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Sneaker culture treats shoes as high art with major price tag

Would you pay $1,000 for a pair of sneakers? How about $1,000 for a pair of sneakers that you would rarely put on your feet? If this sounds outrageous to you, then you might have trouble fitting in the world of “sneaker culture.”

How did the hobby of collecting shoes evolve into a high-demand art form where people are willing to pay as much as four figures – sometimes more – for a pair?

Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator from the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, joined Stateside to explain. She's brought the traveling exhibit, Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture to the Toledo Museum of Art, which runs through Feb. 28.

“It’s incredibly important how integrated footwear is within our larger society,” said Semmelhack. “When you stop and start to study it, it’s a very interesting entry point into larger cultural issues.”

Semmelhack makes the comparison between men’s sneakers and high-end women’s footwear that commands a hefty price tag. Like women’s shoes, what men wear on their feet can say a lot about their place in the world.

“I think many of today’s hottest sneakers come at a price point that signifies status,” said Semmelhack. “It’s a part of fashion, but they’re not the type of shoes that you would actually wear on a daily basis.”

Listen to the full interview to find out where the first sneaker appeared in the U.S., and about some of the iconic shoes on display at the exhibit at the Toledo Museum.

Josh Hakala, a lifelong Michigander (East Lansing & Edwardsburg), comes to Michigan Radio after nearly two decades of working in a variety of fields within broadcasting and digital media.
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