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By: Alexandra Fiorentino-Swinton

What does a college lecture hall, a Manhattan sidewalk, and a start-up office space all have in common? The smell of aspiration (sometimes desperation) and youthful energy, yes, but something else, too. Their floors are all consistently tracked with casual, sneaker-clad feet. Without a doubt, sneaker culture has kicked the days of heels and loafers to the curb.

And it all comes down to one legendary shoe, two words, three dotted lines, and over four decades of influence: Stan Smith. Minimalist and versatile, the Stan Smith is a cross-cultural representation of the last 50 years that have shown a raging upheaval of America’s social order. 

The Stan Smith is the groundbreaking Adidas shoe that expanded the world of tennis shoes from its previous binary of rubber and canvas. Basically, we can carve all of shoe history into Before Stan Smith and after Stan Smith.

Before Stan Smith, Plimsolls were the proto sneaker. They were worn by British naval officers to prevent slipping on wet decks and quickly entranced British aristocrats who used them to play their sport of choice: tennis.

Technological innovations like cross-hatched soles made Plimsolls sturdier while still remaining sleeker than boots. Easier to, say, sneak around in, and the phenomenon was born. When the advent of mass production during the Industrial Revolution slashed their prices, the shoes became accessible to the average Joe and Jane, and exploded in popularity.

Later, a Bavarian with a penchant for stripes by the name of Adi Dassler mashed his names together to form the empire we now know as Adidas—a company that’s still thriving because of its ability to adapt to different cultural landscapes. The first half of the 20th century saw the company take off with its signature three-striped All-Star shoe.

In 1965, Adidas saw an opening to put an athletic innovation on the courts: the traditional white sneaker aesthetic, the traditional rubber soles, but innovatively combined with more structured, durable and stylish leather uppers, rather than the ubiquitous canvas. This provided the advantage of locking one’s foot in and stabilizing it, a must for fleet-footed players. Adidas’s player of choice to be the face of their pièce de résistance was, initially, a Frenchman named Robert Halliet. When he retired in 1971, Adidas saw the perfect opening to expand its horizons to commercially conquer the land of the free, apple pie, and lots of consumer dollars just waiting to be spent on the next big thing.

Enter Stan the man.

By 1972, Stan Smith, born in America in 1946, was the reigning US Open champ and the number one singles player in the world. For Adidas, it was a match made in collab heaven. The leather tennis shoe was renamed the Stan Smith and his face—sans his signature mustache—was plastered onto the tongue. The shoe was re-released in 1978, colliding perfectly with the dawn of what is known as the “golden era” of tennis as titans like Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Steffi Graf became household names.

The 21st century has also seen the complete and undeniable fusion of streetwear and luxury, a shift that those in high fashion saw coming a mile away. Supreme, Kith and BAPE are treated with the same cultural reverence as your Gucci, Dior or Louis Vuitton. In the early ’00's, Marc Jacobs and Phoebe Philo could often be spotted in the Stan Smith, in Philo’s case at the end of the Celine runway show, and Raf Simons partnered with Adidas to create his own variation.

The Stan Smith is the perfect template and has been issued in a variety of different colors and patterns. With the resurgence of “dad shoes” and other clunky and complex styles, the Stan Smith appeals to the reboot-happy nostalgia that is sweeping the nation. It represents a casual yet styled minimalism in an era where maximalism has ruled supreme. The era of streetwear’s basic t-shirts/hoodies defining fashion has ushered in “normcore,” a style that springs from the mundane, a kind of ironic and laid-back way to be in the know that signifies the utmost coolness. On the sneaker front, Stan Smith fits the normcore bill like no other.

Which begs the question: is it over? Have we had too much? Has it permeated simply too many cultural avenues? Sure, it may not be the hottest trend on the market but at this point the Stan Smith is undeniable. It’s become the equivalent of our plain white t-shirt in terms of versatility and wearability. And it all started on the court, as many innovations and virtues do.