Written by Matt Welty (@MatthewJWelty)
It used to be crazy that people had a lot of sneakers. People would gawk, "You have how many pairs? You only have two feet!" But those days have come and gone. Sneaker collecting is a mainstream hobby. Kids who were too young to ever see Michael Jordan play basketball are still lining up for his sneakers, and the demand for sneakers is getting higher and higher.
This isn't necessarily because sneakers are getting better and better, but because sneaker culture has grown from something that was contained to people who searched for out-of-production models at mom-and-pop shops to something that can be neatly packaged and purchased at shopping malls. And the word that describes both participants in sneaker culture is "sneakerhead," and it's an awful word. It sucks. Would you really consider Hulk Hogan a sneakerhead?
The word sneakerhead gets tossed around so freely. Someone can run to their local mall retailer, buy five consecutive Jordan releases, take a few Instagram pictures, and label themselves a "sneakerhead." There's no way to measure what makes a sneakerhead and what doesn't. Before, being a sneakerhead wasn't something that someone would strive to achieve, it was merely a description for their passion for collecting and learning the history of athletic shoes. But today, becoming a sneakerhead is an aspiration by those who are intrigued by retro sneakers from Nike, adidas, and, even, ASICS' back catalogs.
The word, effectively, has lost meaning.
But there feels like there's an increased pressure for anyone who wants to be considered a sneakerhead to obtain as many hyped sneakers as possible. Being a sneakerhead has become about buying, what seems like, a list of approved Air Jordans, Nikes, and rare collaborations instead of just getting sneakers that someone just wants to have and wear. A sneakerhead could be someone who has five pairs of sneakers, but knows the history of each and every pair. However, legions of other "sneakerheads" won't see the person as such.
There feels like there's an increased pressure for anyone who wants to be considered a sneakerhead to obtain as many hyped sneakers as possible.
This sort of thinking only increases the hype and pandemonium around sneaker releases, and, potentially, could lead to the senseless violence that has been plaguing sneaker culture. If everyone is trying to get to the same mythical status of "sneakerhead" by buying the same shoes, there are going to be desperate people who will go to unruly means to get their bit of glory—a coveted pair of kicks.
Sneakers shouldn't be the only focus of people who are into sneakers. What made sneaker culture so intriguing, besides the sneakers themselves, was that the people involved had a host of different interests: hip-hop, skateboarding, graffiti, '80s and '90s basketball, streetwear, and more.
When people limit their interests to just sneakers, and everything associated with them, they lose touch with what makes an awesome pair of sneakers so ogle-worthy. They're something that should be worn and can complement the right outfit—not become the sole focus of how someone dresses everyday. The perfect sneaker isn't something that someone had to camp out for to just add to their collection and never use, it's a sneaker that feels great on feet and means something to the person who owns it.
Trying to be a sneakerhead erases the fun and originality out of sneaker culture. It turns buying sneakers into a competition. And when another pair of sneakers is added to someone's already enormous pile of sneakers, just because they want to maintain their sneakerhead status, the sneakers become inconsequential. And the context, and what makes us all love sneakers in the first place, is lost.