Reviewed & updated: September 11, 2023 by Jamie Wilson BA
Let’s cut to the chase—sneakers aren’t just gym gear anymore; they’re a badge of style, an extension of culture, and, dare I say, a lifestyle. Sure, we’ve come a long way from the track-and-field basics of yesteryears. But some classics refuse to fade amidst the flood of high-tech kicks and designer collaborations. That’s what we’re diving into today: the iconic men’s sneakers that have stood the test of time and trend.
You know their names: Nike Air Max 1, Adidas Superstar, Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star, Reebok Classic Leather, and Vans Old Skool. These aren’t just shoes; they’re cultural milestones that’ve walked through decades of changes and come out the other side looking even better. Some have even been through the fashion spin cycle more times than you can count, and they’re still rocking the shelves and streets.
So grab a seat; we’re about to walk you through the all-stars of sneakerdom—those game-changing gems that have elevated street cred and wardrobe games for generations. Whether you’re a sneakerhead or someone looking to level up your footwear game, this list is your playbook. Let’s lace up and dive in.
Nike Air Jordan 1
The AJ1 isn’t just a sneaker; it’s a piece of sports and fashion history. Designed for the only Michael Jordan in 1985, this shoe was game-changing on and off the court. Banned by the NBA, the AJ1 only elevated its mythic status. It’s an irreplaceable staple for collectors, hype beasts, and hoop fans alike.
Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star
The Chuck Taylor All-Star has been turning heads since 1917. From basketball courts to punk clubs, its canvas upper became a canvas for self-expression. Not only is it a cultural magnet, but it’s also easy on the wallet, solidifying its status as an everyday go-to.
Vans Old Skool
Launched as a skate shoe in ’77, the Vans Old Skool jumped its lane into mainstream extraordinary. The iconic side stripe and low-top construct make it an emblem and a canvas for fresh designs. Durable? Check. Stylish? Double-check.
Reebok Classic Leather
Sneaker gold from the ’80s era, the Reebok Classic Leather had it all: minimalistic design, comfort, and versatility. This shoe isn’t just a flashback; it’s a go-to choice that straddles the line between casual kicks and polished footwear.
Originally a basketball trailblazer in the ’70s, the Adidas Superstar quickly shot to street culture stardom, getting a nod from hip-hop greats. While it’s reinvented itself through collaborations and color pops, the black-and-white classic still wears the crown.
Born in ’68 and transcending decades of style and subcultures, the Puma Suede brought fresh meaning to leisure shoes. Whether it’s rap or breakdancing, this shoe has been there, done that, and still retains its cred.
New Balance 990
Introduced in 1982, the New Balance 990 was groundbreaking, incorporating tech like the Encap midsole. Its American craftsmanship, and retro-runner vibe have transitioned it from the tracks to the streets effortlessly.
Asics Gel-Lyte III
In 1990, the Asics Gel-Lyte III fused advanced tech with a future-forward aesthetic. Its Gel cushioning and unique split tongue weren’t just revolutionary for runners; they also made it a hit among sneakerheads.
The ’80s brought us many greats, and the Saucony Jazz is no exception. Initially a runner’s dream, consistent quality and tech have allowed it to transition into a style staple, frequently getting color and pattern updates.
Nike Air Max 1
The game-changer that made air visible in ’87, the Nike Air Max 1 combined comfort and color in a way that revolutionized the sneaker industry. Whether it’s new drops or collabs, the Air Max 1 remains on the high-demand list.
Adidas Originals Stan Smith
Born on the tennis courts in 1971, Stan Smith has become a wardrobe mainstay. Its unchanging clean white upper is its strength and charm, making it eternally relevant through high-profile collabs and pop culture.
Nike Air Force 1
Worn by everyone from ballers to rappers, the Air Force 1 set a new standard for basketball shoes while earning its street cred. Known for its air cushioning and robust construction, this shoe transcends trends.
Common Projects Achilles
Elevating sneakers into the luxury realm in 2004, Common Projects’ Achilles model redefined minimalism in footwear. Quality craftsmanship and attention to detail have made it the blueprint for high-end sneakers.
Gucci’s Ace entered the scene in 2016 as the luxury brand’s stake in the sneaker game. Its signature web stripe and varying designs have made it a preferred choice among those looking for high-fashion kicks.
Introduced in 2015, the Ultraboost redefined running shoes with its Boost midsole and Primeknit upper. More than just a sports shoe, its stylish silhouette and Three Stripes branding have made it a modern classic.
Hitting the streets in ’72, the Nike Cortez has had its ups and downs in fashion but has always remained iconic. Made famous by Forrest Gump, its slim sole and bold Swoosh continues to make it a popular choice.
Balenciaga Triple S
A staple since 2017, the Balenciaga Triple S set the stage for chunky sneakers. Its exaggerated proportions and audacious colorways are not just a fashion statement but a status symbol in the sneaker community.
Looking to defy the norms? This chunky-soled lousy boy known as the Fila Disruptor did just that. A relic from the ’90s, its aggressive lines and oversized branding make it a love-or-hate situation, but it’s essential for those who like to make a statement. Great for urban streetwear. Pair it with slim-fit jeans to balance out the chunkiness.
Here’s the epitome of modern comfort. With its Boost midsole, the Adidas NMD shot to fame like a star in the sneaker galaxy, proving you don’t have to sacrifice comfort for style. These are versatile enough to go from a gym session to a night out; no change is required.
Reebok Instapump Fury
If ever there were a sneaker that looked like it dropped out of a time machine, it’s the Instapump Fury. Its tech-forward design might’ve seemed overkill in the ’90s, but it’s retro-futuristic cool today. These kicks are so unique they can make any outfit. Try them with simpler garments to let them take center stage.
Born on the basketball court, the Nike Dunk segued effortlessly into the street-style hall of fame. Its minimal design means you can dress it up or down, making it the Swiss Army knife of sneakers. For a more sophisticated look, go for muted or classic colorways. They go well with everything, including tailored trousers.
New Balance 574
A staple for the everyday man, the 574 is comfort and style wrapped in suede and mesh. Its timeless design means you’re as likely to spot it on college kids as on dads doing the school run. Because of their timeless design, these can be paired with casual and slightly dressier attire.
The Gazelle is the James Dean of sneakers—consistently excellent, timeless, and effortlessly stylish. You’ve found your match if you’re in the market for something versatile that speaks volumes. These are a safe bet for literally any occasion. Even office casual when you’re tired of loafers.
Nike Air Jordan 3
The Jordan 3 is so iconic that even non-sneakerheads recognize its prowess. With Tinker Hatfield’s signature aesthetics and an Air unit, it’s a masterpiece in footwear design. Since they’re a bold choice, keep the rest of your outfit neutral. These kicks deserve to shine.
Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66
Looking for something understated but iconic? Enter the Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66. This shoe’s minimalist design and rich history make it a must-have for the understated, stylish guy. Ideal for a casual day out. Works best with chinos or shorts for that laid-back look.
Adidas Originals SL80
These sneaks are for the collector in you. Their history tied to the Moscow Olympics makes them a great conversation starter. Could you keep them in pristine condition? They’re not just shoes; they’re a slice of history.
New Balance M1300JP
Simplicity is the name of the game with this gem. Don’t let the modest design fool you; these are a collector’s dream. Given their limited releases, if you snag a pair, treat them like gold.
Nike Air Jordan 4
The Jordan 4s redefined how athletic shoes could look, period. The blend of performance and style was groundbreaking and remains a head-turner today. Ideal for standing out without saying a word. Keep them clean, and they’ll do all the talking.
Converse Chuck Taylor Hi-Top
The OG sneaker that never grows old. Perfect for anyone, anywhere, at any time. Wear them till they’re worn out. They only get better with age.
Common Project Achilles Low
Minimalism at its best. If you’re the kind of guy who appreciates quality over flash, this is your sneaker. Keep them polished, and they’re good for even semi-formal gatherings.
There you have it, gents. Whether you’re a sneaker veteran or just stepping into the game, this guide has something for everyone. After all, the right pair of kicks is the foundation of any killer outfit. So, go ahead, pick your favorite, and stride in style.
What Makes These Sneakers Iconic And Culturally Significant?
Great question, and one that hits the heart of why some kicks become more than footwear. First off, longevity is a significant factor. Models like the Converse Chuck Taylor have been around for decades, and staying power makes them shoes and pieces of cultural history. They transcend time, becoming classics handed down from generation to generation.
Then you’ve got sneakers like the Air Jordans that shifted the whole landscape in sports, fashion, and lifestyle. Being backed by legends like Michael Jordan and designed by visionaries like Tinker Hatfield, they became more than just basketball shoes; they became aspirational items. When you lace up a pair of Jordans, you’re not just wearing shoes; you’re wearing a legacy.
Innovation also plays a role. The Adidas NMD with its Boost technology or the Reebok Instapump Fury with its inflatable pump system pushed the envelope, offering novel combinations of comfort, performance, and style. They reset the expectations of what a sneaker should be and do.
Cultural endorsements and collaborations further elevate a sneaker’s status. When a sneak becomes synonymous with movements in music, fashion, or sport (think Adidas Gazelle and Britpop), it becomes a symbol of that culture. Collaborations with designers, artists, or high-profile brands can make a sneaker an event, a statement, and sometimes even a collector’s item.
Lastly, let’s consider the power of design and aesthetics. A sneaker’s visual appeal—its colorways, silhouette, and branding—can deeply resonate with people and become iconic in its own right. Sometimes, a sneak becomes the epitome of a particular style or trend, like the Fila Disruptor becoming the face of the ‘ugly sneaker’ trend.
So, when you’re lacing up any of these iconic sneakers, you’re not just putting on shoes—you’re stepping into a rich cultural story packed with history, innovation, and many styles.
13 Sneaker Collaborations That Are Iconic.
- Nike Air Jordan 3: Tinker Hatfield introduced an elephant print and the first-ever visible Air unit in the sole. These features became signature elements, not just for Jordans but for sneakers in general.
- Adidas NMD: Boost midsole tech wasn’t just about comfort; it became a design feature that Adidas would utilize across various other models. The Primeknit upper gave it a sleek, modern aesthetic, too.
- Reebok Instapump Fury: The inflatable pump system is the show’s star. It’s not only functional but also a unique design element that stands out.
- Converse Chuck Taylor: Simplicity at its finest. The canvas upper and the rubber sole have remained virtually unchanged since its introduction. It’s the epitome of classic.
- Fila Disruptor: Love ’em or hate ’em, the exaggerated, chunky sole became iconic, creating a niche in the ‘ugly sneaker’ trend.
- New Balance 574: It’s the ENCAP cushioning for me. And remember the classic ‘N’ logo, which symbolized understated style.
- Adidas Gazelle: The slim profile and the iconic three stripes became synonymous with multiple subcultures, from skateboarding to hip-hop and Britpop.
- Nike Dunk: This one has seen so many collaborations it takes a lot of work to keep track. The simplicity of the design makes it a perfect canvas for experimentation, leading to some sick limited-edition releases.
- Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66: The classic stripe design and the minimalist construction have kept it relevant for decades.
- Adidas Originals SL80: Its heritage as an Olympic sneaker and vintage vibes have contributed to its lasting appeal.
- New Balance M1300JP: It’s not just the $100 price tag that made headlines. The combination of quality materials and clean, straightforward design keeps it in demand.
- Nike Air Jordan 4: Apart from the Air unit and the Jumpman logo, what really sells it are the varied textures and materials, from mesh inserts to leather panels.
- Common Project Achilles Low: Its minimalist design and high-quality construction make it a versatile pair that fits almost any outfit or occasion.
So, these aren’t just shoes if you’re a sneakerhead or just getting into the game. They’re technological marvels, cultural icons, and style statements all rolled into one. Know what you’re lacing up; it might just up your sneaker game.
10 Other Iconic Sneakers You Might Not Have Considered
Absolutely, there are a ton of sneakers out there that have carved out their own space in the history books. We can’t cover them all, but here are a few that should’ve made the cut:
- Vans Old Skool: Introduced in the ’70s, these became a skateboarding essential. The side-stripe design is an icon in its own right.
- Asics Gel-Lyte III: Introduced in 1990, they’re known for their split tongue design and cushioned sole. A staple among runners and casual wearers alike.
- Puma Suede: Debuted in 1968, these kicks have a special place in athletic and civil rights history, famously worn by Tommie Smith at the ’68 Olympics.
- Nike Air Max 1: Released in 1987, it was the first shoe to feature a visible air pocket in the sole, revolutionizing both design and tech for sneakers.
- Stan Smith by Adidas: These tennis shoes turned fashion icons have been popular since the ’70s. Their minimalistic design has kept them timeless.
- Nike Air Force 1: Released in 1982, these were the first basketball shoes to feature Nike Air technology. Their massive cultural impact can’t be understated, spanning hip-hop to streetwear.
- Puma Clyde: Named after basketball player Walt “Clyde” Frazier, this sneaker became an enduring symbol of the ’70s style.
- Yeezy Boost 350: A collaboration between Kanye West and Adidas, it’s become a modern-day classic thanks to its unique design and limited releases.
- Saucony Jazz: Originally a running shoe, it’s gained a second life as a casual, vintage-inspired fashion staple.
- Nike SB Dunk: Originally a basketball shoe, the SB Dunk was re-engineered for skateboarding and has had some of the most memorable collaborations.
Bottom line? The sneaker game is rich and diversified. Whether you’re into techy, modern styles or the classics that paved the way, there’s something for everyone. So don’t sleep on these other icons; each has a story and style worth exploring.
The sneaker game is more versatile than ever, offering you a range of styles to match whatever vibe you’re aiming for. From iconic classics to contemporary hits, each has its own place and purpose in your wardrobe. The main tip? Choose wisely based on your needs and tastes, not just hype. The risk is ending up with a pair that collects dust because they need to fit into your lifestyle. But with some homework—and maybe some soul-searching about your style—you can avoid buyer’s remorse. So, whether you’re stepping into the sneaker scene for the first time or looking to elevate your collection, now’s the time to make your move. After all, a man’s shoes say a lot about him—ensure you speak the correct language. Cheers!