What’s On My Mind Wednesday #1: Sneaker vs. Trainer

Today I would like to introduce a new series called “What’s On My Mind Wednesday”. As the name suggests I will be publishing a blog post every Wednesday telling you about what’s on my mind, mostly sneaker-related.

For the first WOMMW I thought I’d talk about something that I became aware of when I first came to Cardiff to study: The British use the word trainer to describe all kinds of athletic shoes, whether they are meant for doing sports or being worn casually.

Most Europeans use the anglicism sneaker to describe athletic shoes for casual wear, mostly due to the influence of American culture on Europe. However, when talking about sport-specific shoes Europeans use the local term for a sports shoe. For example, Germans say Turnschuh, which translates to athletic shoe, while the French say baskets or tennis, depending on the sport they were designed for.


I was under the impression that the Americans had it figured out and used trainer to describe proper training shoes, since Tinker Hatfield developed a ‘multi-sports’ shoe so he wouldn’t have to take so many shoes to the gym (not really a problem I have ever encountered…) and called it the Nike Air Trainer. And if shoes weren’t meant for sports, the Americans would call them sneakers. But apparently they use the term sneaker just like the British use the term trainer

To me it would have made sense to say that you train in a trainer and sneak in a sneaker, if sneak meant to casually walk around. By this logic you would call all the retro Jordans and SB’ed Dunks (another tricky topic worthy of its own post) released for casual wear or collecting purposes and not for the court sneakers and all the latest models from LeBron’s, Kobe’s or KD’s signature line developed for today’s courts trainers. 


But unfortunately that is not the case and doesn’t validate the point I was trying to make. The term sneaker became a popular way of describing some of the first tennis shoes, referencing the quietness of the rubber soles in comparison with traditional leather dress shoes and the ability to sneak around in them without being noticed. Nevertheless I feel that sneaker is an adequate term to distinguish a casual athletic shoe from a sports-oriented trainer.

Allow me to demonstrate with an example from my rotation:


On the left we have the Nike Flyknit Lunar One from 2013. I use this pair as my main running shoes and rarely wear them casually. While there are many people that do indeed wear them casually, Nike developed the Lunarlon midsole and Flyknit upper for running. For this reason I would refer to them as trainers.

On the right we have the New Balance x The Good Will Out 577 ‘Day’ from the ‘Autobahn’ pack. Even though the New Balance 577 was initially a running shoe when it debuted back in 1989, the Encap technology used on the midsole is now outdated.

Furthermore the shoe was a ‘Made in England’ release manufactured with premium materials in Flimby and sold as a lifestyle shoe, like many other older New Balance models. Therefore I would call them sneakers to distinguish them from shoes actually released (not just made) for sports.

So what do you say to describe your shoes? Do you distinguish between athletic and casual shoes?

Let me know in the comments below.


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