In many ways, the 80s were the golden age of sneakers. They boomed in popularity and many shoes became cultural icons. 80s sneakers took advancements in technology and design, and mixed that with endorsements from the likes of Michael Jordan and Run DMC.
A lot of the sneakers we wear today are inspired by these 80s models. Trying to pick the 20 best wasn’t easy and everyone will have their favorites!
Here is our list of the best 8Os Sneakers
1. Jordan 1 – 1985
The original and the best. The sneakers that every other sneaker wished it was. The Air Jordan 1 could easily top a list of the best sneakers ever made, not just of the 80s. They completely changed sneakers from being a functional product to a must-have fashion statement.
All of this, of course, is heavily linked to one of the biggest sports stars of all-time in Michael Jordan. He helped to elevate the game of basketball and as he did, what he was wearing on his feet became a constant source of attention.
If you wanted an OG pair of Jordan 1’s then you’ll probably have to pay over $10,000. They are the epitome of an iconic sneaker. Many great sneakers have followed but none have had quite the same impact.
2. Nike Max 1 – 1987
Tinker Hatfield is a shoe-designing legend, especially when it comes to 80s sneakers. He’s designed numerous Air Jordan’s along with creating the Air Max 1. The visual impact of being able to see the air bubble inside the shoe was genius and customers were soon scrambling to have them on their feet.
They also helped to change the running game as these trainers revitalized a stuttering running-shoe market. As with many of these design classics, they still remain incredibly popular today. There are very few sneakers that transcend sports and fashion but the Nike Max 1 did that.
3. Nike Air Force 1 – 1982
While the Air Jordan’s reign supreme in terms of being iconic, the Air Force 1’s aren’t too far behind. Designed by Nike’s Bruce Kilgore, he looked upon hiking boots as inspiration with the way they gave you both support and freedom of movement.
They were perfect for basketball but soon took on a life on their own. They were a symbol of money on the streets and eventually become a sneakerhead classic. Originally released in 1982, Nike actually went to discontinue the shoe in 1986 but soon found how popular classic designs can be.
Culturally, they became a phenomenon with Nelly’s song “Air Force Ones” being a prime example & with Rakim’s verse in the song “Classic” also showing their importance with these lyrics:
“Since I came in the door became one of y’alls leaders
In a fresh pair of Air Force One sneakers
Uptowns, we call ’em uppies when they’re on divas
Probably worn when KRS-One teaches
Nas made you look before the heaters
I bet you Kan’ had em on when he walked with Jesus”
The sneakers became, and still are, a symbol of status. Their appeal still remains and they are as popular now as they were in the 80s.
4. New Balance 990 – 1982
Born in 1982, these were early trendsetters in the decade for high-performance running shoes. It was the first-ever pair of sneakers to break the $100 barrier with countless sneakers following since. Was that cost justified? Well, there was good reason for it.
A huge amount of research and development went into the 990’s and the result was technical running shoes that gave incredible stability. They were also a design classic and the cost enticed people to buy them to show they could afford them, rather than putting them off.
Often seen on the feet of the late Steve Jobs, their price has increased a little from that $100. While the price has changed, their comfort and performance haven’t.
5. Nike Dunks – 1985
It’s always fascinating when sneakers take on a life of their own and become something bigger than their original idea. The Dunks were conceived as basketball shoes that were perfect for a whole team. They were often marketed to colleges in their respective colors.
Over time, however, they become loved by skaters due to their wide sole and low cut. Nike were never going to miss a trick like that and have restyled the Dunk to be an SB sneaker. That was a huge success, with them now available in hundreds of different colorways.
While the sneakers now have a life of their own, it all started with the 1985 Dunk’s.
6. Reebok Classics – 1987
Reebok Classics are well, classics. They are another model loved by true sneakerheads and with good reason. Their low-top design has always been popular. It’s stood the test of time as one of the most refined sneakers ever made and a true icon.
It always feels as though Reebok could never quite reach the heights of a Nike or Adidas but are a brilliant sneaker brand in their own right. They made quite a few brilliant shoes in the 80s with the Classics being one of them.
7. Asics Gel Lyte – 1987
As the name suggests, the selling point on these sneakers was how light they were. While it may seem quite standard in the modern days, the 9.9 ounces of these sneakers were remarkable. Asics marketed that fact heavily and the result was a successful silhouette sneaker.
They were aimed at anyone who wanted to run rapidly. They had a design that wouldn’t look out of place today and they performed brilliantly. A recent collab with Ronnie Fieg from Kith has helped to relaunch the 80s classic.
8. Nike Air Jordan IV – 1989
After the Jordan 1’s, we could have easily picked the second or third iterations but the last Air Jordan’s released in the 80s deserve their place high up this list. We mentioned him before but these are another pair designed by Tinker Hatfield.
The reason that the IV’s deserve their notoriety is that they were the first Air Jordan’s released on a global scale and it helped to change the sneakers from an American icon to a worldwide phenomenon.
Their fame was helped by advertisements including Spike Lee and them also being on Jordan’s feet when he made “The Shot” against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1989 playoffs.
9. Nike Air Trainer 1 – 1987
Not content with creating one legendary shoe in 1987, Tinker Hatfield (yes, him again) also designed the Air Trainer 1 along with the Air Max. This trainer was unique as it wasn’t designed for one sport, as we often saw with basketball, running or tennis.
This was a cross-training shoe and with that, Hatfield created a whole new category of sneaker that would soon be copied by every other brand. While made for the dynamic athlete who loved different sports, their popularity increased with the association with John McEnroe.
As with many other sneakers in this list, it was a pioneer.
10. Converse Weapon – 1985
It was hard for any basketball shoe in the 80s to stand out among the hugely popular Nike sneakers but the Converse Weapon held their own. That was partly due to a cringeworthily advert with rapping from Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, among other famous names
As with all Converse sneakers, their design looked unique, especially with the large Y-shape on the ankle which was there to give added support. They are a classic of the 80s which deserves to be remembered among the other giants.
11. Adidas ZX 8000 – 1988
The ZX 8000 is a sneaker that has stood the test of time. You can still find them today with their relatively affordable price and a vast range of bright colorways. They are a retro classic which somehow sits perfectly in the modern-day.
They are a cult classic whose lasting appeal not only comes from their colorful designs but also their performance as an elite running shoe. They are immensely comfortable which is why you’ll still see them on the track today.
12. Puma RS-Computer – 1986
The idea of tracking your time, distance and calories when your running all seems very modern. You could say that it all started with the Puma RS-Computer, which was the first to do it. Rather than a fitness tracker on your wrist, this was a microchip in the heel of your shoe.
It had a 16-pin connector that you could hook up to a few different computer systems to see your data. It all looks very simple today but it was revolutionary at the time. In 2018, Puma reissued a modern version of the sneaker which unsurprisingly had much-updated technology.
This 80s sneaker was another game-changer and one that paved the way to how we track our running data today.
13. Adidas APS – 1986
The idea these days of sneakers coming with a key would be absurd. The rules were different for 80s sneakers and Adidas loved the idea of allowing the user to experiment with their cushioning. These types of gimmicks have fallen by the wayside in recent times but in 1986, people loved the APS.
The key was used on the back of the shoe and allowed you to adjust the midsole. This would either harden or soften the cushioning depending on how you shifted the rods. It seems amusing now but these ideas and innovations helped to make the Adidas APS one of the icons of the 80s.
14. Converse Star Tech – 1985
The most famous Converse from the ’80s is undoubtedly the Weapon but before they were released, we got the Star Tech. The leather sneakers were one of the best basketball shoes ever made giving players unmatched comfort and stability.
The midsole cushioning and energy return of the StarTech helped it to become a huge success. There was also Converse’s styling which has always been unique. Leather has understandably gone out of fashion when it comes to high-performance sneakers but it’s part of what helps to make the Star Tech timeless classics.
15. Reebok The Pump – 1989
The likes of Reebok and Nike have always tried to find a balance between design and technical supremacy. The Pump is a sneaker that aimed to excel on the technical side with chambers that were inflatable, giving you a custom fit on the basketball court.
Their fame jumped to new heights in 1991 when Dee Brown inflated his pair before scoring the winning dunk in the 1991 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Plenty more collaborations followed, such as with Shaquille O’Neal.
Since that time, The Pump sneakers have been developed for plenty of other sports but the 1989 version will always go down in folklore when it comes to 80s sneakers.
16. Nike Air Pegasus – 1983
The Pegasus isn’t as well-known as Nike’s other lines these days but it holds an important place in the history of sneakers. Coming out in 1983, the sneaker predates Air Jordan’s, Air, Dunk and Air Max lines. It was an accessible running shoe that didn’t have the same cultural impact but has been used since by countless runners.
The brand is still going strong today and has retained its focus on running, including a collaboration with Kenyan marathon legend Eliud Kipchoge. These 80s sneakers changed the running game and it’s still hard to find anything better for running than the Pegasus.
17. Reebok Club Champion – 1984
There’s always been an elegance and grace to Reebok shoes and never has that been clearer than with the Reebok Club Champion. The timeless silhouette of these 80s sneakers is still loved today, even if they’ve been rebranded to Reebok Club C’s.
Released in 1984, it was meant to be a performance tennis shoe but ended up being a fashion classic. While other colorways are available, it’s a shoe that has always looked its best in the all-white design with the green Reebok lettering.
18. Adidas L.A. Trainer – 1984
Adidas wasn’t going to miss the opportunity of an Olympics on US soil. The German company had already established widespread popularity in the United States and that was only increased with a sneaker that gave high performance on the track.
Its peg system changed the game on how sneakers could absorb shock with their customizable rods. It also gave stability and support which had rarely been seen before. It’s a sneaker that had that perfect combination of design innovation while also looking fantastic. It showed that Adidas were a company that wasn’t afraid to innovate.
19. Adidas Ultrastar – 1987
Adidas saw a huge increase in popularity in the 1980s which was in no small part due to Run-DMC. A big reason for that was their song ‘My Adidas’ which was released in 1986. It helped lead to the Adidas Superstar sneakers becoming iconic, which had been released in the late-60’s.
At that time, Run-DMC didn’t have an endorsement deal with Adidas but that soon changed. A year after that song, Adidas released the Ultrastar. They were an instant hit and we’d see rappers such as The Beastie Boys wearing them for years to come.
It was a collaboration that showed how rappers can become entrepreneurs and how sneakers could become cultural icons. Without Run-DMC and Adidas, we might have not seen the likes of Kanye West link but with the company for his Yeezy brand. The Ultrastar were a huge part of 80s hip hop fashion due to the partnership between adidas and RUN DMC.
20. Fila T1 – 1984
The Fila T1 was one of the original shoes made for tennis that also became a fashion symbol. They were released in 1984 and often came in those famous cream colorways that we rarely see in modern shoes. They were 80s sneakers that mixed classic Italian design with athletic performance.
It was a versatile sneaker that you were equally likely to see on someone wearing a tracksuit in the streets as a tennis player on the court. That mostly cream design had a flash of two-tone colors on the heel which was a huge hit, and is still popular today.
Related Articles – 90s Sneakers & 70s Sneakers
To stay updated on everything happening in men’s style/lifestyle, street culture & music follow @heartafact on Instagram