When it comes to retro trends, few stand the test of time quite like sneakers. Whether you’re seeking those track-running kicks of the ’70s, the skater styles of the ’90s, or even a platform style from the Spice Girls–inspired early-aughts, most vintage styles are still alive and well in our wardrobes, pulled out with high frequency. We style them with jeans, skirts, slip dresses, and more, mixing trends within a single look, but that doesn’t stop the fact that the sneakers tell a historical story that might stand out from the rest of your vintage-inspired look. There are slip-on and lace-up styles, skimmers and heels, and bright white and colorful rainbows. Sneakers truly know no limits when it comes to style.
Timeless as sneakers might be, that’s not to say that each style doesn’t have a specific tie to a decade of style all its own. From the sporty to the elegant, in all their classic glory, here is the stylish history of sneakers that you should know before shopping for your next pair.
The most understated of all sneakers, these actually came into existence in the 1800s, though it wasn’t until the early 1900s that Keds became a true fashion lover’s favorite.
Which decade would you choose?
Marketed for basketball players, Converse came onto the scene in the 1920s. While we no longer reach for these when playing hard-core sports, they’re forever a favorite in nearly everyone’s wardrobe, sporty or not.
Popularized by the likes of Vans and Adidas, these sneakers were often flat-soled. While they were sold as basketball shoes, they serve a much better purpose for the skateboarders and casual wearers of the world.
A carry-over from the late ’70s, these rubber-soled shoes were the sportiest of the everyday sneakers that gained popularity up until now. Though still slim and sleek, they gave off more of a performance vibe when it came to jogging culture.
Taking the understated look of the decades before, sneakers became chunkier than ever before, looking to nostalgia with this one. Chunky sneakers have recently returned to our lexicon and are characterized by an oversize—often bright white—rubber sole.
Think: the Spice Girls, as their sneakers were more after-hours heels than athletic kicks. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone doing much more than teetering down the street in these rubber-soled shoes that often rose to towering heights beneath the lace-up structure.