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What Are the Different Types of High-Top Sneakers?

By Judith Smith Sullivan
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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High top sneakers come in two basic shapes: the original Converse All-Star® and the Reebok Freestyle. Originally popular as basketball shoes, both types of high tops have become enduring fashion statements. High tops are available in both men's and women's designs. Both styles of high-top sneakers have been the inspiration for a plethora of additional designs, resurfacing throughout the years in various fashion trends.

In 1917, a rubber manufacturing company called Converse produced the first mass marketed soft soled rubber shoe. Designer Chuck Taylor created a design that was black with white laces. Unlike previous designs, which had hard, noisy soles, the new shoe was quiet, earning it the nickname "sneaker." The original design has remained popular both for its comfort and quirky style ever since.

In 1982, Reebok released an athletic shoe for women called the Freestyle, a high top designed with cushions in the upper as well as in the sole. Available in a variety of colors, from black or white to neon pink, the shoe was popular with women of many demographics. It became particularly iconic in the hip-hop subculture and sold for $49.99 United States dollars (USD) plus sales tax. It was nicknamed the 5411, since it typically cost $54.11 USD in New York City.

From time to time, contemporary designers refocus on the high top styles. As trends develop, different types of high-top sneakers emerge. The basic elements of the rubber sole and over the ankle construction remain, but every other characteristic is adapted to individual designer tastes. The heel, closure design, color, and fabric choices are the main design elements that change.

The heel of the high top sneaker is usually flat, although there are high heeled versions. These heels range from a chunky stacked design to a stiletto. The combination of the high heel, which is decidedly dressy, and the casual sneaker style creates a design that is not as widely popular as the original style.

Many athletic style high-tops have two or more Velcro® closures at the top of the shoe in addition to laces. Some designs have only Velcro® straps or buckles. There are also zipper designs and a style that uses no closures at all but only the elastic at the tongue of the shoe.

Color and fabric choices are probably the most distinctive characteristics of different types of high-top sneakers. Some designer labels use their logo to create a printed fabric. Solid bright colors, metallics, and prints are also common. Some designers even use a collage of different prints to create a bold, eclectic style. Additional embellishments, like studs or grommets, are also commonly used in high-top sneakers.

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