How to Properly Style and Wear Air Force 1s

From wearing clean, all-white Air Forces to properly lacing your sneakers, here's a complete guide to wearing and styling Nike Air Force 1s.

How to wear air force ones
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

How to wear air force ones

Uptowns. Flaves. Harlems. B-Mores. Airs. Forces. Ones. Whatever you choose to call 'em, the Nike Air Force 1 is as transcendent as any sneaker could possibly be, garnering adulation from veteran sneaker aficionados all the way down to the newbie who just wants something clean to kick it in. While that hasn't always been the case, considering the iconic basketball silhouette was almost discontinued in 1984 due to low sales—just a few short years after its debut in 1982—it has since solidified itself in the annals of sneaker culture, even going as far as becoming one of the best-selling sneakers in 2021. In fact, it isn’t even a guarantee that your local Foot Locker will have white on whites in stock anymore. The demand is so high that they’re selling out. And there is certainly no shortage of options, whether you're willing to shell out buku bucks for a resale pair of the original "The Ten" collaboration with Off-White, need a re-up of "Coke Whites,” want to channel your inner demon in a pair of black AF1s, or want to revisit some sneaker history by scooping up one of the “Color of the Month” colorways that recently re-released in 2022.

The versatility of the AF1 certainly allows individuals to figure out how the shoe fits within their constraints, but it always conforms. And the fact that these have a been a perennial starter pack sneaker for almost four decades speaks volumes. However, shit can go left very quickly if you don't abide by the unwritten rules bestowed upon us from our forefathers. Take a look at some pointers to consider the next time you lace up a pair of Air Force 1s, below. 

Choose Your Height Wisely

How to wear nike air force ones

While 5'10 Twitter would likely trade a couple inches for their first-born child, that's not the kind of "height" we're talking about. The preferential choice between the High, Mid, and Low variations of the AF1 has been at the center of many BBQ cookout and spade game debates. While lows are typically at the top of many lists because of their versatility, the height should be determined based on a number of factors. For instance, Highs tend to look like clodhoppers on big-footed folks, so tread carefully my size 13 brethren. Lows are a go-to in summer to wear with shorts, but Mids or Highs can easily be substituted in for any casual situation if coupled with a good pair of basketball shorts. 

There's Nothing Cute About a Dirty Ass Air Force One aka How to Clean Air Force Ones

How to Clean Nike Air Force Ones

For some reason, cooked AF1s have become common for certain groups of people over the last few years. And we aren’t sure why. Don’t do this. Converse All Stars? Sure. Vans. Yea, why not? But AF1s? No one should be caught out in the daylight in a pair of Forces that look like they had a rough weekend at Coachella and were trying to ease their way back into the "real world." Preventative care is just as, if not more important (just ask your parents) than how you clean your Forces post-soiling. 

Waterproof 'em. Spray 'em with leather, suede and/or nubuck protector before wearing and after cleaning. Use at least two coats, depending on the product, and let them dry before wearing. There are a ton of cleaning products that will do the trick specific to the materials on your Forces, but you're likely to get the most bang for your buck with water, soap, a couple Magic Erasers, and prayer. 

How to Avoid (and Fix!) Major Creasing

How to remove creases from Air Force Ones

Creasing on a leather sneaker is inevitable, especially as the leather starts to soften after multiple wears. But there are ways to prevent major creasing. Use foam inserts that you can slip inside your shoe by the toe box so they don't crinkle up every time you take a step. But again, these only work so well. So, when Forces do start accumulating those wear-whiskers, dampen a towel (preferably one that is white or that won't rub off on the sneaker), place it over the creased area, take a hot iron and gently iron over the area and voila! It's the kind of sneaker magic we all wish we knew years ago. If this seems like a bit too much work for you, you could always take after Air Force 1 aficionados like DJ Clark Kent and keep multiple pairs on ice. Nothing beats a fresh pair of white on whites. 

If You're a Real One, Wear 'Em With Baggier/More Relaxed Pants

How to wear air nike force ones

The relaxed/wide-leg trouser movement is here to stay. It’s time to stop fighting it and get a pair or two of roomier pants in your rotation. The good news if you’re unsure how to pull them off, they will definitely look great with your AF1s. A pair of classic 874 Dickies that sit right above the top of your Lows, or some beefy Nike sweatpants with an elastic cuff for the Mids or Highs will never lead you astray. Try out some slouchy cargos or a baggier cut of denim too. Once you start experimenting, the opportunities will become endless. Plus, it’s just so much comfier to have a bit of extra room in your pants when you’re out and about. 

But Be Mindful of Your Denim's Cut

How to Wear Nike Air Force Ones

As far as denim, the length and how they fall (or don't fall) on top of your Forces is the determining factor. Really, just about any type of denim could work with Uptowns. Jeans that are tapered at the bottom will stack up a bit as they hit the shoe, but are no longer a requirement. Just make sure you aren’t rocking some #NTDenim. You really don't want to be out here looking like Michael Jordan at any party that has Latina women there, thinking he got his "good jeans" on.

Keep a Pair of All-Whites on Ice

How To Wear Nike Air Force Ones

There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and price inflation will even effect the cost of Coke Whites. It should go without saying that one should have least one pair of White-on-Whites if you are even remotely interested in Forces. However, if you have the financial capability, it is imperative that you keep a pair of them on ice. They will never go out of style and they go with just about everything. You know how your mom used to always keep some chicken in the freezer just in case she didn't have anything else to cook, and it still came out bomb (as long as you remembered to take it out to thaw when you got home from school)? A fresh pair of all-white Forces are the exact same thing to any outfit.

How to Properly Lace Air Force Ones

How to Lace Nike Air Force Ones

I'm fairly certain that there isn't a single shoe that has more "how to lace" tutorials on YouTube than the AF1. How you lace your Forces is one way to truly showcase your individuality. But don't get too cute. If you are going to try the double-lux-into-a-triple-axle of lacing, remember this: do not tie them too tight. However, the length on the laces that come with Lows and Mids is perfect for the not-too-loose untied look as long as done all the way to the last or second-to-last lace hole. And if you find a pair with the laces looking like this out the box, keep them like that! It's like a beautiful baby unicorn. 

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