Herring Shoes

Sneakers v trainers – what’s the difference?

12 May 2021
Sneakers or trainers?

Both these shoe styles are rubber soled and give you a bit of bounce, but to me, they are very different…or so I thought! This article has evolved as I have written it. Just as I think I have hit on the perfect definition; a curve ball knocks me off course. See what you think.

What I do know, is that historically, sneakers were the originals. They were first made in the US in the late 1800s by Keds and were designed to be shoes worn in stealthy moments…essentially, you could walk quietly in them! On the other side of the pond, the Brits were referring to these as plimsolls. Both had a rubber sole and an upper made of canvass. They were worn for outdoor activities and sports.

In the early 20th century, they were in huge demand with 1917 seeing the launch of Converse All-Stars. These sneakers featured on the feet of the US basketball team in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin while four-times gold medal winner, Jesse Owens, wore a track shoe designed by Adolf Dassler, who went on to establish Adidas.

Here is where I think sneakers and trainers started to take a difference path or track. After the Second World War, sneakers became casual footwear while the trainer developed into a high-tech shoe designed to enhance your sporting performance.

Where the lines began to blur is when trainers were also worn as casual footwear to suit personal preference or as a fashion statement. Anyone wear Nike Air Jordans or British Knights in the 1980s? These types of shoes have come full circle I think, with modern Nike Air 1s, for instance, now being regarded as sneakers, along with Vans and other similar brands, and are never far away from the feet of most teenagers.

But is the distinction between leisure/fashion or sports use enough?

I think shape also comes into play. Sneakers usually have a rounded toe and flatter sole. The sole on sneakers is a cup-sole. It has a solid base piece and cushioning on top. Trainer soles pitch up at the front, have a heel and sport all number of cleat styles while the tech in between the bottom of the sole and the inside of the upper is a category all of its own, recently ramped up by Nike’s addition of a carbon plate to their latest running shoes.

Sebastian sneakers

This is the bit where I confuse myself. Leaving the tech aside, I would still consider some styles of leisure shoes to be trainers. The shape of Herring’s Goodwood shouts trainers, but they are leather and are too good to run through puddles! The Voyage style is also a trainer as it has a cleated sole, heel and an up-turned toe.

Voyager trainers

On the sneakers front, I would confidently offer up the Strike II, the Sebastian or the Harvard. While the Tokyo messes with my mind a little. I would put the black and printed linen in the sneaker pile and the grey and lime ones in the trainer pot!

Tokyo style

Meanwhile, some manufacturers still call their training shoes ‘sneakers’ and Herring calls all these types of shoes ‘trainers’. There really should be rules for this kind of thing!

But there are no rules. There is no need for categories, just good shoes and a wealth of styles that means smart leisure shoes are now accepted in more formal settings. Check out the Floyds, the Goodwoods and the Silverstone IIs – these would not look out of place in the boardroom!

Goodwood trainers

In summary, I still think sneakers are for leisure and trainers are for sport…unless they look like a trainer. Brilliant! I hope that clears that up.