In the late 1910s, Converse brand Hi-Top shoes were one of the official makers of athletic shoes. Their brown leather and suede shoes with the round classic Converse label made for a striking contrast to the everyday lace up boots and Oxford shoes. Initial lines were called “Big Nine” and “Non-Skid,” later becoming All Stars.
Eventually brown gave way to black, and leather gave way to canvas. Converse shoes were worn by basketball players, baseball players, and football players with the addition of metal cleats. By the late ’40s, teenagers were wearing Converse, Spalding, Jeepers and similar brands as their everyday shoes.
In 1936, the US Olympics named the Converse All-Star as their official sport shoe. Shortly thereafter, the Converse sneaker went to war, this time as an all white shoe for training exercises. The shoes were worn with blue and white All Star text on the Converse’s classic round seal as a patriotic symbol.
All official sports came to a halt when America entered WWII in 1941. Thousands of college and professional athletes went to war and so did their coaches, trainers, and manufacturers of sporting goods. It wasn’t until after the war in 1946 when sport shoe developers returned to work and invented many shoes we are familiar with today.
Converse went back to the design board and came up with the now classic Black and White All Star sneaker — still keeping the patriotic seal for another few decades.
Canvas Sport Shoes – Keds
More common than high top Converse style sneakers, were low top canvas sneakers, similar to classic Keds shoes. These were better for “women’s sports” such as tennis and badminton. They cam in white, black or brown with rubber flat soles.
Keds became a name brand for women’s canvas sport shoes. They designed sneakers but also casual oxfords and saddle shoes for leisurewear.
Most casual sneakers in the 1930s , 1940s and 1950s had brightly colored canvas with a white or natural rubber colored sole and matching laces.
The Movie A League of their Own chronicles the women’s baseball teams in the 1940s. Teams were put together as entertainment for the women’s factory workers. The choice of footwear was leather Oxfords, the same shoes they wore in factories. However many smaller home teams also wore sneakers for practice.
For girls and teens, gym class required them to wear rubber sneakers, sometimes in school colors, otherwise white or black. This was the norm up until the 1970s when sneakers became the running shoes were still wear today.
Classic Converse, saddle golf shoes, and white Keds can all still be found today. Pick up a pair for your next vintage sporting day.
Women’s Vintage Sneakers Pictures
- 1920s Tennis Outfits for Women and Men
- 1920s-1960s Women’s Gym Clothes
- Women’s 1950s Shoe Styles
- Victorian Tennis Shoes
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.