Cheerleading originated in the United States and started during the late 18th century. Following the American War of Independence (1775–1783), undergraduates experienced bullying by their professors and reacted by rioting, burning campus buildings, and physically assaulting faculty members. To channel their energies male students were encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities outside their professors' control. College teams adopted the English tradition of yelling supporters who would chant in unison for their team. At first this was an all-male activity but in 1923, women were admitted into cheerleading at the University of Minnesota.
Young North American ladies were not encouraged to participate in contact sports instead directed to become cheerleaders and support the young men engaged in active sport. It took until the Second World War, when collegiate men were drafted that more women took part.
Charles Goodyear’s method of vulcanising rubber to make it more durable and pliable, meant creating purpose-made rubber soles for shoes was commercially viable. Several major shoe brands were established in the first decade of the 20th century with Converse the brand leader. In 1916, U.S. Rubber introduced “Peds” (the Latin for “foot”) as a brand name for sneakers, but, finding it was already taken, opted for “Keds”, from a Native American word for moccasins. Although not intentional the ‘K’ was quickly mistakenly thought to stand for kids, which only increased their attraction.
Keds’ first production was the rubber-soled, canvas plimsoll was the Champion, a brown canvas topped oxford, with black rubber soles shoes promoted for tennis and available to boys and girls. In 1926, the company added the Keds Triumph, then later in 1938, "Kedettes", a line of washable high-heeled shoes for women.
Keds were first marketed for the athletic properties, but quickly became known for casual appeal, a trend which accelerated markedly in the 1950s. Early cheerleaders wore the classic sweater and mid-calf pleated skirt uniform.
New technologies allowed new materials to be incorporated into the shoes to allow for stretch and flexibility. Keds were sport shoes for both men and woman but gradually became associated with females (Chucks for boys and Keds for girls) Teenage cheerleaders in the 50s wore tight sweaters, short skirts, ankle or bobby socks with canvas topped shoes. During this decade, cheerleading in America increased in popularity with the formation of professional cheerleading. Today cheerleaders can be found in almost every school ranging from adolescent to grade school level across the country. All team sports now have professional cheerleaders.
Older teenage girls, wore pony tails, tight sweaters, and short dirndl styled skirts with poodle transfers (poodle skirts) to the (bobby) sock hops Keds with ankle socks were ideal for jive and rock ‘n roll.
The quicker tempo music was very much part of the emerging youth culture and the spasmodic body contact interspersed with vigorous gyrations more reminiscent of the Kama Sutra than the Ballroom Gazette necessitated freedom of movement. For added traction, circles and squares were added to the sole pattern.
During the 1960s, canvas sneakers became far more common and accepted as a part of everyday dress, leading to Keds becoming a ubiquitous brand across the US.
In the ensuing years, Keds’s classic and timeless style made it an icon, which has never gone out of fashion. Many celebrities including Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Katharine Hepburn , Audrey Hepburn, and Betty White, have all been photogrphed wearing their Keds. Yoko Ono wore a pair when she married John Lennon. Jennifer Grey wore them in Dirty Dancing (1987).
The addition of some simple, core colours has furthered the brand’s appeal.
Since the year 2000, Keds have been discovered by the millennials generation thanks to a series of high profile celebrity ambassadors, including actress Mischa Barton and, most recently, singer Taylor Swift.