In an era where the hype surrounding a sneaker can often elevate its value more than the style and comfort of the actual shoe, the term sneakerhead has lost some of its meaning. Before everyone was lining up for the latest pair of ultra-hyped collaborative sneakers, there were only a handful of classic sneakers that everyone considered essential to their collection.
Possessing an understanding of the stories and historical anecdotes behind these fundamental styles is part and parcel of the game. That knowledge can result in a greater appreciation for how sneaker culture has evolved over the last few decades, as well as the product itself. We’re not saying you need to be able to rattle off Michael Jordan’s stat line in any of his title-winning seasons to wear Jordans, but it’s probably a good idea to familiarize yourself with why the man, his legend, and the sneakers he wore have had such an impact on our community.
On that note, we’ve put together a Highsnobiety-approved list of ten classic sneakers you should own if you want to call yourself a sneakerhead.
Shop the best classic sneakers for every wardrobe below.
adidas Originals Stan Smith
Named after the tennis legend, the adidas Stan Smith has evolved into one of the most beloved shoes in sneaker history. The simplicity of the design has played a major role in the sneaker's sustained longevity. New releases, partnerships, and redesigns have added exciting new refreshes to the ever-growing Stan Smith family. Though there are a handful of collaborations worthy of "classic status", it really doesn't get better than the OG. That leather white body with hints of green is future-proof, ensuring that you can wear these sneakers today, in two years, or in twenty years from now.
Samba Vegan Shoes
The Samba has evolved past its original identity as a traction-friendly indoor football shoe. From bike messengers to football hooligans, the adidas sneaker is an icon widely embraced by subcultures all around the world. Here the Brand with the Three stripes has reworked the upper with vegan leather and recycled materials. All of this sits comfortably on top of that dependable and eye-catching gum sole.
Nike Air Force 1
Air Force 1 '07
How many sneakers have their own (good) anthem? There’s something about the Air Force 1's crisp minimalism that speaks to so many people. Though there are unlimited choices, the OG white-on-white is the best and most versatile colorway. The gum outsole on the pair above adds just enough twist to the classic. Wear these on the beach, with a 3-piece suit or with some jeans. It is truly one of the greatest sneakers of all time, *Kanye voice.
Nike Air Jordan I "Obsidian"
Air Jordan 1 "Obsidian"
There's not much we can add to the Nike Air Jordan 1's legend. Michael Jordan’s first signature sneaker is a big reason sneaker culture exists in the form that it does today. The design of the sneaker itself has attracted artists, fashion designers, skaters, musicians, influencers, sneakerheads, athletes, and little Billy next door. It’s always exciting to see how people recontextualize the classic and rework it into their wardrobes. So, what would you wear these University Blue Air Jordan 1s with?
Reebok Club C 85
The Club C 85 is another classic shoe with tennis origins, dominating the shoe market in the early ’80s. The shoe's functionality and minimal aesthetic quickly attracted fans off the court, becoming a lifestyle staple. Its all-white upper with hints of color gives the shoe a timeless feel and allows it to be combined in various outfits with ease. This clean look has helped the shoe retain its popularity over the years and continues to win over fans.
Vans OG SK8-Hi LX
The Vans OG SK8-Hi is synonymous with skate culture. The shoe's performance, durability, and style have placed the shoe at the top of many "best-of lists". It really doesn't get more classic than the vulcanized sole unit and high-top canvas upper. Today's navy and white colorway will help add some more color to your Summer and Fall wardrobe.
PUMA Suede Classic XXL
What started off as a basketball sneaker eventually become a sartorial symbol of the protest against racism and injustice in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Puma Suede took off when Tommie Smith gave his Black Power salute atop the podium during the 1968 Summer Olympics. While he was wearing the Suede just before stepping onto the podium, he took off the sneaker to keep all attention on the protest itself.
Over the decades, the sneaker has been adopted by hip-hop artists, B-Boys, breakdancers, rockers, and other facets of counterculture. To this day, the sneaker is revered for its quality, all-suede uppers, and longstanding history.
Kith x New Balance 990v3 Made In USA 'Genesis'
990v3 Made In USA 'Genesis'
New Balance x KITH
The New Balance 990 is one of the most recognized sneaker ranges in the world. After starting out as a high-performance shoe, the classic sneaker found a home among normcore enthusiasts and sneakerheads more recently. This year, Kith slightly refreshed and remixed the silhouette’s third version, the 990v3. The shoe features a mix of dark mesh and suede across its body, and a nice chunky ENCAP sole for those of you still riding the dad sneaker wave.
ASCIS GEL-Lyte 3
The ASICS GEL-Lyte 3 was born out of Shigeyuki Mitsui's desire to create a shoe that was highly functional but still stylish enough to show off. Upon its arrival, the classic shoe broke the mold of conventional shoe design. GEL-Lyte 3 fans praise the shoe for its eye-catching design and comfort, both of which helped the shoe catch on in the lifestyle market. Though there are a dizzying amount of colorways, today's blue and beet red color choice is something that can be worn multiple times without ever getting stale.
adidas YEEZY Boost 700 "Intertia"
The adidas YEEZY Boost 700 is much younger than the other sneakers on this list, but we still think it’s worthy of classic status. When it comes to design, the retro-inspired sneaker is one of the more accessible sneakers compared to the brand's more future-focused approach. The design is streamlined but bulky, as if it was born in the ’90s. Though the cool blue and grey colorway is worth a mention, mellow out your Fall wardrobe with the selected “Inertia” colorway above.
Fear of God x Converse Chuck 70 Hi
The Converse Chuck Taylor is arguably one of the most influential sneakers in history. You'll be hardpressed to find someone who has not wanted or owned a pair of these basketball shoes at some point in their lifetime. Since 1917, the Chuck Taylor has been a fixture in pop culture, making rounds across genres and fashion fits. Yet in the early 2010s, Converse decided to refresh their iconic shoe, blessing us with the equally beloved Chuck 70.
The 70s features a beefed-up build and vintage aesthetic that pay tribute to some of the earlier All-Stars. The sneaker uses a more hefty and luxurious 12oz canvas across its body. The shoe is more comfortable than its older brother, thanks to much-needed additional padding and stitching. The Chuck 70s have quickly become the "go-to" sneaker for fans of the silhouette, attracting a wave of collaborators like Virgil Abloh, Tyler the Creator, JW Anderson, and Rei Kawakubo. Today Jerry Lorenzo's Fear of God has taken the reins, elevating the modern classic with its black and cream colorway. These sneakers will quickly find a home in your rotation.
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