Picture a "sneakerhead" and you'll likely think of some guy waiting outside a store for days before the release of a new pair of kicks. But it's not just guys.
Take Megan "Megz" Alfonso, a Long Islander and contestant on this season's "So You Think You Can Dance." Alfonso, 29, moved to Suffolk County from the Bronx at age 6 and started studying dance -- from ballet to hip-hop -- at her cousin's dance studio, Michelle Ferraro's Dance USA, in Coram. Hip-hop requires spring and leapability, so perhaps it's no surprise she recently bought five new pairs of sneakers, one for each elimination round she survived. (She made it to the top six, getting cut just before the finals.) It was "a good reward," she says. Mind you, she already owns some 400 pairs. "They're at home . . . cleaned and nicely stored, just chillin' till I come home and wear them again."
Or there's DJ Samantha Ronson, who keeps track of her large collection in a binder with "pictures of each shoe and which box they're in -- super crazy," she says, appearing in a new documentary called "Sneakerheadz."
These female fans have always been out there. Now brands are taking notice.
"The sneakerhead world is not just for men," notes Shannon Depew, a manager at the stylish Sneakerology chain. Depew estimates women make up about 45 percent of her business, with a slight rise this year thanks to better women's products hitting the market.
"Females are coming into the store more," agrees Jason Faustino, co-owner of Extra Butter, a sneakerhead mecca in Rockville Centre and Manhattan's Lower East Side. The women run the gamut, he says, from those drawn to "girlie" styling (like Reebok's Instapump Fury made for the "Cinderella" remake in June) to purists seeking "men's retros" in their size.
The industry has traditionally been a bit aloof as far as women are concerned. Pro athletes given sneaker deals are almost all men -- seriously, Serena Williams still doesn't have her own sneaker? -- and brands often don't even bother making sneakers in women's sizes.
But that bias may be waning, as more women design shoes, including those at adidas (Stella McCartney), Nike (artist Vashtie Kola, the first female designer of Air Jordans) and Puma (DJ Solange Knowles, graphic artist Sophia Chang and superstar Rihanna, the brand's newly minted creative director).
"Designers of women's shoes are smarter in general now," Faustino says. "It's not a girl shoe just because it has pink in it."
That's good news for Alfonso.
"Women should embrace sneakers -- don't be shy about it," she says. "If you love sneakers, wear sneakers. If you're a heel girl, great. It's not a right or wrong. I've always loved sneakers . . . because they just feel good when you put them on. You feel like . . . a new person."
"Sneaker Culture" in Brooklyn
Sneakers as art? The Brooklyn Museum says yes, with arguably this summer's most intriguing exhibition. "The Rise of Sneaker Culture" offers a history of kicks dating back to the 1800s, with some 150 pairs culled from Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum and avid collectors (like Run DMC's Darryl McDaniels). Legendary pairs on display include the very first Converse All-Star from 1917 (with black, not today's standard white, soles), Dominion Rubber Company women's sneakers circa 1925 (with rubber sole and ladylike high heel) and the first Nike Foamposite from 1997 (with its mind-blowing shape). They've got the first Air Jordans and Kanye West's adidas Yeezy Boost, too; running through October 4; for info call 718-638-5000 or visit brooklynmuseum.org.