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Last Updated on July 18, 2022
The seventies and eighties saw a surge in design innovation and a slew of investors putting their bucks behind brands, but the nineties marked the moment when it all came together. Sneaks peaked to new heights together with the sporting legends and music sub-culture crusaders they inspired and identified with.
Our current obsession with all things nineties sees a return of many of the key players of the era as brands breathe new life into some of the iconic styles that symbolized the millennial mood. With the rise of nineties sportswear you may be wondering what kicks to wear with your Y2K ‘fit.
Here we identify the OG models from nine iconic 90’s sneaker brands to inspire your Y2K style game:
#1. NEW BALANCE
New Balance has consistently met the needs of athletes and regular folk alike. Known for its “safe” styling, function over flash philosophy and commitment to quality, NB has risen as a dependable brand with a strong visual identity and earned its rightful place as the ultimate Normcore sneaker.
Worn by Bill Clinton throughout his presidency, the M1500 along with other 90’s NB classics, The M574 (1990) and the M998 (1993) contributed to New Balance being one of the most profitable sportwear companies in existence today.
Steve Jobs lived in his NB 992’s and every A-lister who is anyone has followed suit sporting every iteration of NB, from the Gen Z favored 327, to some of the dopest collabs out there.
New Balance has recently made some major moves into the basketball arena, and with the appointment of Teddy Santis and Joe Freshgoods, two of the hottest names on the streetwear block, this dad brand looks poised on the brink of a mid-life makeover.
Founded in 1908, Converse has its roots in basketball, and for the first half of the 20th century the company dominated the American athletic shoe market. In the seventies, as new brands began to compete in the technical sports arena, Converse grew it’s “All Stars” brand as canvas, rubber soled shoes gained popularity peaking in the eighties, but by the start of the nineties this market had all but collapsed.
Brought out of circulation in 1993 after an almost 20-year hiatus, the suede outer “One Star” model, was left to carry the Converse name in the nineties. Re-introduced into a growing skateboarding culture which it fit, and endorsed by Kurt Cobain who regularly wore them, the Converse classic One Star has become synonymous with Grunge sub-culture.
Since being taken over by Nike in 2003, the “All Star” brand has regained its popularity, but the “One Star” will forever be remembered as the go-to brand of every 90’s sk8ter boy and club kid.
This Italian Sportswear brand Fila was big in the nineties and the 5-shoe series they developed with promising NBA star Grant Hill, is without doubt a thing of beauty. The signature model, the Grant Hill 2, worn by none other than Tupac Shakur on his 1996 first double album, All Eyes on Me, still rocks sales 25 years on.
Surprisingly, aside from a select group of serious sneakerheads, this is not the Fila star of the nineties that made headlines with the recent return of Y2K style.
A little-known Fila style, the Disruptor, fallen into insignificance since its original release in 1996, and re-issued almost unchanged apart from a materials update, as the Disruptor 2, went viral on the ‘gram in December 2018. Teenage girls flocked to buy the chunky trainer with the zig-zag platform sole and divided the internet, spawning a gazillion memes touting it the ugliest shoe ever created.
According to Dazed magazine “it looked like Britney’s Skechers had a baby with a pair of Baby Spice’s Buffalos”. Perhaps it was this hybrid-child of 2 iconic 90’s brands that appealed to the fallible collective memory of the decade, or its similarity to the ugly “dad” shoe that had recently walked the Fashion Week runway (but retailing at a significantly more affordable price) that drew them in.
Regardless of the reason, Fila footwear sales grew by a staggering 60% and the brand went on to develop a number of versions of the original white Disruptor 2 model.
Southern Californian brand, Vans, rode the wave of the skate boom in the 90’s with their signature Half Cab, a hacked off version of their earlier Caballero model. This classic silhouette, released in ’91, features a suede upper with a mid-top cut and has proved to be one of the longest running styles in the skate world. Its waffle grip and vulcanized sole ensure its durability, establishing it as a serious contender on the board, and the affordable price tag made it the ubiquitous skate shoe of the day.
The early nineties saw pop princesses Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera punt the dad shoe of the day, decades before anyone had any inkling that delving into pops shoe shelf would become a thing. The Skechers Energy sneaker would go on to sell over 100 million pairs and establish the Skechers brand as a force to be reckoned with.
As nineties fever hits us one more time, the Energy returns, as well as Skechers D’Lites, sported by A-listers and influencers alike. You can be sure that this Genie in a Bottle will grant all your Y2K wardrobe wishes and more.
German based brand, Buffalo, gained popularity in the nineties with their signature platform trainers and the chunky trainer-boot quickly became a favorite on the rave scene.
Their classic 5-inch Hightower with real leather uppers and hardwearing rubber soles rose to mainstream fame through exposure via British girl band, the Spice Girls.
Today, with the return of nineties style and the ugly trainer trend, it has seen a resurgence in popularity, especially amongst the alternate set, the likes of singer Billie Eilish, techno princess DJ Sita Abellan and model Slick Woods.
Adidas was in a state of flux in the early 1990’s. After a record loss in 1992, the company faced bankruptcy, but the new CEO brought focus and although Adidas may not have marketed itself well in the first part of the nineties, some of their most successful branding strategies and concepts were born during this time and once implemented, the company never looked back.
Due to this lack of focus, there is no one Adidas model that stands out in the technical shoe arena from this time, but rather one of the OG classic styles which had its roots in functional performance as a training shoe moved over into the fashion arena and took center stage.
The Superstar had already made its legendary transition into streetwear in the late 80’s, after the US-based Hip-Hop band Run-D.M.C. released their hit song “My Adidas”, holding up their 3-Stripes during a concert 40 000 fans strong but the 90’s saw the Gazelle adopted by the Brit-Pop subculture.
Across the Atlantic, their 3 Stripes were everywhere, spawning a plethora of wannabe brands sporting any number of speed stripes and trying their best to pass under the legal radar. Worn by Kate Moss almost religiously, members of bands Oasis and Blur, the unisex Gazelle represented old skool cool and were the mandatory kicks for any 90’s kid across the pond, and some at home in the US too.
The nineties saw Reebok drop an impressive number of top tier basketball kicks, but what stands out most about Reebok sneakers in the 90’s was their revolutionary Pump technology. In November of 1989, the first Reebok Pump shoe was released with an internal inflation mechanism that regulated a unique fitting cushion providing much needed support around the ankle.
In 1990 Michael Chang won the French Open in the Reebok Court Victory Pump and when Dee Brown inflated his Reebok Pumps in front of the nation before going on to score a winning dunk in the NBA Slam Dunk in ’91, the world stood up and took notice.
Not only was this the first (and only) time Nike followed, but Reebok continued to push out an impressive range of shoes incorporating Pump technology, expanding into golf, cross-training, off-road, walking and aerobics at a pace that left the competition way behind. In 1994 the Insta Pump Fury dropped and took pump technology into the running shoe arena.
Aside from that minute when Reebok led the pack with their pump technology, the Swoosh dominated the sneaker scene for most of the nineties, and has continued on this trajectory ever since. The list of epic Nike models seems endless, and the nineties had its fair share of them.
Hard pressed to choose just one Nike sneaker that stood out in the years leading up to Y2K, we have narrowed it down to the top dog in the sport in which Nike crushed the competition in the nineties.
Nike has always been about basketball, and the Air Jordan series created for Michael Jordan has seen some seriously sick kicks. Air Jordans may have been first dropped in the eighties, but they reached icon status in the 90’s.
Nike Air Jordan XI, one of the earliest Air Jordans released in ’95, and the favorite of designer Tinker Hatfield, is considered by many, to be the best sneaker of all time. With its distinctive patent leather rand providing protection and flash, this shoe marked Jordan’s return to basketball at a time when it looked like the relationship between Nike and the NBA was at its end.
It is one of the most popular models in the series and has released in limited supply almost every December since 2008. It sells out in minutes.