Just over half a decade ago, the bulk of male street fashion looked incredibly different from today’s popular styles. Large, loud branded tee shirts were the norm before modern subtlety and more minimalist designs took over. The concept of athleisure was still confined to certain circles, and sweatpants were rare whereas joggers are now ubiquitous.
The biggest shift, though, was the change in footwear. Long considered to be the centerpiece of a streetwear outfit, sneakers garner attention and command a following like no other garment has. They have remained very prominent — enthusiasts buy, sell, trade, and collect just like they always have. The types of sneakers popular today, though, are radically different from those popular just a few years ago.
The many models of Air Jordan sneakers were some of the most popular and coveted sneakers through the early 2010s. Michael Jordan wore a new sneaker model each year of his lengthy career, and those models came to represent specific moments. In 2011, sneakerheads eagerly awaited the re-release of the Air Jordan III “White Cements” that Jordan wore during the 1988 dunk contest. After the Bulls’ iconic comeback in game 5 of the 1997 NBA finals, in which Jordan participated despite stomach problems, the Air Jordan XII colorway he was sporting was lovingly dubbed the “Flu Games.” Sneaker lovers wore those pairs not just for their looks, but for their history as well; they paid homage to Jordan’s achievements.
Jordans have since lost popularity to sneakers designed for and/or by non-athlete collaborators. While there is still a market for and community around the iconic basketball shoes, the trend now is towards relaxed comfort and not the chunky, padded sneakers of decades past. Popular sneakers today are generally lightweight and low profile, like the Adidas Ultra Boost or Nike Roshe Run. Widely-worn collaborations are branded more and more by artists and musicians, not athletes. The popularity of Kanye West’s Yeezy line cannot be ignored, and even Jordan Brand’s own Jordan X received a bit of hip-hop flair this year when Drake collaborated with Nike to create the “OVO” colorway.
In other cases, some athlete-branded sneakers have retained or even gained popularity while the actual athlete fades into obscurity. The Adidas Stan Smith has, in recent years, become extremely popular and is now worn by people of all ages in all locales. Many young people who wear the sneakers, though, are unfamiliar with the man whose name graces the shoe. There is a generation of wearers who were not alive to see Smith play tennis and for whom the sneaker’s appeal stems from non-athlete celebrity wear as well as the shoe’s aesthetic simplicity.
This is not to say that no Jordan enthusiasts or young people wearing Stans are ignorant of or ambivalent about the sneakers’ storied heritage. There are certainly circles for which the athletic achievements that the shoes represent are incredibly important. Those circles are shrinking, though, and until another iconic athlete comes into the spotlight and releases a truly phenomenal sneaker for the new age, it is likely that actors, musicians, and artists will remain the modern influencers in the sneaker world.
Have you ever owned a pair of Air Jordans or Adidas Stan Smiths? Tell me about them here or on Twitter @BillChangNY