The City: Universal Sneaker Culture

When most people hear the phrase “regional culture” they’re thinking about the people and customs that you can’t find anywhere else in the country. In America, an easy example of this phenomenon at work is in our food–think cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, deep-dish pizza in Chicago or po’ boy sandwiches in New Orleans. You can often identify locals in your city by area-specific dialect, or knowledge of must-visit “underground” spots.

But how do we separate the fashion and sneaker culture from one area to the next? While speaking with a few sneakerheads over the past year to get their take, I realized they have more in common than they might have thought.

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Sneaker and merchandise sales are booming in 2015, but because of the explosion of sales, it’s not always easy to separate individual sneaker hubs from one region to the next. Rather than competing with other local cats for the newest releases, it can feel like you’re up against the world instead of your neighbors when it comes to the latest releases.

Boston’s Anthony Bartoloni–@YoAnty–sees that reflected in local sneaker choices around Beantown.

“In the city we obviously have some great sneaker spots,” he told us this summer, “but where I live I don’t think people are as passionate about sneakers. You have your normal malls filled with dudes wearing the same Jordan Retro.”

According to @YoAnty, Nike’s Roshe Run is immensely popular around the area, thanks to its versatility with both activewear and casual attire, especially as joggers continue to replace denim among this growing generation.

Contrast that with what’s going on in the Bay Area, where Alex Walter–@Sneakerheadinthebay–will tell you that the game is alive and thriving.

“The sneaker culture out here is awesome,” he says. “I know there are places where it is hard to find people that appreciate the sneaker culture and grasp the whole concept behind it, but that’s not a problem in the Bay.”

One explanation is the success of Under Armour poster child Stephen Curry. With Curry a point of local pride, Walter has witnessed firsthand the effect Curry has on the culture.

“Curry is huge in the Bay Area,” he says. “Seeing his sneakers and how they’re slowly starting to incorporate their way into the culture is an awesome sight. I’m still not sure how far his line will go as far as popularity with sneakerheads in different regions, but the Currys are most definitely sought after over here.”

Of course, sometimes players are so captivating it causes fans to cross enemy regional lines.

Growing up outside Detroit, Mark Bostic–@JumpmanBostic–was a rarity for his town in the ’80s, a Bulls fan during the Bad Boys reign. What drew him to Jordan’s team? He admits, “To me it’s just his will, his desire. He just was a beast. In that moment, he just refused to lose.”

Being a Jordan fan in Detroit is a lot more socially acceptable these days, but even at the peak of the rivalry, Bostic saw firsthand the cultural significance of Jordan’s shoes; he often had to drive all the way to Ohio just to cop the latest pair of J’s he wanted. Dedication.

Overseas, the thirst for Jordans is nowhere near as crazy, but only because kick demands rest elsewhere.
Soccer reigns supreme throughout the rest of the world, and that shines through in the fashion choices made by our European brethren. Nick Glackin–@glackster–who hails from Manchester, England, will tell you the trainer wave hitting many American cities today has long been a staple of English sneaker culture.

Glackin told us last fall the release day scene is crazy for sneakers and fashion, saying, “Lots of camping takes place for certain releases and drops. Runners get the most love over here, and Supreme always has people camping on a Wednesday for the Thursday drops.”

Trainers flew off the shelves at such a rapid pace (and high price!) during his childhood that he was unable to keep up until he was an adult. Glackin can remember his a pair of Samba Specials in ’89. He wore them until the sole came off.

Since he got into collecting around 15 years ago, his eye has been on Nike, adidas, Savier, and éS with some other skate shoes splashed in for good measure, which is consistent with what his English contemporaries include in their collection. Athleisure silhouettes might be growing in popularity in America, but they’ve always been a staple of European streetwear.

Despite differences in personal preference and fashion appetite, all four agreed on something–the power of social media.

“I never thought that anyone would want to look at random photographs of sneakers on my feet,” Glackin told us when we got an exclusive look at his sneaker stash, “or that so many people around the world could connect by doing just the same thing.”

What seems clear after talking to these guys is the overall strength of sneaker-related culture and fashion. The looks may change and local demand ebbs and flows, but the game is alive and thriving across America and around the globe.

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image via nosha/Flickr Creative Commons