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Ah, L.A. Gear. The high top sneaker that had street cred AND looked super cute, evidenced by their use at one point of celebrity spokesmodels Paula Abdul and Belinda Carlisle. Okay, so the street cred part might be a stretch, but we still thought they were totally cool (and they came with little license plates!). What more could a late 80s/early 90s girl want? But, in the fashion world all good things must come to an end, and the once super-popular L.A. Gear sassy sneaker empire eventually fizzled. But the question is, what ever happened to L.A. Gear?
What Happened to L.A. Gear
For the uninitiated (read: those under 35) a little background: L.A. Gear was one of those beautiful fashion trend arcs that started out high-end (not kidding) but trickled down quickly and mercifully into affordable, attainable fashion for the mainstream masses. Founded in 1979 by Robert Greenberg (who later founded the L.A. Gear of the early 2000s, Skechers) the L.A. Gear brand sold not just fashionable footwear, but a lifestyle—and who in the 1980s didn’t want to be part of the glitz and glam and perpetual sunshine of Los Angeles, CA? Initally launched for sale in Greenberg’s own women’s fashion retail store, L.A. Gear quickly moved into department stores and by 1990 boasted sales third only to athletic footwear giants Nike and Reebok.
It’s what happened in and around 1990, however, that led to L.A. Gear’s downfall. And what happened, in a word, was grunge. Girls who once were into ice-cream colored crop tops and spandex short (L.A. Gear ads seemed to frequently center around super cool girls with blond perms and scrunchies hanging out at the soda shop) were now into drab plaid, torn denim and general discontent, and all of a sudden everyone wanted to be from Seattle instead of LA. As a company, L.A. Gear didn’t respond well to this seismic shift on fashion sensibility, and attempts to branch out into men’s athletic footwear didn’t go well (even though Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was pictured in an ad, backed by flames and wearing spandex short-shorts and high white athletic socks – or, on second thought, maybe because of that).
L.A. Gear may have never regained the fashion craze status they once enjoyed, but the truth is the brand still exists, though their shoes no longer grace the shoe departments of trendy retailers—instead, you’ll find them (according to their website) at mainstream, white bread middle America retailers like Beall’s, Shoe Carnival and Sears.
And as far as styling goes, gone are the iconic white velcro-strap high tops and in their place? Brightly colored fitness shoes that look a whole lot like every other shoe on the wall at the Foot Locker (we’re sure there are nuanced differences, but they all look pretty much the same to us).
Retailing for somewhere between $40 and $50 bucks, today’s L.A. Gear shoe is pretty budget friendly, but clearly will never recapture the magic that had us spending all of our spare cash on amassing the perfect collection of colored shoe-laces and scrunchable socks to achieve the quintessential L.A. Gear look.
And just in case you are a 90s baby and have NO idea what we’re talking about, behold this collection images that capture the beauty (or horror, depending on your perspective) of the L.A. Gear phenomenon, via BuzzFeed.
If you really want to recapture the bold athletic shoe of days past, maybe try a modern twist on the old high-top — LED light-up shoes. Yes, that’s right, light-up shoes! These aren’t for the faint of heart, but they do have a definite ’90s flair to them.