rule at school – and everywhere else, too
July 8, 2008
NEW YORK – Soon all
those flip-flops will be just a happy summer memory.
Once school begins, out come the closed-toe shoes, an
increasingly routine requirement of school dress codes.
For many students, the preferred closed-toe shoe is a
Sneakers, though, are defined much more broadly than
they were when today's parents were kids.
“It used to be that kids had play shoes and dress shoes,
but today they're wearing sneakers for all kinds of
occasions – it's more of an everyday fashion statement,”
says Catherine Beaudoin, general manager of Gap Inc.'s
online shoe shop Piperlime.
True, the same Converse Chuck Taylors that dad wore are
still popular, but now the same brand might be found on
his young daughter in hot pink with a hippie floral
His son's kicks might be orange Air Force 1s by Nike
with bright green laces. Other styles you'll likely see
on kids this year are Puma's Wheelspins, Adidas
Superstars, Reebok's Marvel superhero sneakers with Iron
Man and Hulk, Nickelodeon-branded Slimer sneakers and,
for preschoolers, New Balance's classic running shoe
decorated with Sesame Street characters.
“It's more practical and easy to wear sneakers,” says
15-year-old Elizabeth Laleman of Monroe, Conn. One of
her favorite pairs last year? Plaid Pumas that she used
her own money to buy.
“They were pink and blue – very feminine and you
couldn't tell they were sneakers!”
From toddlers to teens, there will likely be more than
one pair of sneakers per closet. Nike spokeswoman Kilee
Hughes says the company's research finds that kids tend
to have three:
1. The prized pair – a fashionable, bright high-top or
mid-top sneaker that matches a handful of well-planned
outfits. “Our focus groups say brighter is better,”
2. A classic “sport” shoe, either for real athletics or
a lazy Sunday.
3. A utility pair, probably mostly white, that's able to
blend in with the rest of the wardrobe.
Andy Navarro, 16, of Norwalk, Conn., counts even more.
He has his all-white and all-black pairs for school
because they do indeed match more clothes. But for
hanging out with friends, he has four pairs with
distinct color combinations, including Air Force 1s
adorned with the Puerto Rican flag.
Aside from two pairs of flip-flops, Andy doesn't own any
shoes that aren't sneakers.
The shift toward sneakers for all occasions also
reflects the popularity of comfortable, ath-leisure
hybrid shoes among grown-ups.
“Most of what we see in the kids' market are pull-downs
from adults,” Beaudoin says.
Pilar Guzman, editor-in-chief of Cookie magazine, says
her son favors a pair of suede and leather shoes made by
Gwen Stefani's LAMB label. She calls them sneakers
because they have a rubber sole and Velcro tab, but
they're a hybrid with hiking boots, she says. Anywhere
he wants to wear them is fine with her.
“For me, the litmus test is, 'Can you run in it
comfortably?'” Guzman says. “... If they're doing their
duty by wearing a dress or a button-down shirt, let them
have their sneakers.”
Many schools that have adopted closed-toe shoe policies
cite safety concerns, says Tom Hutton, a lawyer for the
National School Boards Association. But he's heard a
secondary reason put forth, too: encouraging a more
Yes, sneakers are casual, but they're more respectful
than flip-flops, he says. “At some level, a dress code
is there to set a tone in school.”
And it can be hard to draw the line among sandals.
“Teachers have better things to do than debate whether a
shoe is a flip-flop,” says Hutton.
For children ages 6 to 12, sneakers made up 42 percent
of U.S. footwear sales in July, August and September of
last year – more than $500 million in sales, according
to market research firm NPD Group. Not surprisingly,
many fashion labels and indy skate and surf brands have
gotten into the game alongside athletic companies,
observes Bradley Carbone, lifestyle editor at hipster
“Sneakers as fashion has always been big in the cities,
but it has spread to the suburbs,” he says.
“Sneakers are very individual. It allows you to express
your knowledge of street culture, but it also works vice
versa for teens or tweens: You can wear them to a
semiformal event or dinner with mom or dad and you can
wear sneakers that are 'cool' but get away with what mom
and dad think is acceptable fashion,” Carbone says.
Parents have long embraced sneakers for tots because
they make hectic mornings run smoother: They're sturdy
and, thanks to Velcro and Bungee-cord closures and
slip-ons, easier for children to put on themselves.
Even younger children make their preferences known.
“Kids look for the cool factor, whether it be novelty or
color treatment,” says Rachel Panetta, director of
marketing at Stride Rite's children's group. “For girls,
it's all about the fashion. They love sparkle, and pink
or purple... . For boys, they love novelty shoes, such
as those inspired by insects or shoes that they think
will make them run faster and jump higher, such as shoes
with SuperBalls built in the outsole.”
There's also an interest in styles from the 1980s, says
Nike's Hughes, though even those shoes scream 2008 on
the inside. You'll find more breathability, lighter
weights, more flexibility, and shielded air pockets
between the upper and the sole, she says, with perhaps a
funky sock liner tossed in for fun.