Sports shoes: Off and running

Sports shoes have sprinted a long way from their no-frills beginning. Today, they are both a functional item and a cool fashion accessory

woman runningEach one of us owns at least one pair of sneakers. And the sporty types among us probably have more than one, for the different sports they pursue. This is a far cry from the early days when there was a "one style suits all" approach to sports shoes.

Today, there is a high level of customisation when it comes to sports shoes—every sport has a unique need that a particular kind of shoe alone fills. However, some shoes, like the skateboarding shoes [often seen as a beat up pair of high-tops], are versatile enough to wear even when you're not playing. Before we discuss the fashion side of sports shoes, let's understand where it all began.

Back track

The first 'Keds' are said to have appeared in 1917. They were mostly white or all black and boringly bland. All there was to a ked was a canvas upper fused to a rubber lower or sole. The rubber soles resisted slipping and the canvas uppers allowed air into the shoes. These were called sneakers as one could pad around or 'sneak' around quietly on the rubber soles!

The sneakers have come a long way and involve a highly developed and stylised design that ensures optimum performance whatever the sport in question. There are racing flats, track shoes, skateboarding shoes, climbing shoes, wrestling shoes, foot ball cleats and dancing shoes.

New-age technology

Shoes are now developed by podiatrists and scientists to achieve just the perfection one needs. Old canvas and rubber plimsolls are replaced by air cushioned and gel-filled capsules loaded soles. Foam, silicon, air and gel are the most popular materials used to cushion the soles.

Some shoes like the basketball shoes even included a pump valve. Customers were encouraged to pump up their trainers as if they were bicycle tyres. Purchase of the trainers included a pump.

Types of material used

Leather and canvas though still vastly popular are thin and low-density making them unreliable in sports that exact a higher level of strength from shoes.

Ethylene vinyl acetate, which was invented in the 1970s and which consists of millions of miniscule air bubbles packed tightly, revolutionised the sports shoe. The air bubbles absorb the shock while holding your foot snugly. The material can be injection moulded, which means it can actually take the exact shape of your foot allowing for maximum comfort. Meshes are added in the uppers to allow easy breathing.

Another material that is popularly used today is polyurethane. This unique material offers the elasticity of rubber combined with the toughness and durability of metal. Elasticity is paramount as the shoes need to bend and flex under the pressure but bounce right back when at ease. Polyurethane offers just that.

A well-known sports gear brand has now unleashed shoes that are, in fact, like socks. The entire shoe is in one piece and extends over the heel and ankle to grip the whole foot and can actually make you feel like you are running bare foot! No laces, no uppers or lowers.

Putting them on for style

Hollywood stars like Woody Allen wore sport shoes to the Ballet; Dustin Hoffman wore them in All The President's Men. By the '80s prominent public personalities picked up the trend and brought it to the masses. Justin Timberlake started the fad of wearing sports shoes with suits and jacket!

Rock stars took them to extremes by studding them with Swarovski crystals. Some even went as far as getting them in solid gold with real diamonds! Hip hop stars epitomised the look with their bulky white shoes and oversized clothes. Before long, everyone who wanted to be seen as hip, was trudging around in sneakers.

Finally with fashion, technology and comfort taking precedence over all else, sports shoes have become a fashion statement. They exemplify personal taste and identity more than just being used for a sport.

Buy buy

sports shoesThe first step in acquiring the right pair is to know your foot. Wash your feet and stand on a newspaper before your feet dry. When you step away, you will get an imprint of your feet. If you can see your whole foot then you are flat footed, but if you see the imprint in two parts then you have high arches. High arched feet need more cushioning for extra support while flat feet need more stable heels to keep them in balance.

Get help. Enlist the help of the store's sales staff. Let them measure your foot as different brands have a slight difference in their sizes.

Run, man, run. You'll be wearing these shoes for running, so no point in trying them out sitting down. Also, shoes feel different when you run and walk in them.

Try and try till you succeed. Try as many shoes as you need to find the perfect fit. Take a friend who works out along for advice or ask your trainer at the gym for the right type to buy.

Never, never buy on line! Simply because you can't try them before you buy them.

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Pria Agni
Pria Agni, a fashion stylist and prolific fashion journalist, holds a degree in Fine Arts from the JJ Institute of Arts, Mumbai. She has written for leading publications such as Times of India, Discover India, Marie Claire, Hi blitz, Mans world, cosmopolitan and Film fare. She has styled the entire cast for the runaway success feature film, Bheja Fry. Her latest styling assignment is an English short film, Linger, which stars Kunal Kapoor and which is in the final stages of editing for the international film festivals.

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