This week I was invited to speak at the Fashion Institute of Technology, known generally as FIT, for a class on "Clothing and Society." Its focus is to take a deeper dive at fashion and style through the lens of sociological issues. I was speaking alongside Jeff Harris, owner of Brooklyn-based sneaker boutique Roc N' Sole, and the question of “Why do sneakerheads get so mad about people who seem to be ‘faking it?” came up. In any room of sneaker aficionados, this would be a rhetorical question. But in that room it was genuine, sincere. So much of sneaker blogging and writing is so insular, topics and understanding is taken for granted. But we had to explain this very real question to students trying to understand looking from the outside in, and everything got very grey.
the only worldview of our culture that people see are these 12 and 13-year-old kids spending their parents money, and that’s not OK.
Sneakerheads can generally be separated into three categories. First, there are those who came to sneakers for nostalgia. They want to be like Mike, they remember seeing him ball in Air Jordan VIs and sneakers are an extension of the experience watching him do his thing. Second, there are those who came to sneakers under the guise of style. They like the way they look. They like that they're comfortable and they've been collecting for years for aesthetic purposes. They know what the first group knows, the numbers, the designs, but it's about the look, not necessarily the history. Third, there are people who are in this purely for the money. They know resale value, and they know enough to fill in an eBay description. They're prospectors, and as long as sneakers make money, they'll bring them to the conventions.
This third group is the group that is starting to take this "sneaker game" over. These are the same people we see at conventions, in line-ups, and even on the cover of magazines. For many outside of the sneaker microcosm, the only worldview of our culture that people see are these 12- and 13-year-old kids spending their parents money. And that’s not OK me.
Sneaker conventions have gotten younger and younger. One of my mantras in the face of newbies and dumb questions is “Everyone starts somewhere.” But a part of understanding our world is developing connections to particular shoes. Those connections come from either history, learning to like a shoe for its looks, or the struggle that comes with earning money and saving up to buy the pair you really want. Money is not inherently valuable. It's valuable only because it is valuable to other people. It costs the same amount to print a $1 bill as it does to print a $100 bill. Money is only worth what other people will give you for it, and without trade it's just paper.
Everyone's style is a personal billboard. It's basically the wearer saying "this is who I am." Expensive sneakers say, either, "this is of important personal, historical significance," "I want to look good," or "I have money." And that last one is just not compelling. It’s just wearing your bank account on your feet, like stapling a bank statement to your chest. If you're wearing Nike Air Mags, people will know you have money. But you'd probably look terrible, and if you didn't know who Michael J. Fox was, what’s the point? You know the Air Mag Mom from this visit to SneakerCon doesn’t wear her Mags to work. She’s just trying to impress the little kids her son is mingling with. If someone is in sneakers for the money, they don't hold inherent value to them. They’re not a real sneakerhead. Sneakerheads care about what’s on their feet in a vacuum of cash and community. A sneakerhead will wear what they want to wear no matter the room they’re walking into. But a prospector will dress to impress and money gets in the way of expression. If you want to impress someone, go on the ‘Gram and take a pic of that Ferrari you found in SoHo (make sure to lean on it so people think it’s yours), or re-'Gram a beach pic from an obscure celebrity’s vacation. Just leave the Air Mags in the box or send them to someone who will beat the shit out of 'em because they know they’re Marty McFlys.
(Jeff Harris was kinder than me. He respects these kids who are on that hustle. The world doesn’t have space for paper routes or lemonade stands anymore, and in a post-Beanie Baby world, sneakers are the tradable commodity now for those too young for the workforce.)
Pete Forester is a contributing writer and is just upset because these kids have more money than him. You can follow him on Twitter here.