A couple of weeks ago, I started using my running shoes for more than going to get iced coffee on Saturday mornings, at which point I was surprised to find out that they are at least a size too big. As you can guess, I was excited to have an excuse to go buy a new pair of shoes, even running shoes – those totally count in my mental shoe tally, and with sneakers going strong as a huge women’s shoe trend, there would certainly be plenty of great looking, functional shoes to choose from, right? Nope.
Because I’m new to running, I went to a place that promised to have a huge selection and knowledgable salespeople – the Nike Running flagship store in New York City’s Flatiron shopping district. Nike is as much a street wear brand as it is an athletic brand these days, so I figured that it was the company most likely to take a shoe’s aesthetics to heart while designing something that’s also functionally sound. Try as I might, I just can’t spend $100+ on something I’m supposed to wear if it’s ugly, no matter how much its appearance is secondary to its purpose. I need both aspects of a shoe’s design to be good.
When I got to the store, which had an entire floor dedicated specifically to women’s running, I was surprised by how limited the selection actually was. Not only were there only a couple shoes available for people with non-perfect gaits (and almost nobody runs exactly how they should), but the shoes all looked like they were designed for Marathon Barbie. Pink, seafoam, peach. SO MUCH PEACH. What kind of market research did Nike do to convince itself that the women’s athletic market wants shoes that evoke memories of bad bridesmaids’ dresses?
I’m not generally opposed to “women’s” colors – in fact, I’m quite a fan of bright pink and almost all purple, and I’m quite happy with the shoes above, which are the ones I chose. But what, exactly, is athletic brands’ objection to giving us a better variety of colors? Women buy shoes in red, green and blue in the regular shoe market all the time, not to mention black and grey. Still, there were only a couple black options, and none of them were available in shoes for runnings that actually care about stability. (Based on all the wobbly ankles I see walking around this city in flats, perhaps more of you need to care about stability.)
When I posed this question to Twitter, more than a couple people reported buying men’s running shoes in smaller sizes to avoid the limited aesthetic options that brands provide for female athletes. Women have materially different foot and leg structures than men, though, and buying a pair of running shoes that isn’t designed for that makes me nervous. Why can’t I simply buy a red women’s running shoe? Why are brands so invested in selling me a pair of shoes that reminds everyone around me that I’m really just a girly girl at heart? Because I’m not. I wear a whole range of colors in everyday life, and I’d like to do the same thing at the gym.