In Defense of the Sneaker Heel

·2 min read

The early aughts were an experimental time in sneakers. From bombastic colorways to unorthodox fabrications, Y2K footwear mimicked the style of the era with exaggerated proportions and neck-breaking details. While scarcity and hype rules the sneaker landscape these days, back then, customization and uniqueness reigned supreme. Brands like Miskeen dominated the scene, thanks to its handcrafted appeal. And while there is only one Dapper Dan, every neighborhood had a sneaker customizer applying Louis Vuitton and Gucci fabrics to every Air Force 1 Swoosh and toe box.

The growing sneaker culture at the time created a boom in the world of counterfeits. Often relegated to the final pages of a Source magazine, the unauthorized kicks boasted a wild range of themes from SpongeBob graphics to pop icons. Minimalism, where? The boundaries were being pushed beyond belief on both the legit and black market forefronts.

The 2000s can also be marked as a period of hybrid fashion. From Manolo Blahnik's Timberland-style heeled boots, to Gwen Stefani's thigh-high Converse, to Missy Elliott's larger-than-life adidas Superstar boots, slowly but surely, a niche was being carved in a way that traditional women's sneakers — though gaining traction at the time — were not filling. Nearly every brand delivered an interpretation of a sneaker wedge. Even Nike released -- and collaborated with Jun Takahashi's Undercover on -- a range of elevated Dunks dubbed the Sky Hi.

Sneaker Heels Heeled Sneakers Nike Ancuta Sarca Off-White Puma Fenty Rihanna Dior Miu Miu Balenciaga Trend Comeback Y2K
Sneaker Heels Heeled Sneakers Nike Ancuta Sarca Off-White Puma Fenty Rihanna Dior Miu Miu Balenciaga Trend Comeback Y2K

Customizers and bootleggers pushed the trend even further. Without the guardrails imposed by major brands, manufacturers were free to experiment with delightfully impractical silhouettes — think Nike Dunk stilettos and Air Force 1 heels. In the words of Cady Heron, "The limit did not exist."

Despite the ever-growing UA (unauthorized authentic) sneaker fan base, the idea of flaunting an inauthentic pair of sneakers is still quite taboo. Such was not the case during these times, when trendsetters and pop stars of the aughts wore sneaker heels with pride. Christina Milian even donned a Jordan 4 heel on the cover of Complex magazine's February/March 2005 issue.

Sneaker Heels Heeled Sneakers Nike Ancuta Sarca Off-White Puma Fenty Rihanna Dior Miu Miu Balenciaga Trend Comeback Y2K
Sneaker Heels Heeled Sneakers Nike Ancuta Sarca Off-White Puma Fenty Rihanna Dior Miu Miu Balenciaga Trend Comeback Y2K

Fast-forward to present day, the return of low-rise denim, shoulder bags and claw clips has, unsurprisingly, brought with it a second wave of the contentious footwear design. During her time as creative director of PUMA in the latter half of the 2010s, Rihanna dropped slingback heels and chic booties inspired by the sportswear brand's sneakers. Into the 2020s, from Dior's D-Zenith to Balenciaga's X-Pander, to the upcycled creations of London-based designer Ancuta Sarca, the hybrid silhouette maintains a place in the hearts of sneaker enthusiasts and heel lovers alike. It represents a feeling of playfulness currently lacking in the fashion world, recalling the Baby Phat golden era and evoking the DIY red carpet designs of Tina Knowles-Lawson.

Sneaker heels belong right alongside micro-mini skirts, sweater shrugs and throwback jersey dresses in the fashion archives — and there's no higher compliment.

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