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The 20 Best 80s Sneakers, Ranked

A blast from sneaker history past

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Nike

1. Air Jordan 1 (1985)

2. Nike Air Max 1 (1987)

3. Reebok Club C (1984)

4. New Balance 990 (1982)

5. Nike Dunk (1985)

6. Reebok Classic (1987)

7. Saucony Jazz Originals (1984)

8. Adidas ZX 8000 (1988)

9. Puma RS-Computer (1986)

10. Asics Gel-Lyte (1987)

11. Converse Fast Break (1983)

12. Nike Air Tech Challenge II (1989)

13. Nike Air Jordan II (1986)

14. Adidas Superstar (1969)

15.  Nike Air Jordan III (1988)

16. Vans Slip On (1977)

17. Nike Air Jordan IV (1989)

18. Adidas Rod Laver (1970)

19. Nike Air Trainer 1 (1987)

20. Converse Weapon (1986)

 

If you’ve recently bought a pair of sneakers it’s probably safe to assume that they aren’t novel. Even if the silhouette is new, there are decades of design and conceptual inspiration that led to that specific sneaker. From early experiments in new footwear technology, there’s a myriad of powerhouse sneaker brands that struck gold in the 80s. The decade was marked by hyper commercialization which played well for the beginning of signature silhouettes and an economically poised public equipped to set a precedent of spending a little more than usual for a particularly good pair of sneakers. This bygone era of sneaker infancy had a lot to offer, jumpstarting the modern sneaker market we know today and revolutionizing the footwear game forever. 

 

For sneakerheads, the 80s were any early proving grounds for sneakers, the most successful aspects having been retroed and retooled for modern sneakers – brands love pointing out their own heritage and paying homage to their nostalgic archives. With new technology emerging from Asics, Nike, and Adidas, the US became an open arena for new sneaker advancements, enhancing overall quality, concept, and execution. 

 

So I did some digging via text with my Dad, and some other means, to examine the iconic silhouettes that made the 1980s more than the generation to give us big hair, bigger music, and a crippling cocaine addiction.

1. Air Jordan 1 (1985)

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StockX

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.

 

Price: $11,250

Buy

2. Nike Air Max 1 (1987)

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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.”

 

Price: $295

Buy

3. Reebok Club C (1984)

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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. Most recently, the sneaker was seen on Eric Emmanuel’s Instagram, the NY-based designer seems to be putting his unique touch and branding on the silhouette for the near future.

 

Price: $49

Buy

4. New Balance 990 (1982)

New Balance

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.

 

Price: $180

Buy

5. Nike Dunk (1985)

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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.

 

Price: $50,000

Buy

6. Reebok Classic (1987)

Reebok

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.

 

Price: $75

Buy

7. Saucony Jazz Original (1984)

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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.

 

Price: $60

Buy

8. Adidas ZX 8000 (1988)

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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.

 

Price: $74

Buy

9. Puma RS-Computer (1986)

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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.

 

Price: $150

Buy

10. Asics Gel-Lyte (1987)

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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.

 

Price: $52

Buy

11. Converse Fast Break (1983)

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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.

 

Price: $90

Buy

12. Nike Air Tech Challenge II (1989)

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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.

 

Price: $185

Buy

13. Nike Air Jordan II (1986)

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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. 

 

Price: $655

Buy (1994 release)

14. Adidas Superstar (1969)

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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.”

 

Price: $46

Buy

15. Nike Air Jordan III (1988)

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StockX

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. 

Price: $800

Buy (1994 release)

16. Vans Slip-On (1977)

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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. 

 

Price: $38

Buy

17. Nike Air Jordan IV (1989)

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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. 

 

Price: $684

Buy

18. Adidas Rod Laver (1970)

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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.

 

Price: $250

Buy

19. Nike Air Trainer 1 (1987)

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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. 

 

Price: $245

Buy (2012 Release)

20. 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. 

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