Sneakers Aren't Dead, You're Just Getting Old

Guess what? That’s totally OK, too.

An Air Max 95 coffin created by artist Paa Joe. Via Designboom

I hate to burst your bubble, but the reports of sneakers being dead have been greatly exaggerated. It’s been a popular narrative as of late that collectible sneakers are passe, that all interest in athletic footwear has waned. That the game, as we know it, has been read its last rites. That nothing fun is happening in regard to sneakers. Nothing worth purchasing is releasing. And even if a shoe comes out that you really want, you can’t buy it anyway.

The last one might be true sometimes, but it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying shoes altogether. And what if I told you that your lack of enthusiasm is a you problem, not a sneaker problem? And that it’s probably because you’re getting old(er).

Guess what? That’s totally OK, too. There are many reasons that people lose their interest in sneakers over the years. The popular answer to point to is that those who lost their desire to buy, wear, and participate in the greater landscape are those who were all along opportunists, cultural tourists, or people who were never really into sneakers anyway but randomly wanted a Travis Scott Air Jordan. Many view those as people who were into sneakers for all the wrong reasons. And are happy to see them go. But the weird thing about sneakers is that you can’t totally quit it, either. What are you gonna do, walk around barefoot?

All those fence sitters aside, let’s talk about the real reason why people feel that the sneaker game is dead. It’s not because great sneakers aren’t coming out. There’s literally something for everyone at the moment, and cool versions of every style of shoe that make the purchaser feel special. Jordan Brand is still crushing the retros, with the Jordan 4 getting love right now. Nike might be in a mild slump from an energy standpoint, but they’re still Nike and I’m sure they make things weekly that you’d consider adding to the collection. And New Balance, Saucony, ASICS, Hoka, Salomon, Norda, Mizuno, and even Crocs have all found their own niches and are making great product. Even Adidas is starting to find its groove again in a post-Yeezy world, with the Samba, Campus, and Gazelle all becoming desirable shoes in their own right.

Just because the sneaker resale market has seriously collapsed doesn’t signify the end of sneakers as we know it.

So what’s really at the root of it all? Well, in my humble estimation, I’d say it’s just that years go by and excitement in a hobby naturally wanes. It happens to the best of us. Not everyone’s going to be as gung-ho about sneakers or video games or underground hip-hop or baseball cards or skateboarding or streetball or football hooliganism or even buying, wearing, or selling Supreme at 32 as they were at 22.

That’s not a bad thing. We all get older. Life changes us. We pick up new hobbies. Maybe we get married, have kids, buy a house, work 50 hours a week, or turn our personalities into the gym or get into grilling or going to flea markets or F1 or gardening. I’m not saying that you should replace your admiration for sneakers altogether just because you have these changes in life circumstances or shifts in priorities or interests, but it happens. Next thing you know, you’re raising a family and focusing more on your kids’ sneakers than your own. And that’s a beautiful thing. Or maybe you find that with your adult responsibilities that you’re more into hanging out in your backyard with friends and becoming a grill master than spending hundreds of dollars a month on sneakers. That’s OK too.

I’m not saying that you can’t balance it all either. You can be a parent, a spouse, a homeowner, someone with as-we-grow-older interests and be into sneakers. Some people even find themselves getting into sneakers more as they get older because they need a new hobby to pick up and finally have money to spend on the sneakers they always wanted when they were younger.

We’ve also hit a spot in the sneaker time-space continuum where it’s easier for us getting-older folks to be into sneakers, simply because the styles of footwear have started to cater to us now. New Balance and the rise of the dad shoe have been well documented. But now you can get the sneakers your father used to wear, but in cool, limited-edition versions. Or even the general release colorway of an ASICS Gel-1130 will let people know that you know what’s up. Heck, even Hokas and Ons are cool now, so it doesn’t really give you the excuse that you aren’t participating in sneaker collecting just because you don’t want to wear Jordan 1s or patent leather Air Force 1s anymore.

There are people who were once diehard sneakerheads who still love sneakers, but now nerd out over high-end running shoes or sneakers for CrossFit or the footwear they’ll wear on a camping trip. We shouldn’t dismiss people who nerd out about sneakers in a different way than those who strike out on the SNKRS app every week. Not everyone who says, “hey, collecting sneakers isn’t for me” transitions from Tier Zero heat to Hey Dudes with the first receding of their hairline.

But to the younger generation of people, who are no longer teenagers, who were raised in the asylum of Yeezy 350s, Off-White and Travis Scott Air Jordan 1 Highs, and Nike Fear of God 1s: If the reason you think sneakers are dead is because that era has passed, I’d simply say, welcome to the club. This has been happening since the dawn of time, or at least since the ‘80s when people seriously started caring about sneakers. Every generation has said that sneakers became played out at some point.

Guys in the ‘80s said sneaker culture was dead when Air Jordan took over the game and made it mainstream. People from the ‘90s got upset when sneaker culture went from shoes made for athletes like Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, Andre Agassi, and Allen Iverson to a wave of lifestyle products with no sporting purpose. And those collecting Air Force 1s, early Nike SBs, and the first quickstrikes started to lose the feeling when you could buy their IYKYK sneakers in the middle of the mall.

All of this has happened before and will continue to happen again. Just because your era of sneaker collecting has started to slowly change doesn’t mean that footwear obsessing is dead all together. It means we’re moving on to the next chapter.

And hey, another reason that some of us stop buying every sneaker that we see is the reality of collecting, and hoarding, shoes starts to set in. Maybe you already have 300 pairs and don’t feel the need to continually add to the already cramped bedroom or spare room or storage container. Maybe you realized that you never got to wear everything that you purchased years ago, and maybe some of it has completely crumbled and become unwearable over time. Maybe your wife yells at you with every single new pair of shoes you bring into the house. All of these can happen. It won’t stop you from loving sneakers at the heart of it all. It truly is a hard thing to shake.

Even with all the frustrations with the way sneaker releases go—how hard it can be to get the one hyped shoe that everyone else wants, or that the quality didn’t live up to your expectations on a retro—the love for sneakers usually remains, just maybe in a different form. Maybe you stroll by a JD Sports and see a cool general release in the window, maybe you get excited about going for a walk in a park and seeing someone in a pair you never saw someone wear before or make look cool. Or maybe you go through your stacks of dusty boxes and find something that you forgot you owned. And then you wear them on a Saturday and restore the feeling. So, no, sneakers aren’t dead.

Just because you haven’t seen anything in the last three months that’s made you lose your mind, or the sneakers you hit on SNKRS are reselling for less than what you paid for them, doesn’t mean this thing is over. Us sneaker nerds will always be here, and we’ll always be on the hunt for something fresh.

But don't let us tell it. We'll defer to sneaker historian and New York icon Dallas Penn, a friend to Complex who passed last week. He was in his 50s and never lost his eye for footwear.

"It don't stop," Dallas would say. "It won't stop."