Anyone who is even remotely interested in sneakers knows it's hard to rank the best releases of the year. Not only are there way too many to keep track of, there’s an overwhelming amount that has an argument for being included in the top 10. It’s like ranking your kids — you don’t really want to do it.
That’s why this year, in addition to painstakingly selecting our favorite 10 sneakers of the year, we’ve put together a list of the most underrated sneakers of 2021. Think of this list as a collection of honorable mentions that didn’t make our list, but definitely could have made some of your top 10s.
As expected, you’ll mostly see collaborative projects, however, we’ve managed to sneak a couple of general release sneakers into the mix. Read on for our list of the most underrated sneakers of the year, featuring the likes of Reebok, Nike, New Balance, and adidas, to name but a few.
Patta x New Balance 991
The Patta x New Balance 991 was released in January, which meant 2020 started off with a bang, but the release was so early and followed by so many big drops that it had gotten a little lost in the noise by the end of the year. The 991 was also outshone by the 2002r and the 990 series in 2021, making this release a true hidden gem. The colorway, quality, and Patta cosign may have been enough to catapult this shoe into our Top 10 in other years.
Bodega x New Balance 990v3
Bodega’s rendition of the 990v3 was one of the best New Balance collaborations of the year. Unfortunately, its subtle colorway — one of its strengths — is also its downfall when it came to deciding on our top 10 sneakers of the year. While a great colorway for the Fall/Winter season and extremely versatile, it also blends in a little too much... meaning other, brighter New Balance collaborations occupy a more vivid spot in our memories.
Pyer Moss — The Sculpt “Bred”
Pyer Moss’ The Sculpt sneaker has been out for quite some time and, by all measures, is a great shoe. The bulbous sole and contrasting upper create a luxurious, futuristic look that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Unlike other luxury brands, Pyer Moss has gone in its own, distinct direction with The Sculpt. That’s something we love to see from any brand. This Black/Red colorway, for obvious reasons, is our favorite of the bunch.
Aleali May x Nike Air Jordan 14
Aleali May isn’t just one of the best female collaborators in the sneaker game, she’s one of the best collaborators in the footwear industry PERIOD. Not only has she proven time and again, that she is able to create designs loved by all sneakerheads, regardless of gender, but this year she’s also showed that she can create a beautiful product on a less popular silhouette, such as the Air Jordan 14. Making a AJ1 look nice isn’t easy, but it’s nothing compared to what Aleali did on the 14.
Rhuigi x PUMA Suede
Rhude founder Rhuigi Villaseñor took on PUMA’s most iconic sneaker, the Suede, in two forms earlier this year. The Midtop design, while more daring and a nice surprise, was nowhere near as clean as the original lowtop style. Rhuigi played with different high-quality materials in the construction of his Suede, and left the colorway somewhat muted, choosing a sole pop of color on the green Formstrip. It might not have been the most hyped collaboration of the year, but it was certainly PUMA’s best and, therefore, highly underrated. The versatility of the shoe, paired with the history of the model, make for a nice story whenever someone asks you “What are those?” Because best believe, you won’t see many of these out in the wild.
Eames x Reebok Club C 85
The Reebok Club C 85 is already as classic as they come. This year’s Eames collaboration added a touch of sophistication to an otherwise already-perfect sneaker. The beauty of these is that no one knows you’re wearing a collaboration. They’re a subtle statement, which may mean a lot of people miss these on their lists (to be fair, we did too), but as far as honorable mentions go, the Eames x Reebok Club C 85 definitely deserves one.
ReadyMade x Nike Blazer Mid
The ReadyMade Blazer Mid was the first time since Virgil Abloh’s original “The Ten” that a collaborator had come in and radically reimagined this iconic silhouette. The misshapen Swoosh, which was inspired by an early sketch of the Swoosh, was a real love-it-or-hate-it detail. With more than six months since its release, the ReadyMade Blazer Mid has absolutely grown on us.
Nike Air Jordan 1 Low “Neutral Gray”
Another general release sneaker to make the list, the Nike Air Jordan 1 Low “Neutral Gray” was seemingly slept on by a large majority of the sneaker world. The high-top version was hotly anticipated, due to it being the first time the colorway was retro-ed and being the last remaining OG colorway to see a retro release. The low-top, while infinitely more wearable, somehow flew under the radar. It’s a shame, because the “Neutral Gray” Air Jordan 1 Low is great for all seasons and comes in a versatile colorway. If our top 10 wasn’t already stacked, we might have found a place for the “Neutral Gray.”
adidas YEEZY BOOST 450
Initially called the adidas YEEZY Boost 451, the 450 is one of Kanye West’s wildest designs — and that’s saying something. The sneaker, which basically just consists of a sole unit and a knitted upper, looks like you’ve stepped in radioactive goo that is now slowly creeping up the sides of your shoe. A number of colorways have dropped this year, and it’s hard to say exactly which is our favorite, but we’re very sure that we’d love to see more in 2022.
adidas Campus 80s “Towelie”
Nike is usually the brand that makes the biggest 4/20 headlines with its SB Dunk releases, but in 2021 it was adidas who stole the show thanks to its UV-sensitive “Towelie” Campus 80s. Everything from the execution of the project to how it was received and the extremely limited quantities available made this the sneaker to have in April.