Pick an eBay sneaker auction at random—go ahead and do it—and more likely than not “deadstock” will be in the title. Maybe it will be in conjunction with another word, like “near deadstock,” or in the form of initials, like DS or NDS or VVVVVVNDS, as if there were some sort of official guide one could refer to (there isn’t) regarding condition. As it turns out, there are plenty of questions as to what “deadstock” actually means, and where the term came from to begin with. Well, we’re here to help.
“Dead stock is new old stock,” says Adam Leaventon (aka “Air Rev”) a longtime sneaker collector who eventually found work in the business. “Stock that never sold and is in new condition. So the store has stock, but it’s ‘dead.’ I’m pretty sure the first time I heard it used was in an article I came across in 1997 or so on Tace Chalfa’s store in Seattle. That has to have been the first store in the U.S. that traded in dead stock and other vintage sneakers.”
In those pre-retro, pre-consignment days, when the thought of purchasing a new sneaker to re-sell at a profit was absurd, “dead stock” represented pairs that were only desirable to a relatively small group of collectors. Obsessives, really, who weren’t necessarily even interested in new sneakers. “Dead stock” was something of a pejorative to retailers, who were happy to sell off otherwise unsellable pairs for a fraction of what they would have sold for initially, cleaning out their basement shelves and making a little extra money at the same time.
“I first heard the term ‘deadstock’ when the eBay phenomena started,” says Bobbito Garcia, sneaker connoisseur and author of Where’d You Get Those? “I thought it was corny, to be honest. I surmise that resellers were trying to describe unavailable sneaker models that had been purchased on bargain tables, or ones that had been dug out of dusty basements at old shops, or ones that people had owned but never had worn. Thing is, for my generation and our small community of forward thinking sneaker heads, we had never looked at those shoes as ‘dead.’ If anything, those were the livest joints you could cop!”
As the eBay (and consignment shop) revolution took off, the use of the term “deadstock” expanded to mean any new shoe, no matter how it was acquired or how old it was. Whether an Air Jordan 1 was from 1985 or 2001, a still-unworn pair was sold as “deadstock,” “DS,” or, most likely, “DEADSTOCK.” This re-defining didn’t necessarily sit well with those whose sneaker life predated the term.
“I think it should still be used to describe shoes that were discovered as new old stock,” Leaventon says. “But It seems like it's been made into one word that’s now used to describe [any] product that’s unworn. Could be vintage or not. Could also be a hot-selling shoe that’s being resold at a consignment shop. So while it may be unworn, it’s not—and never really was—'dead stock.' So now it’s used more as a way to describe the condition of the product than how and where the come up happened.”
It seems unlikely that the genie can be shoved back in the bottle at this late date. To mix metaphors, the horse has left the barn, and the barn has been burned down. “Dead stock” is now “deadstock,” never to return. Some OGs, like Dante Ross, refuse to use the term at all: “I honestly never liked the whole idea,” he says. “It goes against the principles of being a sneakerhead from my generation.” Others, like MC Serch, have chosen to redefine the term themselves: “[Deadstock is w]hen you are talking about originals,” he says, “fresh-in-the-box, never-been-worn jawns that are so unique that a sneaker brand would never retro them.”
For most, though, “deadstock” these days just refers to a new pair of shoes, as Leaventon says. Ironically, one of the biggest sellers of actual “dead stock” is the one most disgusted by what the term has come to mean. “Sadly, ‘worn a few times’ is the new ‘brand new, deadstock,’” says the man known as Corgishoe,” or worn a few times is now PADS, Pass As Dead Stock.” I hadn’t even heard that last one before.
Garcia objects to the term as well, but for different reasons. “I've always been down with our community creating our own slang to describe our culture, and letting the brands figure it out,” he says, “not the other way around.”
Too late. The term is here to stay. But we should still be able to set some parameters. There should be no “NDS” or, God forbid, “VVVVVVNDS.” Deadstock is like virginity, either it is or it isn’t. Corgishoe agrees: “To me, there's only new and worn,” he says. One could even argue that a shoe that’s been tried on is no longer truly “deadstock,” although for buying/selling purposes that might be going too far. Buying a pair of sneakers described as “deadstock” should net you a never-worn pair of sneakers. Period. Anything else is subjective. Caveat emptor.