You would probably own at least a pair of tennis shoes in your house. They are comfortable, flexible, and fashionable! But if you ever wonder why they are called tennis shoes and how that name changed through history? If you want to find the answers to them, the valuable information below would satisfy your curiosity.
Tennis players wore their shoes often and heavily, so by the early 1900s they were worn through to the canvas upper. Company executives, who played tennis themselves, began reinforcing shoes with rubber soles to prolong wear. It’s these soles that have come to be named “tennis” in some parts of the English-speaking world.
The American vernacular gets its own word for these: “tennis” (or “sneakers”).
At the end of World War II, under the auspices of the British Army, a group of young menswear designers was formed to help revitalize British civilian fashion. One such group member and friend of Mary Quant’s, Peter Saville, was asked by them to create a design for a new tennis shoe. The result was the first tennis shoe designed for playing tennis with arch support. This design feature is still used in modern shoes today
The History of Tennis Shoes
To understand the origin of the name tennis shoes, we must go through a brief history of tennis shoes.
The original tennis shoes were made of canvas and came in dark brown, beige, black or navy blue. The canvas was reinforced with leather for durability and the soles were often filled with cork to help cushion the ball from surface hazards like glass and rocks. These shoes were worn by male tennis players starting in the early 20th century. By 1910, canvas tennis shoes were being replaced by rubber-soled canvas sneakers designed to be worn indoors in winter and outdoors in summer.
|18th Century||People still used wooden shoes.|
|1892||Plimsolls were created by adding some rubbers under the shoes|
|1916||The United States Rubber Company called their brand of tennis shoes Keds.|
|1917||The United States Converse Rubber Company made their own tennis shoes version and called it All-Star Shoe.|
|After WW1||Adolf “Adi” Dassler, the founder of Adidas, commenced producing sports shoes.|
|1986||Nike released the Air Trainer 1 in the market, and it became popular with the tennis community. This event captured Nike into the tennis market.|
|The 2000s||We all know how tennis shoes are lately. They are stable, comfortable, fashionable, and easy to use for athletic activities or gym classes, etc.|
In the 1800s
People still walked around using wooden shoes. These shoes get wet and muddy easily when it rains. In this time, the British Navy craved shoes that helped them walk on the wet deck without slipping or sliding.
Norman was sick of having wet and muddy feet, so he decided to put some rubber on the bottom of his shoes. This alteration was quickly caught on at that time and marked the first step towards modern tennis shoes. This adjusted version of shoes was called Plimsolls, as it looks like a Plimsoll line on a ship’s hull. These rubber-soled shoes did not differentiate left or right foot. They are all the same.
1892 saw a great invention called Sneakers with solid rubber soles on the bottom and canvas on the top. These shoes were named sneakers because they made no noise when you walked as if you could sneak up on people. They were more comfortable to wear because, at the time, they had right-foot shoes and left-foot shoes.
Charles Goodyear patented ‘vulcanization’, creating rubber-soled canvas shoes by bonding rubber to cloth. Then he and the US Rubber Company merged to produce rubber-soled canvas shoes and called them Keds. Keds were marketed to fit all kids and adults, with the constant selling point of “canvas, rubber-soled footwear” for sporty and energetic people.
Keds continued to corner the market until the late 50s when competitors like PF Flyers, Red Ball Jets, and Jeepers kicked it out for the sneaker king title. Here is an advertisement of Keds in the 1950s:
The Converse Rubber Company developed a type of shoes that is suitable for people to play basketball. They came out with their version, the All-Star shoes! They were the first mass-produced basketball shoe in North America, which consisted of a thick rubber sole, and an ankle covering canvas (sometimes leather) upper. Do you know what is the best selling basketball shoe of all time? It is the Converse All-Star “Chuck Taylor”!
Adolf “Adi” Dassler wanted to change the way people played the sport and the shoes they played it in. IN 1920 when he was only 20 years old, he began to design a type of shoes that are suitable and healthy for soccer, tennis players, and athletes by asking for advice from trainers, doctors, and other athletes. His brand earned international attention after the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, when Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals wearing his brand.
The 1970s saw a tremendous renovation of the shoes’ materials as Adidas produced a pair with a Polyurethane outsole, suede on the toe, and a mesh upper. The shoes were more durable and comfortable, and breathable for sports players. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the best basketball player in the world during the early 1970s, helped popularize Adidas Jabbar High and Low all over the world.
In the 1980s
Bill Bowerman, the University of Oregon coach, wanted to design more lightweight shoes which offered more traction to the athletes. He was the founder of Nike, which was named after the Greek goddess of victory. In the 1980s, there was a hit in the evolution of tennis shoes with the advent of the new Nike Air Trainer 1, outfitted with lateral outriggers for support, a foot-securing strap that secured the foot for the side-to-side movement, and a heel lift. The lift must be high enough to support runners, but also low enough to ensure great stability. Another highlight was that they used softer inner soles and changed canvas with nylon to make them more lightweight.
Adidas, Puma, and other brands got on board and opened the era of modern tennis shoes that we know today. They are supportive, fashionable, and comfortable for excellent performance on the court and activities on a daily basis.
WHY DO WE CALL THEM TENNIS SHOES?
The reason we call them tennis shoes is that these shoes were largely used for tennis, a popular sport of all time. This kind of sport requires a pair that would not damage the tennis courts and ensure running efficiency with soft rubber soles and heel lifts. They created footwear that was equipped for the tennis players to have better performances on the courts.
Although modern tennis shoes are a far cry from that footwear, people still refer to the rubber-soled shoes worn for athletic activities as tennis shoes. There are other ways to call tennis shoes, which are varied by region, like sneakers, gym shoes, etc. However, it turns out that tennis shoes is the most common word and the second is sneakers.
There is a geographic breakdown of names for the shoes in America from the Harvard Dialect Survey:
Here is the result of the same question asked for a Survey of English in the British Isles: