes with little notes about what materials to use.

Obama shoes

Oh, and THESE THINGS! They put Obama on some shoes. I read the plaque in front of the display, and it says one of the shoes is meant to be displayed sole up, while the other one is designed to leave a footprint of Obama’s face wherever you walk. But something tells me that these weren’t meant to be worn. Plus I’d feel weird about walking on Obama’s face.

Shoehead or not, if you like to learn, check out this exhibit. It’s definitely something I wouldn’t have expected to be a thing to see at a museum, but it was pleasantly surprising. It’s on display at the Oakland Museum until April 2, 2017 (totally BARTable). The traveling exhibit is making its way around the States; check online for the tour dates and locations. If Canada is closer to you, check out the permanent display at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. Don’t want to travel? Order the book (yes, a book). I’ve found it at Barnes and Noble, so probably other bookstores have it too. There’s lots of pretty pictures, and if you’re a fan of sneakers, you might also be a fan of this book, especially if your coffee table is looking rather naked.


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