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  • The Sports Shoe: A History from Field to Fashion by Thomas Turner
  • Elyssa Ford
Turner, Thomas. The Sports Shoe: A History from Field to Fashion. London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2019. Pp. 288. Index. $27.54, hb. $26.16, eb.

In The Sports Shoe: A History from Field to Fashion, Thomas Turner reveals the fascinating development of the sports shoe and traces its evolution from athletic wear to leisure stylings and statements of fashion. Rather than just a story of clothing, Turner examines sports shoes as stylistic and symbolic objects. For this little-studied field, Turner combines scholarly publications on sports history and popular advertisements for sports shoes to understand how these shoes became popular and moved from the sporting world to casual users.

The author takes both a thematic and roughly chronological approach, beginning with a discussion of lawn tennis in the mid-nineteenth century. Turner then includes two chapters that show the expansion of sport and its growing popularity among young people in the 1920s and '30s and its evolution in the 1940s and '50s. The book also features other specific sports, which the author uses to move the chronology forward: skateboarding in the 1960s and '70s, basketball and its ties to hip-hop in the 1980s, and British soccer in the 1980s and '90s. For each, Turner also provides the longer history of that sport's development.

As Turner demonstrates, style is not just about the concept or design. One important contribution of this book is the discussion of the role of industry in the creation of the sports shoe. As lawn tennis grew popular in Victorian Britain, manufacturers designed [End Page 184] a shoe specific to that sport not only because of the growing demand for it but because nineteenth-century colonialism and expansion allowed it to happen. Shoe companies promoted their "Tennis shoes with India-rubber soles," made possible because of the new British empire in Asia and the discovery of rubber as a material with great potential for the world of sport (20). In fact, some of the early sports-shoe manufacturers were replaced by rubber companies that expanded their production to sports shoes and later fashion shoes.

The impact of colonialism on sport is a growing field, and other scholars have examined how colonialists have used sport. This book provides another facet of colonial expansion, and the tantalizing, but limited, discussion by Turner provides opportunities for other scholars to continue this line of questioning. Beyond his inclusion of the impact of colonial rubber, Turner goes into greater detail about the manufacturing of sports shoes and the competition among producers. By doing this, he tells a story of clothing and fashion rarely seen in history books. He shows that fashion is a part not just of social and cultural history but of industrial history.

Two areas that are less well developed in the book are that of gender and class, though Turner does mention both. His discussion of gender is best developed in the chapter on lawn tennis where he shows the difference between the shoes designed for men and women. While men's shoes used the most innovative new technologies and were engineered to enhance athletic abilities, women's shoes were focused on fashion rather than athletic feats. In a book filled with many interesting photographs and images, the one most revealing of this difference is an advertisement for a heeled tennis shoe designed for women, hardly something that would improve their playing ability (26). At other points in the book, Turner's more limited discussion of women and, at times, his exclusion of them lead to further questions. For instance, the author comments on the female workforce that constructed men's tennis shoes in the late nineteenth century. These shoes were intended, he says, to assert "new concepts of youthful, informal masculinity" (37), but how does the female workforce fit into the masculine–feminine dichotomy of that era? Later, in the chapter on basketball, Turner leaves out the early development of women's basketball players and their sports shoes, which he had discussed for lawn tennis. It also would be interesting to know how the adoption of masculine sports shoes by...


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pp. 184-185
Launched on MUSE
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