While we would like to pretend that we don’t put that much thought into our shoes — that we simply roll out of our slippers and into a color-coordinated pair of workplace-appropriate shoes — the truth is we obsess over them. We rip out pictures of the newest styles, buy a new pair of shoes for our upcoming sports seasons, and, maybe most shameful of all, we buy particular brands to prove that we are better than the masses. For boys and men, this often means buying expensive basketball shoes like Nikes, possibly the most popular shoes on the market.
Somewhere during the evolution of man, shoes were elevated from simple foot protection to an important marker of social status. Whether functional or fashionable, expensive or cheap, wing-tip or flip-flop, cowboy boot or pump, cleat or clog, shoes say it all.
Shoes have been a status symbol since ancient Egypt. Slaves went barefoot, and lower class citizens wore sandals made of woven papyrus, while the upper echelons of society wore pointed sandals dyed red and yellow. More recently, Hannibal Lecter saw through Clarice Starling’s attempt to cover up her modest upbringing with a nice purse by noticing her cheap shoes.
I am no statistician, but I am willing to say that 90% of all Sex and the City episodes mentioned Manolo Blahniks. Not to stereotype, but while most men appreciate the look of stylized stilettos on a date, they probably wouldn’t wait in line to buy a pair.
Still, the biggest hot ticket item for most teenaged and college men is a fresh pair of basketball kicks. After all, who didn’t want to play like Mike while wearing Air Jordans? Basketball shoes make a colorful and unique statement, much more so than other athletic shoes. From humble canvas beginnings to triple digit prices, basketball shoes are now holding their own in the footwear arena.
Nike is set to release the newest LeBron James’ sneaker for over $300. The “LeBron X” made their debut in London during the U.S.'s gold medal match against Spain. To put this in context, in 2003 James released his first sneaker for $110. Nike is claiming that cost increase is due to an increase in material. However, unless Nike is somehow using cotton that is infused with Flubber, you will have to excuse my skepticism.
The more cost-prohibitive a pair of basketball shoes are, the more elite their status. The rapper Nelly wasn’t praising just any shoe, he was laying down hooks about Air Force Ones. . The +$300 price tag for Nike's new shoes is only enforcing a greater socio-economic divide. Owning the current or latest pair of Nikes is like gaining entrance into an exclusive club.
The pressure and desire to own these shoes has perhaps reached a breaking point. People are rioting for the chance to spend hundreds of dollars on new Nikes. Nike Inc has released new selling and retail guidelines in order to combat the unruly crowds that gather outside stores and have trampled customers and employees alike, ruling that no store can take pre-reservations or have a midnight opening for new shoes.
For those who can't afford brand-name basketball shoes, there is a growing market for alternatives. WalMart carries Starter shoes which cost an average of $40 per pair. In 2007, NBA All-Star Stephon Marbury endorsed a line of shoes which sell for $14.95. Marbury wants all children to have the opportunity to buy a pair of shoes so they can play basketball. Hopefully, this movement will gain momentum, and we can save our money for shoes that are more of a fashion statement (like NFL’s John Frenchy Fuqua’s live goldfish platform shoes) than a requirement for playing sports.
Spike Lee once commented that the reason Michael Jordan played so well was his shoes. For the sake of the youth and basketball, let’s hope that Lee was wrong, and that inexpensive shoes will let us be like Mike too.