What’s the deal with sneakers?

People make a lot of jokes at the expense of women about how some of them seek to own many pairs of shoes. The person who carried that to the extreme was the infamous Imelda Marcos, wife of the former autocratic leader of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos who, when he was ousted in 1986, fled with her husband to Hawaii, leaving behind around 1,000 pairs of shoes and 800 purses.

But less attention is paid to the ridiculous desire of some men to own sneakers that propels them to pay exorbitant prices in the secondary market. I just don’t get it. It’s just a damn sneaker. It dos not give the wearer any special powers and will soon end up in the trash. But then I can never understand these fads that drive up the prices of ordinary objects.

Hasan Minhaj tries to understand it too.

(This clip aired on January 6, 2016. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Nightly Show outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)


  1. John Morales says

    Fashion and consumerism.

    It’s what ordinary people do; if you’ve ever bought anything you didn’t actually need (such as shoes when you already have some which are serviceable), you too do it.

  2. says

    I just don’t get it.

    It’s just conspicuous consumption.

    The explanation is fairly straightforward, per Epicurus (~260 BCE) -- people have a need, and gain a small amount of satisfaction when they fulfil that need. In the case of compulsive shoppers or collectors the need being fulfilled is to be able to obtain material goods; it’s a measure of control and economic security. What happens next is the same thing as happens with a rat in a Skinner box: the subject mashes on the stimulus over and over again, seeking the satisfaction/reward/rush of pleasure. It’s a simple feedback loop and is basically the same feedback loop that one-armed bandit manufacturers use to lock their customers’ attention. Evolution is everywhere: commercial enterprises have evolved all sorts of clever ways of overstimulating peoples’ acquisition/reward cycle, including artificially creating scarcity (“limited edition”) or in-group appeal (“hermes’ birkin bag”) and it works, whether it’s beanie babies or $25,000 handbags, because it’s the same behavioral patterns that are being hammered on over and over and over.

  3. says

    By the way, if you’re ever talking about this with a victim of marketing, you can have a great deal of fun by asking them about their understanding of supply and demand. “SO: the value proposition for those shoes is that you’re the ‘cool kid’ if you’re one of the few on the street who owns a pair. What happens if the manufacturer decides to make 10 times, or 50 times as many? It’s just a matter of emailing some guy in China and telling them, ‘hey make us another million pairs of those shoes!” and he’ll say “OK.”” Then all you’re left with is the value of being the first kid on the block with those shoes. Well, if you think about that for a second you’ll realize that there were wage-slave factory workers in Shenzen wearing those shoes a month before you even knew they existed.

  4. says

    As MR said first above, conspicuous consumption. That’s what PSY’s “Gangnam Style” criticized a few years ago, the desire to appear rich by living in Gangnam while barely making ends meet. Young women are referred to as “bean paste girls” because they eat $1 noodles for lunch in private and then go buy a $4 coffee which they drink in public.

    Anyone who does serious exercise buys shoes based on functionality, not price. I have been buying (excuse what sounds like a product plug) Reebok Classic sneakers for 20 years because they are cheap and they last a year as running shoes and two years as casual shoes. The overhyping of “air jordans” in the 1980s was ludicrous (especially considering how ugly the shoes were), and it’s even worse now. And companies like Nike engage in near-slave labour conditions to produce them while charging exorbitant prices for shoes that won’t last six months of walking, never mind playing sports in them.

    Now that I’m transitioning, I’m seeing women’s side of it too. Women’s shoes may look pretty, but most of them are NOT comfortable, and I’m not talking about heel height. The interiors of shoes are nowhere near as padded or well shaped to the foot as men’s shoes, not even sneakers. And the more expensive they get, the less comfortable they seem to be. I’m feeling stresses on my toes, the balls of my feet and back of the heel I’ve never felt before this past year. I’m constantly buying plaster bandages to wear (and hide) under socks and stockings to protect my feet. Small wonder many women wear ballet flats or buy men’s or kids’ sneakers instead.

  5. Holms says

    I made the wise decision some ten years ago to switch from sneakers to work-boots-that-don’t-look-like-boots. They look formal enough that they easily double as ‘proper’ looking non-work shoes, and of course thongs cater to every other situation.

    Ten years ago, and I’m only just thinking that it is time to replace them.

  6. says

    I made the wise decision some ten years ago to switch from sneakers to work-boots-that-don’t-look-like-boots.

    Buddy of mine wears some hiking boots that he machined the stock soles off, and replaced with cut pieces of radial tire. He did this some 15 years ago and cares for the leather with an annual wax-a-thon. The boots look just like they did when I first met him and they’re pretty much what he wears. We occasionally think it’d be possible to make a near-lifetime shoe for about the same cost as a regular one: indestructible polyurethane parts and little titanium bolts… I’m past the entrepreneurial stage of my life or I’d go for it.

  7. lorn says

    The future, and most of the really profitable past, of the free market is/was, based on market manipulation, not free markets. Look into the diamond market and how De Beers established and runs it. OPEC sought to control the oil market. US beer distributors set up territories to control competition and eliminate price wars that might damage their product or its reputation. The auto industry has had states require that you, by law, have to buy vehicles from a dealerships instead of directly from the manufacturer.

  8. says

    The future, and most of the really profitable past, of the free market is/was, based on market manipulation, not free markets.

    Libertarians will be quick to claim that “free” means “free to manipulate”
    (which is basically what most of them appear to understand “free” to mean, already)

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