Hush Puppies are a brand of shoe. The original Hush Puppies were invented in 1957 by Jim Muir. Muir felt there was a need for a soft, casual shoe made using a new suede tanning process. He designed a set of Oxford shoes from the suede. But what to call his new shoe? He noticed a friend would give the hush puppy dish as described above to his barking hounds. The hounds were immediately quieted by this treat.1 Muir reasoned since aching feet were called "barking dogs", a brand of shoe called "Hush Puppies" would imply a comfy shoe that quieted your aching feet.
The shoes sold quite well in the '60s and '70. However by the 1980s and early 1990s the brand was thoroughly old fashioned. They were the ultimate dork shoes. It was the Oldsmobile of shoes. It was the shoe your 50something dad bought, had about 14 pairs in his closet, and never threw out. And with the boomers moving into their 50somethings, even they were still hip enough not to buy Hush Puppies.
Pretty much the Hush Puppies traditional clientele was dying off. The company that owned the line, Wolverine, was located in Rockport, Michigan. Not exactly New York or Paris or Milan when it comes to the footware trade. Sales were down to about 30,000 pairs and the company that owned the brand was about to kill off the line.
But then something strange happened. As Malcolm Gladwell documented in his book The Tipping Point, sales jumped in the space of a year. In 1994 sales went from 30,000 (an amount that would be considered a rounding error at Nike) to over 400,000. Pretty soon Hollywood celebrities and top fashion designers were walking around in what everyone had assumed was a terminally un-hip shoe.
The Hush Puppies people discovered the shoe's unhip nature was the appeal. A group of hip kids in New York decided to differentiate themselves from other kids by wearing a shoe even many parents would not longer be caught dead in. From there, the trend went from innovators to influential early adopters like rock stars and fashion models and then became a major fashion trend.
This was apparently a common way of keeping dogs quiet in the south. The dish seems to have gotten its name from that act. The legend goes during the Civil War
, people would keep their dogs quiet by feeling them the cornmeal
balls, thereby not altering any Yankee troops to their presence.