Tennis Shoes

The first tennis shoe, called the plimsoll, was a rubber-soled canvas shoe designed during the nineteenth century for playing croquet or tennis. By 1916 the United States Rubber Company introduced its own brand of rubber-soled canvas shoe called Keds and was followed in 1917 by the Converse Rubber Company with its All-Star shoe. Though other brands of tennis shoes appeared, the essential design did not change much until the 1960s, when a huge variety of tennis shoe designs appeared.

Though tennis shoes were developed for wear on European croquet lawns during the late 1800s, Americans adopted them for all-occasion use in the 1970s. Reproduced by permission of © .

During the late 1960s many shoe designers began to experiment to improve athletic shoes. One of the most influential of these was a University of Oregon track coach named Bill Bowerman (1909–). Bowerman wanted to design a lightweight shoe with a traction sole especially for running. His improvements included providing shoes with a cushioned insole (a soft sole insert), replacing heavy canvas uppers (the portion of the shoe above the sole) with lighter nylon, and introducing the waffle outer sole, which he created by molding latex rubber with a kitchen waffle iron. Bowerman named his shoes and eventually named his company Nike, for the Greek goddess of victory.

Nike and other shoe manufacturers, such as Adidas and Spalding, made further developments to tennis shoes that not only made the shoes specialized for sports but made them more appealing as a fashion item. Thousands of amateur runners bought tennis shoes during the jogging craze of the 1970s but soon began wearing tennis shoes for all occasions. Brightly colored nylon uppers and big, but lightweight, waffle soles became accepted as part of everyday wear. Fashion designers, such as Calvin Klein (1942–), began designing stylish tennis shoes. Soon the flashy tastes of the 1970s could be seen in tennis shoe designs; tennis shoes with sequins and satin uppers with high heels or platform soles were useless for sports but trendy on the disco dance floor.

The tennis shoe has remained an item of high fashion into the twenty-first century and is sold throughout the world. People in many countries across the globe wear tennis shoes for sports, as well as for comfortable everyday shoes. Many Europeans, however, do not wear sneakers as street shoes and consider the practice a vulgar American habit. Prices have risen dramatically since the first Keds tennis shoe was introduced in 1916, and many popular athletic shoes cost well over one hundred dollars. In spite of the high price tag, the shoes remain in high demand. The popularity of high-priced sneakers has even led to crime in rare instances, as some young people have been attacked and had their shoes stolen.


Cheskin, Melvyn P. The Complete Handbook of Athletic Footwear. New York: Fairchild, 1987.

Kiefer, Michael. "Ode to the Sneaker: A Discourse on Laces, Lore and Sole With Soul." Chicago (May 1986): 164–68.

Vanderbilt, Tom. The Sneaker Book. New York: New York Press, 1998.

[ See also Volume 3, Nineteenth Century: Tennis Shoes ]

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