So, you're feeling a little bit nostalgic huh? We are too, that's why we have put together a list of the best sneakers from the 1980s to help remind us of a time when things were just really getting going in the sneaker universe. Maybe you are old enough to have experienced the 80s era, and want to purchase some of the shoes that were popular during that time period. Or perhaps you are a vintage sneaker collector itching to add some classics to your lineup. Either way we've got you covered. Check out our list of the best 80s sneakers below.
The 25 Best 80s Sneakers, Ranked
A blast from sneaker history past
In 1982 New Balance set out to make the best running sneaker the world had ever seen. With no time or budget limit the R & D sector went to work and came back with the 990—a $100 price tag was slapped on the sneaker (a first at the time) and the rest is history. While most might know the 990 for its famous and popular iterations like the v4 and v5, the sneaker started a generation of iconic NB footwear and if you’re interested in a piece of sneaker history, the 990 is a must-have right from the New Balance website, unfortunately, the price tag has marginally increased from the original $100.
The Reebok Classic is an accessory that’s mandatory for any real sneakerhead. Whether it’s the Classic or the Nylon, the low top model is a must-have staple that’s been trolling the undercurrent of sneaker culture since literally forever. The British brand has a lot in its archive and it might not be the most popular sneaker brand, but it's got some incredibly affordable options, not to mention some pretty hot collabs.
Like most sneakers from the 80s, they’re making a big comeback and Adidas’ ZX 8000 is a perfect snapshot from ‘88 and how the modern market has cultivated a taste for the aesthetics of sneakers past. The brand with the Three Stripes has been doubling down on the sporty “Dad” build with multiple collabs and the reissuing of OG colorways like “Aqua” below. The ZX model line was a big part of early Adidas releases and its resurgence has been an important moment for paying homage to the classic cool of those early sneaker salad days.
Decades before wearable tech would dominate the running space, Puma was way ahead of the game. The running boom of the 70s and 80s was gripping America and with an effort to make more technical equipment, Puma introduced the world to the first sneaker you could plug into a computer.
The RS has seen a recent retro from the brand now playing on the nostalgia of their 80s and 90s running silhouettes, but the RS-Computer is certainly the crown jewel of the running brand’s past. The OG silhouette is quite the marvel, a new, more wearable version of the sneaker is available via StockX.
In short, Wilson was doing the darn thing back in the 1980s, and they are doing the darn thing now. There's plenty of current Wilson iterations out now that have been released recently, but if you are looking for a throwback, consider the 1988 Hangtime release that was shakeup in the sneaker world.
The year was 1989, and Converse dropped a new iteration of the Cons called the Star Wave, which was an anticipated drop that a lot of people rocked. The Cons are considered a rarity, and you'll have to do some searching to get your hands on the ones you want, but they are certainly worth the investment, and could be even more valuable in the future.
Was is truly the 1980s without LA GEAR? Seriously was it truly the 80s without LA GEAR? The answer is no, and I think there should be some sort of documentary/series detailing the brands history. LA GEAR is still very much around today, putting a modern spin on their iconic issues, including the Women's Flame.
Nike has Zoom. Adidas has the Boost. Asics, the early king of running sneakers has Gel. A technology that has forged a path to commercial success, it’s the material that provides the sneakers with great comfort and what keeps happy customers and serious runners back for more. The brand is partially famous for its early entanglement with Phil Knight, its Gel tech was an early way to separate it from a defecting Knight who spent more time founding Nike than peddling Asics sneakers.
The technology launched from the brand in 1986, with its first serious silhouette, the Asics Gel-Lyte, the carrier of this important material. The Gel-Lyte has seen numerous iterations, not to mention high profile collabs with Kith’s Ronnie Fieg.
And let's not forget Diadora either who was a 1980s staple back in their heyday. Originally founded in 1948, the brand reached the surge of its popularity in the 80s due to the perfect combination of style trends aligning at the exact same time. While there's plenty of iterations still out there, we decided to go with the MI-Basket model, which was designed as a signature shoe for Italian player Dino Meneghin in 1984. It remains one of the brand's most popular models to date, with consistent releases of new colorways still on the horizon.
Another sneaker that wasn’t technically released in the 1980s, but is certainly a 1980s signature shoe, is the Vans classic slip-on. The sneaks were famously worn by Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, contributing to their status as an iconic piece of 80s footwear. The now canonic line, “No shirts, no shoes, no dice,” comes from Brad Hamilton’s request to Jeff Spicoli to put on the aforementioned sneakers.
The Rod Laver, eponymously named after the tennis super star, has never quite had the same success as the Stan Smith or the Superstar, but it’s still a fan-favorite for real die-hard Adidas fans. Curiously enough, the sneaker has had a bit of a renaissance in the 2000s as the predominant hacky sacking shoe for those who take the sport seriously. It’s hard to find the OG white and green color way though, so you’ll have to scour some used sneaker sites to find your pair.
The Air Trainer 1 would eventually get spun off into Andre Agassi’s iconic Nike Air Tech Challenge II (featured earlier in this list). But before it’s reimagining, it was the Nike Air Trainer 1, worn by the fiery pro John McEnroe. You could argue that the Tech Challenge II is the more iconic sneaker (Agassi was a bit of a fashion icon), but we’ve still got to give props to the OG.
Vision Streetwear has a fond place in the heart of skaters, as it was one of the defining brands to really start putting skate shoes on the market back in the 1980s. The shoes were simple, affordable, and easy on the eyes making them a win-win for both avid skaters, and those who weren't so much into the skating scene, but still rocked with the shoes. You can still find Vision sneakers today on different websites such as Red Zone.
Ultimately, every Air Jordan model released in the 1980s is an absolutely iconic piece of 80s footwear. The Jordan II is often slept on in sneaker head circles, but the 1986 sneaker—deigned by Bruce Kilgore and Peter Moore—is still one of Nike’s most enduring silhouettes.
A true product of the 80s sneaker world is Saucony, a smaller brand from Mass, that hit its peak during the 80s as well as the 90s. The brand offered up what was expected and now become “retro”—rich suedes and leathers atop a mesh underlay on a low cut sneaker that gives off both a relaxed casual and mildly sports vibe.
Back then, of course, runners were just that runners. Sneaker designers like Phil Knight were logging miles in these early silhouettes, now we wear them for a quick walk to the deli. While the Saucony Jazz Original is still available for purchase, the Vintage silhouette might be the more modern and preferred version of the sneaker.
Like many great sneakers, the Nike Air Tech Challenge II hails from the world of tennis. The leather sneaker features prime ankle support with a medium build and was made famous thanks to tennis icon Andre Agassi who sported the model often while dominating the court. The sneaker debuted right at the end of the decade in ‘89 and saw a retro in 2008 (available below) as well as between 2013 and 2015.
Before MJ ever hit the court in a pair of his own signatures, he was getting buckets and making a name for himself in the Converse Fast Break. The sneaker was a legendary silhouette from the OG basketball brand that dominated the court throughout the 70s and 80s. The Fast Break is a great symbol of basketball’s past when high top, full leather sneakers dominated the court and the market. The early basketball sneaker got immortalized when it was included as a part of a special championship pack that included 16 pairs of Nike/Converse silhouettes.
The Jordan IV (in all of its original release color ways) is just an absolutely spectacular shoe. It’s one of the most riffed on models of Jordan, and releases/collabs that have come out as recently as this year see huge resale markups. I personally love the Black Cements (and MJ seemed to as well); they’re one of the best 80s sneakers in the game.
This sneaker wasn’t technically released in the 1980s, but we’d argue that it saw its meteoric rise to prominence during the decade. With the release of tracks like RUN-DMC’s “My Adidas,” clout surrounding Adidas sneakers continued to rise in stiff competition with Nike and their new golden boy, MJ. The Superstar is, simply put, one of the most iconic sneakers of the 20th century. You’d be hard pressed to think of a celebrity from the 80s who never donned the Adidas signature shoes. “We make a mean team, my Adidas and me.”
As the name suggests, the Nike Dunk was originally a basketball sneaker. Its eventual bastardization into the world of Nike SB was a natural and successful path for the silhouette which has also seen an upswing in popularity. The sneaker has a funny story starting off marketing to different colleges in a variety of their respective colors, the sneaker was also a model picked by skaters for its low cut and wide-soled construction.
In an effort to appeal to those skaters, they retooled the Dunk, giving birth to the insanely popular Nike SB Dunk. With hundreds of colorways and must-have collabs, it's hard to pick just one, but my personal favorite is the Paris colorway. Don’t worry though about the Parisian price tag, more colorways can be found here and a more in-depth story is right here.
The Air Jordan III is widely considered to be one of the greatest sneakers of all time. It was the first Jordan silhouette designed by legend Tinker Hatfield, and with a plethora of color ways released over the years, it’s one of the Jordans that you see on the streets the most to this day. MJ also famously donned this model with serious frequency, and it was during the late 80s that he began to become the GOAT we know him to be now.
The Reebok Club C is the king of casual cool. The low top leather silhouette started out as a performance tennis sneaker that eventually reached the height of its arc as a lifestyle sneaker. The Club C has always been a player in the background, Reebok occasionally makes waves with something especially cool, but as a role player, the Club C has seen a recent burst of popularity. Reebok has released a plethora of cool takes on the classic silhouette recently, such as their collabs with Eames Office and Tyrrell Winston.
The Nike Air Max 1 is a pillar of the late 80s culture. Alongside the revolution in music, culture, and life, sneakers were next up on the list to change the world. It’s not only the sneaker that changed the running game forever but set the precedent for Nike Air, a new, visible tech that helped separate them from other emerging footwear brands and made them a bastion in the sneaker market.
The innovative design was impactful, to say the least, running on air was novel for ‘87 and quickly became a household name for the Swoosh. Unfortunately, an OG model would be hard to track down but the best the brand can offer is a 2013 iteration named “Vintage.”
2. Converse Weapon (1986)
The Converse Fast Break already made an appearance on this list, but a true 80s sneaker list wouldn’t count without a shoutout to the Converse Weapon. The 1986 Converse Weapon commercial holds a special place in basketball history, featuring Magic Johnson, Kevin McHale Isaiah Thomas and more of the era’s stars rapping about their favorite court sneakers. Unlike a lot of the shoes on this list, however, Converse has only re-released the silhouette a few times, making it a sneaker that we can really only identify with the 1980s.
You might have a pair of Air Jordan 1s but they’re probably not these. The OG of all OGs, the 1 debuted in 1985 via Nike’s new superstar Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls from which the sneaker takes its first colorway. The sneaker was a smashing success and evolved into a legend that still stands strong today. While the OG ‘85 might be hard to find you probably don’t want to actually wear them which certainly lets you warm up to its incredibly high price tag.
It’s the best piece of memorabilia that belongs in a museum rather than your closet anyway but if you are really dead set on a pair the place to go is Japan—their respect for sneakers is unlike any other, especially when it comes to the world of vintage.
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