Why Are Running Shoes So Colorful? 


Bright running shoes

Have you ever walked into a Famous Footwear or a Payless shoe store and gawked at the amount of loud, obnoxious colors displayed on the shelves? Being an athletic devotee in need of a fresh pair, you enter the store and make your way to the running shoe section. Before even going to your size, you’re assaulted by the dazzling and dizzying rainbow display. You wonder to yourself, “Why are running shoes colorful?”  

Running shoes are colorful for three reasons: to enhance the safety of your running trip, drive sales, and motivate people to run. As distractions and advertisements intensify in our society, companies must find ways to keep people buying. While running shoes often get sidelined as ugly, it turns out the array of brightly lit neon’s and metallic reds actually serve a purpose (for the most part).

For runners, it’s all about the experience of taking one foot after the other. For companies and marketers, however, it’s about pushing the most eye-catching colors forward in order to drive sales. Keep reading to learn more about the science, psychology, and marketing reasons behind colorful running shoes. 

Why Are Running Shoes so Colorful? 

Baby Blue, lemon yellow, and lavender purple. Or, perhaps, a winding cheetah-printed electric orange with reflective neon pink. These not-so-subtle designs are generally meant to protect you as an individual runner. 

Safety 

  • As a runner, you share the road with other runners and drivers. 
  • Many running shoes are brightly colored with reflective light so drivers can see runners in low light. Essentially, the bright reflective colors of running shoes act as signals to people in your environment, allowing them to take your safety into consideration as they drive. 
  • Darker or low-toned colors can also be dangerous if you plan on running on an off-path trail or hiking in the mountains. 
  • You may not think of black or grey as aggressive hues, but insects such as wasps and bees naturally associate darker shades with predators like bears or skunks. Brightly colored and preferably reflective shoes are the best defense against these stinging creatures. 

Bright Colors Always Sell 

  • Neon really became popular in the 2012 London Olympics where high-profile runners began sporting the bright color. Since then, neon has been a sought-after color for running shoes. 
  • In terms of marketing, bright colors are simply a smarter, more profitable decision. Neon is often associated with being “sporty” or with being a “serious” runner. Adding bright neon to shoes allowed marketers to target people who identified themselves as devoted, advanced athletes. 

Novelty 

  • It all comes down to consumerism. Aside from marketing to serious runners, companies take advantage of the material malaise American consumers often find themselves in. 
  • According to CNBC, Americans buy new footwear for themselves every six months, while 48% claim they buy new shoes for their children every four to six months. 
  • Because children’s shoes are cycled out more, there is more of a profit margin. Naturally, brightly colored shoes will attract the younger demographic. 
  • Consumers simply want new things as the season’s change. 
  • Visual changes to products have a dramatic impact on sales. 
  • People (or rather, runners), look for fresh Spring hues as winter draws to a close. Therefore, companies constantly change or brighten the colors of their shoes because they understand that people respond to novelty. 

The Psychology Behind Colorful Running Shoes

  • Colors simply have an impact on our psychology. 
  • Like all personality types, runners identify with things that align with their personal “brand” or that give them a goal towards a physical ideal. 
  • As mentioned, neon became the sporty color associated with long-distance running. 
  • Yet plenty of bright colors on shoes, such as pink, blue, and orange, are all colors that motivate runners to run. Slipping into a snug, bright sun washed pair of Clove Supernova’s helps runners stay motivated as they increase their speed and distance. 
  • Colorful shoes also deepen the sense of camaraderie in settings like group hikes or marathons, strengthening their personal identities as runners and motivating them to march on. 

What is the Best Color for Running Shoes? 

Consider the Ground You Tread

The most important factor to consider when buying new shoes (and the level of color brightness) is the ground you walk on. 

Will you run on asphalt? Or will you run on grass or dirt? 

Color affects heat absorption, so you have to account for the heat of the summer, along with your internal temperature, and the heat of the surface. Asphalt is a known shoe-killer. It wears and tears the shoes not only due to the concrete, but the hard surface also absorbs heat and can affect the quality of your shoes. 

If color is important to you, then running on asphalt is not ideal, as the heat intensity and light cause vibrant colors to fade. 

If you happen to be running in the heat of the summer on asphalt, then white soles would be a better choice. Black absorbs the heat of light, while white reflects it.

Black soles are often a good choice for rougher surfaces because they are made from carbon rubber, making them super durable for tougher, longer runs. The color of the top surface of your shoe shouldn’t matter too much in the light of day if you are running in a general suburban area or the city. 

Take the Seasons Into Account 

While the summer heat can affect which color of shoes you choose, winter has less of an impact on coloring. However, keep in mind that we humans are extremely subject to our environment. 

Colors during the winter can have a major impact on your psyche. 

Especially if you’re an avid runner or athlete who needs motivation. 

Winter is known to dampen people’s moods and energy levels, so be sure to pick a bright color that will keep you upbeat and motivated. 

Should Running Shoes Be Colorful? 

For safety reasons, running shoes should be colorful so others are mindful of your presence. You should also take into account the color and heat absorption of the surface you run on. 

Keep in mind that the colors of our shoes are mainly social and psychological markers that allow us to have a rewarding running experience, whether it’s with a large marathon group or a solo run up the trail. 

Beyond that, the color vibrancy is completely up to you. 

Sources 

Cosmopolitan 

The New York Times, Running in the Dazzle of Neon

The New York Times, The Secret Psychology of Sneaker Colors

Fashion and Mash, Why Are Running Shoes Ugly?

Mark Norman

I've been running for over 6 years and now try to balance it with life as a dad to two young kids. I'm not super quick, I just try to run consistently, not always easy! I'm lucky enough to have run the London Marathon twice along with countless other half marathons and 10ks. I'm also one of the Run Directors at my local parkrun.

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