What is the Difference Between Sneakers and Shoes?

For many, the terms “sneakers” and “shoes” are used interchangeably. However, if you delve a bit deeper into the world of footwear, you’ll discover subtle and not-so-subtle differences between them. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the intricate world of footwear, distinguishing between sneakers and shoes.

What is the Difference between Sneakers and Shoes?

The main difference between sneakers and shoes lies in their design and purpose. “Shoes” is a broader term encompassing various types of footwear, while “sneakers” specifically refers to casual athletic shoes designed for comfort and sports activities. Sneakers typically have rubber soles, cushioned insoles, and are more flexible compared to traditional formal shoes.

DesignCasual and sporty design with athletic aestheticsVarious designs, including casual, formal, and more
PurposePrimarily for sports, exercise, and casual wearCan be for various occasions, including formal events
ComfortEmphasis on cushioning, support, and flexibilityComfort varies based on the shoe type and brand
SolesOften have rubber soles for better gripSoles may vary based on the shoe type
InsolesUsually equipped with cushioned insolesInsoles can vary from minimal to well-padded
ActivitiesSuitable for activities like running and walkingSuitable for a wide range of activities
BreathabilityGenerally designed to offer breathabilityBreathability depends on the shoe material and type
Fashion StatementOften considered fashionable and trendyFashion statement varies based on shoe style
VersatilityIdeal for casual and athleisure wearVersatility depends on the shoe’s style and purpose
ExamplesNike Air Max, Adidas Stan SmithOxfords, Loafers, High Heels, Dress Shoes, etc.

Please note that the terms “sneakers” and “shoes” can have regional variations in their usage, and some casual athletic footwear might be referred to as “shoes” in certain contexts.

1. Historical Perspective

  • Shoes: The history of shoes dates back thousands of years. From sandals etched on ancient Egyptian murals to leather boots worn by Roman soldiers, shoes have been an integral part of human civilization.
  • Sneakers: Sneakers, on the other hand, have a relatively recent origin. They emerged in the late 19th century when manufacturers began producing shoes with rubber soles. Known initially as “plimsolls,” they were simple footwear without the left or right foot distinction.

2. Definition and Anatomy

  • Shoes: A shoe is a general term for any form of footwear designed to protect and comfort the human foot while doing various activities. They are made of various materials, including leather, canvas, and synthetic materials.
  • Sneakers: Sneakers are shoes primarily designed for sports or physical exercise. They are made of flexible material with a rubber sole. The term “sneaker” is predominantly used in the Northeastern United States and Southern Florida.

3. Purpose and Usage

  • Shoes: Given the broad definition, shoes can serve numerous purposes – from formal events, daily wear, hiking, to dancing.
  • Sneakers: Originally designed for sports, sneakers have transcended their primary function. While still used in athletic activities, they’re also a staple in casual and streetwear fashion.

4. Construction and Design

  • Shoes: Depending on their purpose, shoes can have various construction methods: Goodyear welt, Blake stitch, cemented, etc. The design can range from formal Oxfords, Brogues, Loafers to casual Moccasins and Espadrilles.
  • Sneakers: Sneakers often use cemented construction due to their need for flexible soles. They come in various designs, including low-top, mid-top, and high-top. Many brands innovate with materials, incorporating mesh, canvas, and synthetics for breathability and comfort.

5. Cultural Significance

  • Shoes: Shoes, especially in western cultures, have often been linked with status and fashion. Certain shoes are also deeply embedded in cultural practices, like the Indian “jutti” or the Japanese “geta.”
  • Sneakers: Sneakers have evolved into cultural symbols. From the basketball courts to hip-hop music videos, they represent urban culture, rebellion, and youth. Limited edition releases and collaborations have further cemented their cultural significance.

6. Brands and Market Presence

  • Shoes: Brands like Clarks, Allen Edmonds, and Dr. Martens are synonymous with quality shoes catering to different segments.
  • Sneakers: Nike, Adidas, Puma, and Reebok dominate the sneaker market. These brands continually innovate, collaborate with celebrities, and release limited edition models, creating immense hype.

7. Customization and Personal Expression

  • Shoes: While customization exists in the formal shoe sector, it’s often limited to choosing leather type, color, or minor design alterations.
  • Sneakers: The sneaker culture thrives on customization. Artists and enthusiasts frequently modify sneakers to create unique designs, making personal statements.

8. Durability and Maintenance

  • Shoes: With proper care, especially for high-quality leather shoes, they can last for years. Regular polishing, cleaning, and occasional resoling can extend their lifespan.
  • Sneakers: Generally, sneakers have a shorter lifespan, especially those used for athletic activities. However, with care (like occasional washing and proper storage), they can remain in good shape for a considerable time.

9. Price and Affordability

  • Shoes: The price range for shoes is vast. While you can get affordable options, high-end, handcrafted shoes can cost several hundred to thousands of dollars.
  • Sneakers: While there are affordable sneakers, certain limited edition releases and collaborations (like Air Jordans or Yeezys) can fetch astronomical prices, especially in the resale market.


What classifies a shoe as a sneaker? Sneakers are classified by their casual and sporty design, typically with rubber soles, cushioned insoles, and a flexible construction. They are designed for comfort and are often associated with athletic activities and casual wear.

What is the difference between sneakers and walking shoes? While both sneakers and walking shoes offer comfort, walking shoes are specifically designed for walking, with features that provide excellent support, stability, and cushioning. Sneakers, on the other hand, are more versatile and can be used for various activities, including walking.

Can sneakers be used for walking? Yes, sneakers can be used for walking, especially if they provide adequate support and cushioning. Many sneakers are designed with features that make them comfortable for walking and other physical activities.

What are shoes without laces called? Shoes without laces are commonly referred to as slip-on shoes. They are designed to be easily worn and removed without the need for tying laces.

What kind of shoes are best for daily use? For daily use, comfortable and versatile shoes like sneakers, loafers, or casual slip-on shoes are often recommended. The best choice depends on individual preferences, style, and the activities you engage in throughout the day.

Are sneakers called sneakers? Yes, the term “sneakers” is commonly used to describe casual athletic shoes designed for comfort and sports activities.

Which footwear is best for walking? The best footwear for walking is walking shoes or athletic shoes specifically designed for walking. They offer excellent support, cushioning, and stability to enhance comfort during long walks.

Which sneakers are comfortable for walking? Several brands offer comfortable sneakers for walking, including Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Asics, and Brooks. It’s essential to try on different models to find the one that fits your feet best.

Can I use sneakers for daily use? Yes, many people use sneakers for daily wear due to their comfort and versatility. Sneakers can be a practical choice for various activities throughout the day.

Can sneakers be used for everyday use? Yes, sneakers can be used for everyday use, providing comfort and support for regular activities.

What do Americans call shoe laces? Americans commonly call shoe laces simply “laces.”

What are shoes called without a back? Shoes without a back are often referred to as “mules” or “slides.”

Why is it called a shoe? The term “shoe” originates from the Old English word “scoh,” which has Germanic roots. It refers to a covering for the foot, protecting it from the ground and providing support.

Are Crocs good for your feet? Crocs are known for their comfort and lightweight design, which can be beneficial for some people. However, they may not provide adequate support for all foot types, and it’s essential to choose footwear that suits your individual needs.

How often should I replace my everyday shoes? The lifespan of shoes depends on factors like usage, quality, and individual wear patterns. On average, everyday shoes may need replacement every six months to two years.

Are Skechers good for your feet? Skechers offers a wide range of footwear, and some models provide good support and comfort for certain individuals. However, like any shoe brand, it’s essential to select Skechers shoes that suit your foot shape and offer the necessary support for your activities.

What are sneakers called today? “Sneakers” is still the commonly used term for casual athletic shoes today.

Are Skechers considered sneakers? Yes, many Skechers shoes fall under the category of casual athletic shoes, making them a type of sneakers.

What did sneakers used to be called? In the past, sneakers were also known as “plimsolls” or “tennis shoes.”

Should walking shoes be bigger or smaller? Walking shoes should generally have a snug but comfortable fit. It’s recommended to have a thumb’s width of space between the front of the shoe and the end of your longest toe to ensure proper fit and prevent discomfort during walking.

What kind of shoes to wear for a morning walk? For a morning walk, comfortable walking shoes or athletic shoes with good support and cushioning are suitable.

What do you wear on your feet when walking? For walking, wear comfortable and supportive footwear, such as walking shoes, athletic shoes, or sneakers.

What is the most comfortable shoe for standing all day? The most comfortable shoe for standing all day may vary depending on individual preferences and foot needs. Some popular options include brands like Nike, Adidas, New Balance, and Asics, offering comfortable cushioning and support.

Does it matter what shoes you walk in? Yes, the type of shoes you wear for walking can significantly impact your comfort and foot health. It’s essential to choose shoes that provide adequate support and cushioning to prevent discomfort and potential injuries.

Is it better to walk in boots or sneakers? For regular walking, sneakers or athletic shoes are generally more suitable due to their lightweight design, flexibility, and cushioning. Boots may be suitable for specific outdoor activities but might not provide the same comfort and support for extended walking.


To wrap up, while all sneakers are shoes, not all shoes are sneakers. The distinction goes beyond mere semantics; it delves deep into history, culture, function, and fashion. Whether you’re a sneakerhead with a penchant for limited editions or someone who appreciates the classic elegance of formal shoes, understanding these differences enhances the appreciation for the world of footwear.