Camouflage twill. Selvedge Denim. Suede. These are all materials and details that had real, concrete historical significance prior to making their way through the fashion-trend cycle. They are entrenched in our past’s DNA as they served as necessary garb amongst the wartime soldiers and rugged blue-collar workers. While many of the reasons they eventually caught on are arbitrary, people could at least point to a period in time and say “this is why it’s cool.” But in the case of the clear sneaker trend of the mid-2000s, the history basically starts and end with the whole trend being a tongue-in-cheek rouse that people latched onto.
The clear plastic shoe lived and virtually died in the mid-2000s, but that valley to peak plateau was practically Mt. Fuji-esque. At a time when Air Force 1s and Dunks were a part of everyone’s uniform. Though streetwear hadn’t quite latched onto the majority, popular gear still very much borrowed from skate, graffiti, and other street-approved cultures -- and people were looking for something outside of the norm. All it took was one sneaker to start the frenzy: a collaboration between a New York City cultural and political graffiti artist and a leading sportswear brand. But, when Stephen Powers, also known as ESPO, was commissioned by Nike to make an Air Force II for the second Artist Series collaborations in 2004 -- alongside Pharrell, who created the N.E.R.D Dunks, and a Halle Berry-designed Air Rift -- he didn’t want to just create something expected. So, almost out of jest, he created something people didn’t know they wanted, but ultimately decided they needed: a pair of see-through sneakers.
The streets outside Niketowns and a few select retailers were flooded by sneakerheads for the original release of the shoe on January 3, 2004. Limited to 1,000 pairs worldwide, ESPO’s Air Force IIs sold out instantly and resale values skyrocketed, all for a shoe with clear plastic uppers and complementary socks. Obviously, much like any sneaker trend that catches on, Nike grabbed hold of it and rode it steadily into 2006, where they would release two more sneakers featuring the see-through detail: the Fantastic Four “Invisible Woman” Air Force 1 and a collaborative “Kiss of Death” Air Max 1 with Hong Kong streetwear brand and retailer CLOT.
These sneakers saw similar success, though the Air Force 1 didn’t quite have the same amount of hype, simply because it was easier to buy. People were more than happy to toss on their long tees and matching fitted caps, while showing off their sock collection or their grimy-ass cuticles without having to be vilified for wearing flip-flops in public, because how street is that? The shoes themselves weren’t that practical, though. Often they plastic toe boxes would fill with condensation and fog up. The remedy someone used to clean them, even, was to spray them down with Windex.
But, the short-lived trend quickly took a turn for the worse, because we all know that certain fads breed imitation and parody.
These days, some fakes can pass as authentic in the right light. Especially currently where you essentially have to be a certified expert to tell the difference in some instances. Luckily, during the clear sneaker phase, this was not an issue. The world of fugazi sneakers may not have seen a more ridiculous amalgamation of shit replicas then when bootleggers attempted to incorporate this fast-approaching, quick-moving trend into their arsenal. Not only were they introducing a plethora of other Nike Air Force 1s in different shades -- ranging from yellow or pink with stars randomly placed on them all the way to Spongebob-themed -- but it started to trickle into other brands. Bathing Ape’s “Bapestas” were the easiest shoe to replicate this phenomenon with, considering they are the same silhouette as the AF1, but they still got some incredibly outrageous treatments. But, the ultimate slap in the face was the deplorable makeups that were created for some of the great Air Jordan silhouettes. 1s, IVs, VIIs, XIVs. If they have a Roman numeral, they fell victim to the see-through epidemic. This ultimately led to the trend’s demise, which I don’t think anyone was too broken up over.
Nike did try to revive the trend in 2013 with some clear Nike ID options and later on giving Kyrie Irving his see-through Air Force 1s (they sat on shelves) many had left the trend behind them in 2006 along with their all-over-print T-shirts and Gap selvedge denim.
A special thanks to Flight Club for providing the sneakers.