A few years back, I wrote a piece on the best years in sneaker history. I did my research and tried to take everything into consideration—from technological breakthroughs to significant endorsements to beautiful designs. I ranked 1987 first, and the then-current year (2012) 7th, with the explanation that “if the current year isn’t one of the best years in sneaker history, then there’s something wrong.” The sentiment was accurate. The ranking wasn’t. Things have never been better than they are right now.
I know, I know. Things are terrible now. There are resellers and site crashes and—gasp—sneakers that sell out within minutes. There are fakes, sneaker conventions are overrun by teenagers sporting fistfuls of their mom’s money and Jordan just re-retroed that pair you’ve had on ice since 2008. It’s one tragedy after another. Poor sneakerheads.
But hold on a second. Sneaker conventions? Those didn’t exist back in the so-called golden era of the ‘80s and ‘90s. The only convention connected in any way to a sneaker back then was the Nike Convention, a basketball shoe produced in 1986. And if you happened to like that shoe in 1986 and didn’t get a pair, well, sorry. Outside of digging through some grime-infested sporting goods store basement, you were never going to see a pair of those again.
It’s downright startling how much people in general—and sneakerheads in particular—take for granted now. Oh, Nike Store’s Captcha process is annoying? Foot Locker’s mobile site went down again? Hey, you know what else? YOU CAN BUY SNEAKERS ON YOUR PHONE. Sneakers from virtually any era, from virtually anywhere in the world. Sometimes with free global shipping. Forget the ‘80s and ‘90s, this would have been dismissed as a fever dream even 10 years ago. But oh, right, the ones you really wanted sold out in your size, so everything sucks.
It’s downright startling how much people in general—and sneakerheads in particular—take for granted now.
Put down the phone for a moment—or use it to get directions—and head to the nearest sneaker store. Preferably a corporate one (don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone). Walk in there and look at the sneaker walls. Just look at them. Don’t look for anything in particular, just take it all in. That selection, if the store is big enough, probably represents more brands and styles than dropped in an entire year of the ‘80s or ‘90s. And most of those, barring the most limited, top-tier product, will a) go on sale, and b) not go out of style. It’s hard to clown someone for wearing last year’s shoe when fully half the styles on the market came out 20 or 30 years ago, and when putting pairs on ice is a fully accepted practice.
But that’s not all! Don’t like anything you see in-store? Fine. Virtually every brand offers their own custom program, from Made in USA New Balances to wildly patterned Vans. Nike not only offers current signature models, but a wide variety of classics—from Air Force 1s and Dunks to Air Flight 89s. And adidas has just launched its mi ZX Flux app, which allows anyone to apply a photo print (provided it’s not copyrighted) to ZX Fluxes. This is the golden era of customs, too. And there are always new releases dropping. It’s like Mark Twain once said about the weather in in New England—don’t like it? Wait five minutes. Make it a week, and that’s how sneakers go.
Still don’t believe me? Still rather be in the late ‘80s or the mid ‘90s? Quality was better, you say. The air bags were bigger, and there’s still those pairs that haven’t retroed yet. Fine. Look at all those models from ‘87 or ‘96 or whatever, and pick one. Maybe two. Because that’s all you would have gotten. Hundred-pair collections are commonplace now, but they sure weren’t then. Even NBA players (save for Michael Jordan himself) made do with a couple pairs over the course of a season.
I don’t mean for this to be a get-off-my-lawn thing, and I apologize if it comes off that way. Because I’m guilty, too. And I bet I’m not the only one with a storage unit full (OK, half-full) of sneakers who takes it personally when that new hotness sells out in a size 10 before I can even open Safari. Instead of lamenting what you didn’t get, appreciate what you have. Instead of wishing it was a different time, look at the embarrassment of riches there are now. It’s a challenge, to be sure. But all you need to change is your perspective.
Russ Bengtson is a senior staff writer at Complex and still complains about stuff himself. You can follow him on Twitter here.