This sneaker thing is nothing new to most of us—the days of balling for your school, Boys and Girls Club, and 3-on-3s was usually the reason you were trying to con every adult out of extra cash at 12. Lacing up in whatever your favorite player was donning on the court was everything, and you weren’t shit if you hooped in Spaldings (sorry Hakeem).
Back then it was simple: You grabbed a pair of Nike Pennys, some Champion Orlando Magic shorts and that was your steez off and on the court. You were comfortable, looked cool, and the girls always chose someone who could hoop over the nice guy. But as I got older, the game changed.
Now, I’m copping sneakers to complete my everyday style, and maybe score six points in an intramural game (if someone forgets they’re guarding me a few times). Long gone are the days of wearing baggy jeans and a T-shirt with a pair of Js, and even some of the most prominent sneaker collectors post to Instagram with crippling anxiety that they might get hit with that #NTDenim hashtag, or become a meme if their shit is wack.
When I first started at Complex in 2011, I had a great sneaker rotation, but I also had an Android at the time—so there isn’t a complete history to some of my shitty outfits on Instagram. My go-to “Fire Red” Jordan IIIs weres flames, but my bootcut Express jeans weren’t really helping the cause. Thankfully, one of my mentors at Complex was kind enough to point out that my style was straight up awful.
In my defense, I live in Indianapolis, and New York’s version of “awful” is still halfway-decent in Naptown. I realized that there were indeed levels to this, and it was time for me to step my game up. It started by dropping a few bills on a pair of A.P.C. jeans. I felt like Michael Scott on casual Friday. My cuffed selvedge denim with the visible Jordan III tongue sticking out from beneath was already a huge upgrade from my previous strugglemania style.
Just like when Hov verbally ended the throwback movement on “What More Can I Say” in 2003, a lot of the sneaker and hip-hop culture was pushing things in a new direction in 2011. The whole culture was shifting towards more high-end tastes, thanks to the influence of rappers like Kanye West, Jay Z, and Kid Cudi. Sure, there are people who don’t really care what celebrities are wearing, but I’m not one of them. Jordans and other retro basketball shoes always resonated with people that grew up watching the greats embarrass their foes night after night, but these celebrities took it to a whole new level.
Blogs started writing in-depth features about the labels and clothes these rappers were wearing. Any coincidence that in ’06 every J sat on shelves, but once you saw them on certain celebs in 2010 eBay started caking off people slinging their unwanteds? To kids born in the ‘90s, Yeezy is responsible for a lot of the Jordan hype because he wore them on stage in front of 20,000 people bouncing through hit after hit. For many, that was their a-ha moment. That was their first exposure to Jordans.
Biting is fundamental to establishing your own style. Building off previous trends and getting confidence from knowing someone else has co-signed something makes it easier to try to rock it yourself. That doesn’t mean my clothes can get as weird as A$AP Rocky’s, but I can jump online and get inspired to borrow some of his looks for myself.
I quickly went from a huge fan of the history of sneakers and getting my hands on anything I liked to a full-fledged hypebeast wanting to have the head-to-toe luxury look. Pharrell once said, “You can design your life—whatever you want it to be, there’s a blueprint for it. And that’s the fun part: creating the blueprint and following the instructions.”
That quote always stuck with me because he was right, even though I was from a town of 600 people where Old Navy and Wrangler reigned supreme, there was nothing stopping me from having a look that fit my personality better. Picking up some dope shoes doesn’t really take an immense amount of talent, but building a style around that is what gives a person a new level of confidence.
Now, instead of just grabbing whatever shirt or jeans I see, I’m more strategic about my pick-ups. I have a few hundred shoes and a lot of crazy colors, so picking greys and blacks for everything else in my wardrobe gives the look a lot more range. I buy more well-constructed essentials like Naked and Famous jeans along with John Elliott + Co. hoodies as an investment that I can wear for years, and they look a lot better than poorly-manufactured stuff that sells for less.
I always go back to that Pharrell quote and how much it has influenced my sartorial decisions. No one is mistaking me for a tastemaker in the style realm, but it’s awesome to look at how far I've evolved. My affinity with sneakers and hip-hop culture hasn't changed, it's just gotten better with age. What’s your life look like? What’s the blueprint for that design? It doesn’t have to be as extreme as my transformation from A&F ripped jeans to Kith Joggers, but putting some rhyme and reason to what you’re into and how your style can reflect that is definitely worth it.