Shoes vs. Sneakers: What is the Difference?

You have heard the terms “shoes” and “sneakers” used interchangeably. But what is the difference between shoes and sneakers?

Sneakers are shoes with rubber soles designed for sports and casual wear. Shoes, on the other hand, are the general term for footwear. Basically, all sneakers are considered shoes, but not all shoes are considered sneakers.

In this post, we will explore and break down the shoes vs. sneakers comparison.

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Shoes vs. Sneakers

To understand the difference between shoes and sneakers, it would be wise to first understand what each term actually means.

According to Oxford’s English dictionarya shoe is a covering for the foot, typically made of leather, having a sturdy sole and not reaching above the ankle.

Here is how the term “shoes” is used in sentences:

  • She soon regretted wearing her new shoes.
  • He ran out into the street despite having no shoes on.
  • I was putting my shoes on when the phone rang.

Taking the definition and the example sentences into account, it’s clear that shoes are the general term for footwear, but are often meant for formal purposes. 

On the other hand, a sneaker is a soft shoe with a rubber sole worn for sports or casual occasions. According to Oxford’s Learner’s Dictionaries, a sneaker is a shoe that you wear for sports or as informal clothing.

Here is how the term “sneakers” is used in sentences:

  • He wore old jeans and a pair of sneakers.
  • I pulled on my sneakers and headed out for a run.
  • She owns several pairs of worn canvas sneakers.

Taking the meaning and the example sentences into consideration, it’s easy to see that sneakers are shoes, but are meant for sports and casual wear.

Now that we are clear on the definitions for each term, let’s explore the different types of shoes and sneakers, and categorize them appropriately.

Which shoes are not considered sneakers?

To keep things simple, let’s put one of the most common types of shoes into the spotlight.

This is a pair of Chelsea boots. A Chelsea boot is an elastic-sided, ankle-high boot:

These boots are shoes, but they are not considered sneakers. While they are made for casual wear, they are not designed for sports and athletic use.

Let’s take another example.


These are moccasins. With a style originating from North American Indians, these soft leather slippers are shoes without separate heels:

In most cases, moccasins can be considered shoes but not sneakers. While they are made for casual wear, they are not worn for athletic purposes.

Here is a list of shoes that are not considered sneakers:

  • Chelsea boots – Elastic-sided, ankle-high boots often made of leather.
  • Chukkas – Ankle-high leather boots with suede or leather uppers, leather or rubber soles, and open lacing, with two or three pairs of eyelets.
  • Derby shoes – Leather shoes characterized by quarters, with shoelace eyelets that are sewn on top of the vamp.
  • Moccasins – Soft leather slippers without separate heels, having the soles turned up on all sides and sewn to the uppers. Originated among North American Indians.
  • Oxford shoes – Shoes characterized by shoelace eyelets tabs that are attached under the vamp, a feature termed “closed lacing”.
  • Penny loafers – Casual leather shoes with a decorative slotted leather strip over both of the uppers, in which a coin may be placed.
  • Sandals and slippers – Light and comfortable shoes with either openwork uppers or straps attaching the soles to the feet.
  • Tassel loafers – Laceless shoes with decorative leather laces hanging from the vamp.

They say that shoes are the most important part of a man’s wardrobe. If you have been wearing sneakers all this time, maybe it’s time to add variety to your casual footwear game.

Instead of wearing Converse or Vans for business casual attire, maybe it’s time to slip on a pair of Oxford shoes to add some class to your style. Casual shoes that are not sneakers, like Oxfords and Derbies, can make you look sleek while keeping things relaxed and casual.

Which shoes are called sneakers?

Did you know that the term “sneakers” has already been used since 1887?

The name “sneakers” originally referred to how quiet the rubber soles were on the ground, in contrast to noisy standard hard leather sole dress shoes. Someone wearing sneakers could “sneak up”, while someone wearing standards could not.

But which shoes are called sneakers? Basically, all shoes that have rubber soles and are meant for sports and casual purposes are called sneakers.

Here is a list of shoes that are called sneakers:

  • Basketball shoes – Shoes designed for basketball. They have thick, stiff soles to give you extra stability and high-top designs for ankle support.
  • Casual sneakers – Athletic or casual rubber-soled, comfortable everyday shoes.
  • Cleats – Athletic shoes with cleated soles worn for playing football and soccer.
  • Cross trainers – Sports shoes that are suitable for wearing in the gym. These shoes can be a good choice if you do more than one type of sport.
  • Cycling shoes – Shoes purpose-built for cycling. Competitive or performance cycling shoes have stiff soles with cleats on the outside.
  • Golf shoes – Shoes of leather with sole spikes or hobnails that are worn especially for golfing. The short cleats on the soles help plant your feet during your swing, so you’re less likely to slip (There is a hack to turn running shoes into golf shoes).
  • Minimalist shoes – Shoes intended to closely approximate barefoot running or walking conditions. They are light, flexible, and don’t have much cushion.
  • Running shoes – Light and comfortable shoes suitable for running. They are designed for forward motion and protect the front of your foot and heel.
  • Tennis shoes – Light canvas or leather soft-soled shoes suitable for tennis or casual wear. They are designed for quick side-to-side movements.
  • Trail running shoes – Shoes that stand up to dirt, mud, water, and rock. Trail shoes are slightly stronger and heavier than running shoes but lighter than hiking boots.
  • Walking shoes – Sturdy, practical shoes with good treads, suitable for regular or extensive walking. They have slightly rounded soles or a “rocker” bottom to help shift weight more smoothly from the heels to the toes.

No matter the sport, there are sneakers for the occasion. If you plan to do a specific type of activity, it’s a good idea to invest in the right type of shoes, or sneakers.

Other names for sneakers

Sneakers go by so many different names. For example, the term sneaker is mostly used in America, whereas sneakers are referred to as trainers in the United Kingdom.

Did you also know that the majority of people in the United States refer to athletic shoes or sneakers as “tennis shoes”? Sounds interesting.

The majority of people in the United States call sneakers as tennis shoes:

But it doesn’t stop there. Here are other names for sneakers:

  • Cleats – Athletic shoes with cleated soles worn for playing football and soccer.
  • High-tops – Sneakers that rise above the ankles.
  • Kicks – A term/slang for sneakers influenced by hip-hop and skater fashion.
  • Lows – Sneakers that sit below the ankles.
  • Pumps – A special type of sneakers with pump function to boost fit.
  • Sneaks – A term for sneakers used by prison inmates to describe warders because of their rubber-soled footwear.
  • Tennis shoes – Common term for sneakers in the United States.
  • Trainers – The British English equivalent of sneakers.

Those are just some examples of other words for “sneakers”. Of course, a lot of words and phrases vary by region. Whether you like to go by trainers or tennis shoes, they both serve the same purpose of protecting your feet. 

Bottom Line

And there you have it, the complete breakdown of the shoes vs. sneakers comparison.

Now that you know the difference between shoes and sneakers, you can choose the best footwear that will fit your looks and overall style.

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