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Know Your Kicks – The Most Common Sneaker Silhouettes

Chances are you’ve been wearing sneakers since the time you started walking. Once a marvel of modern science, the casual sneaker has become so ubiquitous and such an inextricable part of our wardrobe, it’s easy to refer to them in generic terms.

We at Heddels want to sit down and discuss the major sneaker silhouettes the same way we talked about The 11 Most Common Boot Types. Because in a matter of months we’ll all be kicking off our boots for a couple months and need some lightweight comfy alternatives.

Deck Shoes

know-your-kicks-the-most-common-sneaker-silhouettes Paul Newman being his sexy self in plimsolls. Image via Twitter.

Paul Newman being his sexy self in plimsolls. Image via Twitter.

At their best, deck shoes conjure images of John F. Kennedy yachting around and at their worst, pledge week at a New England frat. The simplest and most pared-down of the silhouettes on this list, the plimsoll at its most basic has a canvas upper and a rubber sole.

The plimsoll was originally developed as an athletic shoe and soon made the jump to recreation as well. Their soles were grippier than anything previously designed which made them a comfortable and safe choice for hanging out on the deck of a boat.


Jack Purcell. Image via Converse.

The famous Jack Purcells were first developed to provide arch support to athletes playing squash. The famous low-top serves as an excellent transition from the plimsoll  to the next category of old-timey athletic shoe. Deck shoe brands to consider:


know-your-kicks-the-most-common-sneaker-silhouettes High-tops in their natural habitat. Image via si.com.

High-tops in their natural habitat. Image via si.com.

Just as plimsolls originated as an athletic shoe, so too did the high-top. The high top gave support heretofore unknown in a world of primarily leather footwear. They started appearing around the turn of the century after vulcanization was invented: the process that basically melts a rubber sole to a canvas upper.

The ubiquitous Converse Chuck Taylor was named after the basketball player of the same name. Dozens of other companies sprang up to make the same cut of shoe more comfortable (PF Flyers) or maybe just a little more vibrant. But in a world before artificial shoe materials, these were cutting edge, even used by the US Navy as a training shoe.


Marty McFly’s Converse hi-tops. Image via Spotern.

The High-Top remains an absolutely essential shoe type, one that goes well with just about anything and gets better with age and grime.

Running Shoe


Onitsuka Tiger at the Olympics. Image via Olympic Shoes.

Everything changed with running shoes, these low-tops featured new technology to make them even easier on the feet. The post-war era saw the arrival of higher-tech shoe companies in both occupation countries. Adidas and Puma were created by the the Dassler brothers in Germany and Onitsuka Tiger emerged in Japan.


Starsky of Starsky and Hutch rocking running shoes. Image via Ford Torino Forum.

With more support than any of the previous designs, they bridge a gap between the first generation of athletic footwear with the even-more technical present.  The earliest variations were slimmer and more low-profile, but became more and more cushioned and chunky over time. Running shoe brands to consider:

Basketball Shoes


Jordan in Jordans. Image via Kicks on Fire.

Chuck Taylor obviously wasn’t the last basketball player to endorse a high-top sneaker. The 1980s saw the birth of the Air Jordan as worn by Michael Jordan and the beginning of the basketball shoe phenomenon. With more height and heft than regular running shoes, these kicks were designed for extra stability, protection, but mostly to look cool. A bolder, but perpetually on-trend look, basketball shoes are another great footwear option to have on the bench.

Expensive Stan Smiths


Common Projects Achilles. Image via The Idle Man.

So now you know the basics, but what if you really want to up the ante? It seems every day there are more and more high-end sneaker brands re-interpreting the famous Stan Smith. If you’ve exhausted your other options and want to try something new, this could be the place. With high-quality materials and unmatched craftsmanship, the following brands add their own luxurious takes on one of fashion’s favorite, minimalist footwear designs.

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