The word “iconic,” especially when it pertains to sneakers, should be eliminated from the English vocabulary. It often gets thrown around too loosely and legendary status gets applied to shoes that no one wanted 10 years ago. But there are a few footwear choices that won’t waver in their popularity, no matter how much trends change over time.
Converse’s Chuck Taylor has been around since 1917 and the Stan Smith is adidas’ best-selling sneaker ever. That’s for good reason: the brands got the sneakers right the first time around and haven’t changed much since. In fact, there’s only a select few designs that deserve to be purchased time and time again. To make things simpler for everyone and to set the record straight on which shoes actually deserve the label of being iconic, here are 10 Sneakers You Must Have in Your Collection.
Thanks to Stadium Goods for providing sneakers for the shoot.
Air Jordan 3
Do we really need to school you on these? Since we already know you agree that these are a must to have in your rotation, here are some bullet points why:
1) The Story: These Tinker Hatfield-designed IIIs saved Michael Jordan from jumping ship and going to adidas.
2) The History: Spike Lee ads. Jordan won the 1988 Dunk Contest in them.
3) Aesthetically: These look better than any sneaker brand new.
4) Also: These look better than 99.9 percent of sneakers when they're beat up.
5) Gone for a Minute: Jordan Brand doesn't plan to release these again anytime soon, but when they do, be ready. —JLP
Nike Air Force 1
The Air Force 1 was an icon well before Nelly immortalized it in a song, starting its legacy in ‘82 and evolving both as basketball shoe, and a canvas for some of the greatest designs and collaborations in Nike’s archives. While we may consider it more of a lifestyle shoe today thanks to initial popularity in New York City (shouts to Harlem) and Baltimore, you simply can’t deny that Bruce Kilgore’s design has lived on through basketball, as worn by players such as Moses Malone and Rasheed Wallace. The Air Force 1 is a staple for anyone who wants an all-white sneaker for the summer, and it embodies the sneaker wearer’s search to stay fresh—as Jay Z once said, “We been together like Nike Airs and crisp tees.” The shoe has gone from its original white-and-gray version, to a Made in Italy style for the “Anaconda Lux Masterpiece,” to Riccardo Tisci and Supreme collaborations. It’s the sneaker that anyone can wear, and if there’s a place to start, it’s definitely with a white pair. —Gregory Babcock
adidas Stan Smith
I can’t say anything here about the Stan Smith that hasn’t been said hundreds of times over the past two years as the sneaker has undergone its second chance at life. I also won’t be able to change your mind about whether you like it or not. But to ignore the Stan Smith’s appeal is to be nothing more than ignorant. It's a shoe with a shape that's not too sleek or too chunky, a price point that hits the definition of “affordable,” with design details—like the colored heel tab—that are distinctive and defining without being obnoxious. It’s not easy to strike a recipe so well-rounded and that’s why the Stan Smith was popular for so long before leaving the market and returning to a king’s welcome. It’s been embraced (and copied) by the fashion industry to an obscene degree and turned on its head and modified so many times that to have a collection made up exclusively Stan Smiths wouldn’t look crazy. It’s adidas’ most successful shoe of all-time for a reason. —Skylar Bergl
Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star
The Chuck Taylor is far and away the oldest sneaker on this list, and it’s not even close. The first rendition released 99 years ago in 1917, yet the simple design—a basic rubber sole with textile upper, rubber toe cap and laces that ride up the ankle—remains not only one of the few seminal designs in the sneaker world, but it’s also among the most copied, replicated and ripped-off. It’s inspired innumerable high-fashion and affordable sneakers copycats alike and is so enduring that it only recently received an update in the form of a Lunarlon insole and minute details. The fact that a shoe could not only survive, but thrive, for damn near a century before receiving any sort of improvement almost feels like a bad business practice. But when you consider that everyone, including rappers, rockers, punks, thugs, power lifters, fashion dudes and anyone in between has worn Chuck Taylors at some point, it’s easy to see. The brand hasn’t simply produced and sold Chucks for nearly forever, resting on its laurels either. It’s broadened the scope of the sneaker, collaborating with damn near everyone from artists to fashion houses in the process. Even though plenty of other sneakers on this list look nothing like Chucks, they all owe a debt of gratitude for showing that a basketball shoe can become the go-to lifestyle sneaker. —Skylar Bergl
Nike Flyknit Racer
As the Nike Flyknit approaches its four-year anniversary, the innovation has already become as impactful to the company as other signature technologies like Air and Free. During last year’s Investors Day meeting, Nike revealed that it expected the Flyknit franchise to be worth over one billion dollars in 2016—a feat that took the Free a decade to achieve. With 28 different models in the Flyknit line, consumers have a wide array of products to choose from, but there’s one clear style that’s spearheaded the charge of knitted sneakers for Nike: the Flyknit Racer. As the debut pair alongside the now-discontinued Flyknit Trainer, the Racer was designed as a performance sneaker for marathon runners, but was quickly embraced as a fashion sneaker. Its sleek shape, one-piece upper, and simple weave pattern makes it an easy sneaker to integrate with casual clothing. And with key colorways like “Black/White,” “Oreo,” and “Multicolor,” it’s no wonder the Racer has become just as much of a staple to fashion as it is to sports. With over 500 Flyknit patents to date, including one that will allow customers to make their own patterns, Nike’s still unlocking the possibilities that exist with the knitted innovation, and you can be sure the Racer will be part of those plans. —John Marcelo
After the adidas Superstar made its debut in 1969, the low-top basketball sneaker with its signature shell toe design was quickly adopted on the court by none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. While the Superstar’s roots are in basketball, its staying power is through hip-hop. In 1986, Run-D.M.C. declared its love for the sneaker on “My Adidas,” and it became a staple for b-boys to wear with their Three Stripes tracksuits. Fast forward to 2016, and unlike ‘80s hip-hop staples like Kangol hats and dookie chains, the adidas Superstar has stood the test of time, celebrating more than 45 years in the game. Its versatile silhouette and simple color blocking—plus its price and accessibility—make the Superstar an ideal everyday sneaker. —John Marcelo
Nike Air Max 1
Tinker Hatfield had a crazy idea in the late ‘80s: He wanted to expose Nike’s Air cushioning system to the world, and he did it with a little inspiration from Paris’ Centre Pompidou. The result was 1987’s Air Max 1, which was the first sneaker the brand made with a visible Air unit. Hatfield made the bold move of coloring up the shoe in white and red. What was even more impressive was the legacy that would follow the shoe. The Air Max 1, its technical innovations aside, has found itself a firm place amongst sneaker connoisseurs and can be credited for birthing the fanaticism around running shoes. The silhouette of the Air Max 1 has the right height and puff to the tongue to make it a great option to wear with pants. Nearly any jean sits perfectly atop of the shoe. And even though there have been numerous limited and pricey iterations made, the original white-and-red version is still the best one to date. And, in my humble opinion, the best sneaker ever. —Matt Welty
New Balance 998
A lot of people wear New Balance sneakers for a lot of reasons. Menswear guys hopped onto the New England brand because of its American-made roots and the simple design of the shoes. But true sneaker aficionados love New Balance because of the brand’s overall quality and that its best sneakers are a throwback to when footwear design was advanced, but didn’t try too hard. It might cause a fight trying to pinpoint the best New Balance shoe of all time, but we’re going to say it flat out: It’s the 998. It’s the sneaker that won’t take too much effort to track down and won’t go out of style in the near future. Its pigskin suede upper and Abzorb midsole are good enough selling points for why someone should own this shoe, but it can also be worn with sportswear, jeans, or a suit. People are going to argue and say that the 997, 577, or 1500 are better, but if you only have one pair of New Balance sneakers, this is it. —Matt Welty
Here’s the thing about the Authentic, a model Vans debuted in 1966: It’s really simple, which means you can wear it anywhere, until it can’t be worn. No, it’s not the ideal skate shoe—the similarly stripped-down Era, with its padding, bests it in that regard—but that’s beside the point. The Authentic’s understated design lends itself to basically any colorway, a fact that each subsequent release and collab reiterates. In 2066, when we’re ordering our sneakers through retail chips implanted in our brains, yet another capsule that includes Authentics will no doubt be on offer. And we won’t be mad at our dystopian future world for it. —Lucas Wisenthal
Air Jordan 1
There were signature shoes before 1985’s Nike Air Jordan, but none would be the same after. Nike had a lot riding on the rookie, and as such, put a lot of thought into—and marketing might behind—the shoe. Structurally, it wasn’t all that different from Nike basketball offerings prior. But designer Peter Moore added something extra aesthetically with the ball-and-wings “Air Jordan” logo and an initial red, black and white three-color scheme that was unprecedented on basketball shoes. Jordan debuted the shoe in November of ‘84, Nike aired some clever commercials, and by the time it hit retail five months later in April of ‘85, hype had reached an all-time high. The initial run sold out instantaneously, and while a massive re-up saw retailers stuck with a glut, the first Air Jordan became an instant classic. And even them going on clearance proved beneficial, as they immediately gained second life as an influential skate shoe. Everyone from rappers (LL Cool J) to punk rockers wore them in the ‘80s, and continue to wear them today. There’s been nothing like it since. Essentials. —RB