Philly Sole: A Short Primer on Getting into Sneakers

(Almost) everything you need to know about being comfortable and stylish.


The sneakers I’m wearing right now.

I get it. You read Emily Goulet’s fantastic column about ditching heels for sneakers last month and you’ve realized you want in. It’s not the 1990s or the 2000s: Heels are out. Sneakers are now a a legit fashion statement.

Are you ready to complement a ridiculous collection of shoes with a ridiculous collection of sneakers? I thought so. Here’s a short primer to get you started. Keep in mind that this is based on my own tastes and prejudices, and may not match yours.

What brands should I know about?

Most sneakers are made by Nike. The company had 59 percent of the sneaker market at retail last year. That’s about the percentage of Nikes in my collection, too; I am apparently a sheep baaing along with the rest of the herd.

Let’s talk about the current “Big Four” of Nike sneakers: Air Jordan, Air Max, Free and Foamposite. Though they’ve started making running shoes, Jordans are basketball sneakers — some new ones and some retro releases of old models from the 1980s and 1990s. Air Max is the classic Nike runner with a visible air cushion; it also comes in current and retro models. The Free is one of Nike’s best-selling sneakers and comes in what appears to be a limitless selection of styles and colors.

The Nike Foamposite is a late 1990s basketball shoe that is ugly as sin, and everyone wearing it should be ashamed of their taste.

On the basketball side, it’s not just Jordan: LeBron James, the current “New Jordan” who has won back-to-back NBA championships and looks poised for a third, is on the 11th iteration of his Nike kicks. (In high school, James wore the Reebok Questions, Allen Iverson’s sneaker. Alas.) Nike has released Kevin Durant’s shoe, the KD VI, in dozens of colorways so far. And although he signed with Adidas out of high school, Kobe Bryant is on his ninth sneaker for Nike.

But it’s not just Nike! Adidas and New Balance also make attractive, eye-catching sneakers. Asics and Saucony and Puma all have nice kicks. Reebok puts out a ton of retro Iverson sneakers so you can remember when the Sixers were good. You can now get Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers with anything printed on them. (I will admit to having I <3 (blank) Chucks I am waiting to break out for some stupid stunt I come up with.) Vans makes skate shoes that don’t make you look like a teenager. And if you actually need to look like a teenager, there are Skechers stores and Payless sells Airwalks.

Under Armour is also a company that sells sneakers, I guess. (I love UA’s apparel to work out in, and I know people buy UA sneakers — I just don’t know where they are. The West Coast?)

Is that it?
Not at all! As sneakers expand in popularity, more manufacturers will likely get in on the act — producing sharper and better-designed sneakers. Recently, Brooks released retro runners, and they look fantastic! I own a pair of Tommy Hilfiger sneakers, two pairs of PF Flyers (purchased for $13 each), a pair of Penguin sneakers for some reason, and boots from Timberland and Patagonia.

And, yeah, luxury brands make sneakers. I get Sex and the City a little more now after seeing some of these Louboutin sneakers.

Are sneakers generally easy to get?
Well, yes and no. Yes, if you’ve been to any mall, or pretty much any block on Chestnut or Walnut streets in Philadelphia, where there are lots of places to buy kicks. C’mon, you know how to get sneakers. But, no, to get limited-edition sneakers you either have to (1) wake up early and stand in line — which, just no — or (2) use a site like Kicks Deals to find out when a sneaker releases, so you can try to buy it ASAP, or (3) pay a higher premium on a site like eBay.

How much will I have to spend?
Sneakers run from around $60 to $250. Per sneaker market analyst Matt Powell, sales of sneakers costing more than $100 have grown 75 percent in the last four years. So, probably closer to $150 or $200 for a pair of sneakers you like.

Where do I find out about new sneakers?
Blogs are the easiest way. Nice Kicks, Sole Collector, Sneaker News and Sneaker Freaker are some of my favorites.

Anything else?
The cool thing about sneakers is that they let you be stylish and comfortable. Buy what you like and be confident in what you wear. People will compliment you. They’re generally nice. I even told some dude in a cheesesteak line at 3 a.m. I liked his Foamposites.

If you’ve somehow stumbled onto this column by accident and are disgusted with all this conspicuous consumption, I still have a sneaker for you: The Adbusters Blackspot Unswoosher, $125 and made out of hemp and recycled tires. So there. There is literally no reason you shouldn’t be wearing sneakers.