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The History of the Sneaker

A new exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California explores the sole of sneaker culture.


Pierre Hardy, Poworama, 2011/Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum

For some of us, fabulous footwear translates to the perfect pair of red-soled Christian Louboutin pumps, while for others, a classic pair of Air Jordans makes the ultimate style statement.

The Oakland Museum of California pays tribute to that latter group of shoe lovers with its new traveling exhibit, Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture. The first show of its kind in the United States, the collection showcases over 140 rare and notable sneakers from the past two centuries—
including a pair of rubber shoes from the 1830s that was the earliest precursor to the kicks we know today—and explores the rich social and economic history of the footwear staple. Other highlights include a spiked running shoe from the 1860s, early Chuck Taylors by Converse, and designer collaborations with stars such as Rihanna and Kanye West.

“Sneakers have really expanded the vocabulary of men’s fashion,” says OMCA’s Evelyn Orantes, host curator for the show. “That’s part of the celebration of this exhibition.”

Orantes says the exhibit will add social and interactive components, and will appeal to a wide audience—not just sneakerheads. “This is a fun show. It’s like having special access to some fabulous celebrity closet.” Runs through April 2, museumca.org.

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