Turning Heel: How Wedge Sneakers Turned Female Fashionistas Into Sneakerheads

The heeled kicks paved the way for women everywhere to become sneaker fiends.

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Complex Original

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Fashion month is back, and as the industry folks and street style stars are now overseas to view collections in London, Milan, and Paris, it seems there are a few trends emerging off and on the runways. Much like the past few seasons, sneakers are still seen as a hot item. From Calvin Klein’s long liquid shapes worn with skate shoes to Stan Smiths paired with sequins and skirts, the sneaker reigns supreme.

As someone who's grown up being known as the girl in sneakers and dresses, fashion’s fascination with sneakers is equal parts intriguing and bizarre. Are Isabel Marant's once ubiquitous sneaker wedges the reason why we've seen so many sneakers proliferate Instagram and blogs? Or are sneakers finally a staple in womenswear?

Women are more comfortable wearing sneakers at the office, at dinner,  or on a date, versus just the gym or in sweats. —Alissa Jagamath

Sneaker heels were not a new invention when Isabel Marant’s wedge styles became the chosen shoe for cool girls and fashion plates. However, there was never a push by a ready to wear “cool” brand like Marant before. As the owner of a gold pair, I can tell you the goat skin leather and wedge was more comfortable and luxe than any of my grade school Jordans and however it took me awhile to warm up a women’s fashion sneaker. Susan Boyle, owner of Rime Sneaker Boutique in Brooklyn, agrees.

“Marant had to take the initiative to incorporate the fashion aspect of sneakers as opposed to athletic brands kick starting the fashionable side of women's sneakers themselves,” she says. “After wedges, the women's market began to grow.”

Jazerai Allen Lord, director of media for SlamxHype.com, has seen women’s sneaker culture grow over time and much like Boyle appreciates the impact of the wedge and later, the so-called “fashion sneaker.” 

“Marant, Nike and Reebok did a great job of offering up wedges that spoke to a woman who wouldn't traditionally wear sneakers, providing her with first a looking glass and then a segue into our world,” says Lord. “The Marant was a win—effectively bridging the gap between the girly girl and the tomboy in a seamless way.”

It’s accurate to look at Marant’s wedges as the conduit for the heeled sneaker trend, but whether it pushed all sneakers into womenswear is debatable.

“I wouldn't say wedge sneakers are responsible for the sneaker trend among women, but calling them a 'gateway' might be fair,” says Jason Faustino, co-owner and creative director of Extra Butter. Faustino witnessed much more than just a larger, more diverse audience buying sneakers as a result of wedges. Ironically, it rubbed plenty of sneaker culture's longtime female participants the wrong way. “Female sneaker supporters were annoyed that there was buzz in their community for a product they wanted no part of,” he says. 

Faustino is right, most self-professed female sneaker heads seemed to have lukewarm reactions to all kind of wedges, like blogger Anna Bediones, of AnnaBediones.com: “When Nike dropped its own rendition of sneaker wedges, the Dunk Sky-Hi, I felt offended,” she says.  She admits she eventually bought a white/gum pair of the heeled kicks, but actually found them much more uncomfortable than their flat-soled counterparts. “I could not be paid to wear them again," she jokes.

Like all fashion trends, the wedge sneaker has gone through the trend cycle from rare to cool to now forgotten. On the fashion tip, blogs and style stars are now obsessed with all things “athleisure” and “#teamcozy.” Sneakers and sports bras worn with pencil skirts or Nike Tech Fleece head to toe worn with Huaraches. The sneaker is not a trend but a platform for fashion trends like minimalism.

Look at the prevalence at these models for women as well as men on your Instagram feed—adidas Stan Smith lowtops, Ultra Boosts and Superstars, Common Projects silhouettes, the Air Jordan 1, the Saint Laurent SL10 and the Nike Inneva Woven, Huaraches and Roshes. The styling trend is reflected in stores like Faustino’s Extra Butter Lower East Side location.

“Classic basics from Nike Air Force 1s to adidas Stan Smith's are doing really well with sell-through among women, especially ones that I find would prefer a more gender-neutral design approach,” says Faustino.

Heat has gone from high wedges to low-key tonal in high quality luxury skins and textiles is the new wave. We’ve seen a proliferation of high end fashion brands like Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Tom Ford and collaborations from Rick Owens, Raf Simons and even Rihanna get into the sneaker market. The fashion set and style obsessed have gone from paying $700 for a boot to $400+ for an adidas Stan Smith reimagined by Raf Simons, a similar sneaker from Isabel Marant, or Phoebe Philo's Air Force 1-inspired Céline sneakers.

As the trickle down effect of the low-key and cozy kicks from sneakerheads to fashion editors and now Tumblr and Instagram stars, it can leave earlier adopters feeling copied and while others feeling empowered. Blogger Alissa Jagamath of FortheKickofIt.com, welcomes it all.

“Women are more comfortable wearing sneakers at the office, at dinner,  or on a date, versus just the gym or in sweats,” she says.

Lord agrees: “I live by one motto: Girls compete—women empower. The wave is big enough for us all to ride.” 

For those of us who grow up obsessed with sneakers and being made fun of wearing kicks with dresses before Karl Lagerfeld did it at Chanel or Phoebe Philo’s treasured low tops at Céline, it’s a bit of an adjustment. What’s key is to wear what you love, not just what gets you online love. Despite the trends and fads like Marant’s wedges, sneakers are here to stay—but it’s up the wearer to make it their own. 

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