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What are Sneakers?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 21, 2024
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The term sneakers can refer to many forms of athletic shoes with rubber soles. It may not apply specifically to certain types of athletic shoes that are designed for some applications. For instance soccer or football shoes might be called cleats instead, and some people make a distinction between sneakers and cross-trainers or running shoes. Others call most athletic shoes with rubber bottoms sneakers, daps, gym shoes, tennies, sport shoes or additional other names.

A common question about sneakers is how they got their name. When they were first mass-marketed by the Keds® company in the early 1900s, an advertising agent came up with the common title. Henry Nelson McKinney called these rubber bottom shoes sneakers because they made little noise on hard surfaces, and a person could sneak up on someone else without having his shoes heard. At the time, most shoes had hard soles and so the difference between the sound of soft-soled shoes and other shoes with hard soles must have been quite noticeable.

Keds® should not be viewed as the first company to make rubber bottomed shoes. In the 1830s, plimsolls became a common beach shoe in England, and their design was taken by Keds® in the 1900s. Plimsoll may refer to a specific type of sneaker that typically features a line in the rubber right below the canvas. This line could be used to determine if feet would get wet. Standing in ocean water above the line meant that a person would have wet feet. Not all sneakers have this line, and therefore plimsolls may be placed in a category of their own, though they also may be called Keds, even if not manufactured by the company.

It may be difficult to tell what is meant by sneakers because there are so many varieties. Kids taking rigorous gym classes might be asked to provide these shoes for school, and shoe choice should be more adapted for things like running and jogging, and feature some arch support and cushioning. Plenty of semi-athletic shoes don’t have much support and really aren’t designed for more than casual walking or daywear. Keds types and brands like Converse® may not be suited to extensive activity.

Price range on sneakers is also significant with very inexpensive pairs less than $20 US Dollars (USD) and some brand names costing well over $100 USD. Greater price doesn’t necessarily mean a higher quality athletic shoe. Some shoes are made more for appearance than they are for any athletic purpose.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By seag47 — On Apr 07, 2012

@StarJo – Arch support is so important in sneakers. I recently learned that some sneakers include extra material on the soles for people whose feet curve when they walk, and some are flatter for people who step flatly.

My husband had gone shopping for some sneakers to wear on his eleven-hour shifts at the warehouse. The salesperson had him remove his shoes and walk a straight line so that he could see whether his feet curved or fell flat as he walked.

The salesperson said he fell somewhere in between the two, so he offered him a 30-day trial of the sneakers with extra support. My husband could tell after one day that this was not the sneaker for him, because he said he felt like his feet were sliding off the shoes all day. It was a good thing he had the option to return them, because he spend over $100 on them.

By StarJo — On Apr 06, 2012

My sister's son has some sneakers that have lights around the top of the soles. Whenever he steps down, the sneakers light up red in that area.

He really wanted the kind that make a noise when you step, but my sister knew that this would get annoying really quickly. She compromised and got him the kind with lights.

I'm not sure whether fancy kids' shoes like this include any arch support. At his age, he may not even need it. I know that I have to look for that when shopping for sneakers, though, because my feet will be in serious pain if I don't have it.

By shell4life — On Apr 06, 2012

The sneaker market is huge. Just go to any shoe store and see how many aisles are devoted to sneakers, specifically athletic shoes.

When I was little, most sneakers were white. Now, they come in a rainbow of colors. I prefer the majority of the sneaker to be gray, because it hides dirt very well.

I do like a little pink or blue in my sneakers, but the problem with color is that they can limit the clothing you can wear with the shoes. So, I have one pair of sneakers that is solid gray and another that is a mixture.

Some people prefer black sneakers, but I think that they show dirt almost as much as white sneakers. Brown and gray are the best colors for camouflaging dirt.

By Perdido — On Apr 05, 2012

I've always liked black sneakers with white laces and soles. I prefer the kind made of canvas, because they just seem to be more comfortable.

I have seen this style of sneakers in shoe stores ever since I was a kid in the eighties. It seems that this is one style that defies time and trends.

They go well with blue jeans and are best worn for casual occasions. I think I wore mine all throughout high school.

The only bad thing about them is that they are not waterproof. Your feet will get wet if it is raining. So, I did have a pair of rain boots to wear on wet days instead.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia...
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