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Five Classic Sneakers and Their Story

Some shoes come and go, others create a legacy.


Converse All Star

Chuck Taylor All Star

Chuck Taylor All Star

It’s the oldest and best-selling basketball shoe of all time, and 60% of Americans have owned a pair. The first All Star was released in 1917, but it was the arrival of Chuck Taylor at Converse as a salesman in 1921 that launched it into sporting and cultural folklore. Chuck, a semi-professional basketball player, became player/coach of the Converse All Stars, the company’s industrial basketball team. He changed the shoe’s design to add more flexibility and ankle support, and promoted the sneaker on his travels to basketball courts around the country. And in 1932, to mark his contribution, his name was added to the logo on the ankle. In the 1960s, it has been estimated 90% of professional and college basketball players were wearing All Stars. And after dominating the court, they then began to take over music countercultures from punk to grunge, with The Ramones and Nirvana among those who made the sneaker part of their uniform. While more technically advanced sneakers now rule on the basketball court, their popularity on the sticky floors of music concerts endures.

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New Balance 990

New Balance 990v5

New Balance 990v5

The first New Balance 990 was released in 1982, and cemented the brand as a powerhouse in running shoes. At $100, it was an expensive sneaker designed with high performance in mind, and it soon became a luxury statement piece away from the track. Since then we’ve had five versions of the sneaker, with a sixth landing in 2022 to mark the line’s 40th anniversary. These days, the 990 is best known as a statement of casual, confident style, practicality and sheer comfort, with fans of the sneaker including the former GQ creative director and fashion legend Jim Moore. Recent collaborators with New Balance on the 990 include Kith owner Ronnie Fieg and designer Todd Snyder.

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Adidas Samba

Adidas Samba Classic

Adidas Samba Classic

Not quite as synonymous with the Adidas brand as the Stan Smith or the Superstar, but with a longer history than both, is the Samba. This low-top sneaker debuted in 1949 and is the company’s longest-running model still in production. Its famous gum sole was designed for soccer players to play on hard or icy ground, and it took it’s Latin-influenced name due to its release just before the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. It’s now a staple for sportsman playing indoors or on artificial surfaces, as well as soccer fans, skateboarders and fashion lovers who appreciate its robust design and storied history. Bob Marley was among the early celebrity adopters. And in recent years designer Grace Wales Bonner and actor Jonah Hill are among those to have collaborated with Adidas to reimagine the look. The Classic style has longer tongue and more arch support for playing soccer, while the Original is flatter and more geared to lifestyle use.

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Vans Authentic

Vans Anaheim Factory Authentic

Vans Anaheim Factory Authentic

Brothers Paul and James Van Doren, along with partners Gordon Lee and Serge Delia, opened The Van Doren Rubber Company, now known as Vans, in Anaheim, California, in 1966. Among their three original styles were the #44 Deck Shoe, now known as the Authentic, which sold for $4.49. By the early 70s, skateboarders who liked the solid design and sticky sole had adopted the brand as their own, and it’s now widely regarded as the most important shoe in the history of skate culture. The Anaheim Factory version (pictured) pays tribute to the brand’s original Anaheim factory with original details combined with modern comfort. Musician Harry Styles is among the many wealthy stars often seen in this very affordable sneaker.

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Nike Air Max

Nike Air Max 90

Nike Air Max 90

The Nike Air Max was the first sneaker to offer a window to the sole, putting the brand’s new ‘air cushioning technology’ on display. The newest shoe on this list, it was released in 1987 and immediately caught the attention with its bold look. Coinciding with sportswear hitting its stride at the electronic music raves of the 90s, and the digital revolution taking place around the world, it was a new high-tech look for a new era. Rapper Dizzee Rascal, Dutch artist Pieter Janssen, aka Piet Parra, and Japanese streetwear brand atmos are among the many who have collaborated with Nike for their own take on the iconic shoe.

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Pete began his career on Fleet Street more than two decades ago, and has worked for some of the world’s biggest news, entertainment, and wellness companies as a writer, editor, and media executive. He co-founded Mr Feelgood to help demystify the world of personal development, and to encourage men to discuss and improve their mental health, by sharing the wisdom and lessons learned of inspiring leaders in their field.

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