How trainers became the ultimate feminist symbol

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Billie Bhatia
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Women! We’ve finally got our feet on the ground thanks to trainers. Billie Bhatia looks at our steps towards comfortable equality…

It’s time to level the playing field. Unbuckle yourself from your heels and step into the freedom of trainers. You can run. It’ll be a revelation, a revolution. Oh, what? You mean you’ve already joined in? Of course you have.

Trainers remain the coolest things you can put on your feet. And a large part of that cool rests on their versatility. Being able to move freely, not teetering, not carrying an extra pair of shoes in your bag? That’s where women should be in 2018. Then there’s choosing not to conform to someone else’s definition of sexy. 

Wearing trainers with a suit used to be a style faux pas, a sign of a desperate, harried commuter. But now? The woman in workwear with the right pair of sneaks has an easy, unstudied coolness. And she can run for the train… 

A Triple S, a Yeezy, a Boost, a Jordan. Certain styles have reached one-name status akin only to the world’s most famous celebrities – Adele, Madonna, Beyoncé. The global trainer industry is valued at a whopping £42.8 billion. To put that into perspective, Elon Musk, of PayPal and Telsa fame, is worth £15 billion. 

Right now, trainers occupy a powerful position. And up until now, the market, particularly the part of that aimed at sneakerheads (trainer obsessives and collectors), has been dominated by styles and sizes aimed at men. But women are now joining the conversation. Sites like Hypebae (which grew from the male-orientated Hypebeast), dedicated women’s sneaker store Pam Pam, and streetwear platform The Unisex Mode prove that there is a colossal appetite for trainers among women. 

Granted, we’re still nowhere near as well catered for as our male counterparts, but some of the biggest sportswear brands are using their influence to take steps forwards in footwear equality at last. 

This year, Adidas launched its Falcon trainers. They were bulky in the most 2018 way. They had flashes of bright colour. They were beyond cool. The Falcons were the Yeezys that everyone could cop (that’s sneakerhead speak for ‘get your hands on’). And Adidas launched the women’s sizes and colourways first. The brand is now working hard to increase sales of its womenswear – which represented 23% of revenue last year – by at least 5% by 2020.

Nike, too, aim to grow their women’s business from £5 billion to £8.5 billion by 2020. To aid this, they recently launched Unlaced, a women-only platform that operates alongside their main site and curates a deck of the most covetable, collectable and iconic trainers. The site will also play host to must-have pieces such as ‘Hyped collabs’: the pinnacle of sneakerhead nerdery.

Who didn’t want to channel their favourite pop star in a pair of Buffalo platform trainers? 

Right now, the undisputed ‘hype king’ is Virgil Abloh, the new artistic director for Louis Vuitton menswear and founder of fashion house Off-White. The Off-White x Nike collab created such a frenzy last year that you had to enter a competition to win a chance to buy the trainers. That’s right, you win a chance to buy them. Up until now, the frustration has been when a collab collection has dropped with no women’s sizes. 

Which is what happened here: all 10 styles in men’s sizes only. These were the coolest, most exclusive creps (sneakerhead for trainers) and women had been shown that they literally didn’t fit. Big mistake. Realising their error, Nike and Off-White quickly launched a collection aimed at women and dedicated to Serena Williams – aptly named “QUEEN” – which has just dropped, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of The US Open. Another step forward.

Pumped up kicks

The appeal of trainers is such that since 2016, more pairs have sold than heels. Among fashion insiders, trainers are the ultimate status symbols. A bulky Balenciaga Triple S (prices starting at £615) has become more alpha than a sharp-pointed Manolo Blahnik court. An Off-White x Nike Vapormax carries more status than a red-soled Louboutin. It’s unsurprising that high fashion houses want to be part of the trainer conversation too. 

The hair, the skateboard, the All-American looks and the Nike Cortez trainers 

And while the trainer world has been traditionally male-dominated, fashion’s love affair with kicks was started by a woman. In 2010, Phoebe Philo, Céline’s creative director, stepped out for her post show bow in a pair of Adidas Stan Smiths. At that moment, a new trend was born reviving the Sixties tennis shoe and bringing it to a whole new demographic. 

Stepping forward

Fashion has also generally moved away from high-octane glamour towards a more androgynous cool. This, too, will have encouraged many designers to put forward a trainer offering. Dior made embellished slip-ons while Céline did chunky skate styles. Chanel staged an entire couture collection in 2014 where the models wore embellished tweed trainers. 

And this season, Chloé – a house famed for their classical feminine silhouettes made of floaty chiffon and broderie anglaise – released a chunky soled, heavy-looking trainer, showing that you can embrace a sense of practicality without losing your femininity. 

The combination of trainers and a nice dress benefits us on a personal level too. It opens up your wardrobe - your previously ‘too-dressy’ dresses can be toned down by swapping heels for casual kicks. They’re an easy, quick, go-with-everything option, cutting us loose from the need to look ‘pretty’ and ‘done’. 

The ultimate status symbol: Balenciaga Triple S

So today, every fashion house has a trainer, even if it seems at odds with the rest of the brand’s aesthetic choices. And that’s because trainers sell and, more importantly, because they are cool. You need only look at the 318 styles on Net-A-Porter and 234 on that regularly carry a ‘sold out’ stamp below to know that this footwear is in demand. ‘no’

If you’re after inspiration, the internet is awash with every crep you could possibly cop. There are forums, fan sites, resale sites, sites dedicated entirely to drop dates and, of course, Instagram. From female sneakerheads (@alealimay, @miniwoosh, @juicegee) to dedicated trainer accounts (@thesolewomens, @jdwomen and @hypebae), women are steering trainers into a fresh new direction. 

From the bottom of our feet, we thank you trainers, for releasing the shackles from our shoes, for granting us our freedom and for levelling the playing field. Now, who’s ready for a race? 

Inspired to buy some new kicks? Check out 30 hot new season trainers here.

Images: Unsplash / Getty 

Photography: George Pedersen