The warmer months are the perfect time to pack away your beautiful big boots and pull out some lighter sneakers. The problem for me is that, while I like how canvas sneakers look on my wife and my brother-in-law, I hate how they look on me. I cannot make myself wear them even though every men’s style blog in the blogosphere tells me that I should be wearing them.
I love old crap and have a soft spot for many things retro, so this year I decided to look at classic men’s sneakers for inspiration. Here are some of my favorite classic sneakers for warm weather.
“Momma always said you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes,
where they’re going, where they’ve been.”~Forrest Gump~
1. Onitsuka Tiger by Asics – Mexico 66 ($85).
What a great origin story these Asics have:
“Back in 1949, Kihachiro Onitsuka, a military veteran, was making footwear for children. Setting up the company, Onitsuka Co., he started off with just four employees and a small office.
Living in post-war Japan, Onitsuka believed that in order to raise the spirit and morale of the Japanese youth, he needed to promote healthy lifestyles through sport and athletics.
Mr. Onitsuka’s first big venture was to revolutionise the basketball shoe.
At the time, basketball shoes weren’t designed for the fast-paced movement and much-needed grip on the court. After several trial and error attempts, Onitsuka stumbled upon inspiration in his octopus salad. Noticing how the octopus sucker had such strong grip, he realised that if he could just mimic the shape of the sucker on his rubber shoe, he could create a basketball shoe that would achieve the kind of grip that was needed.
So that’s exactly what he did.”
Read the full story “Celebrating the History of Asics” here.
2. Saucony Bullet ($40).
I share a state of origin with Saucony as both of us originally hail from Pennsylvania. Saucony was founded in 1898, but not a huge name in athletic shoes until the 70s running craze took hold. In 1983, Rod Dixon, a Saucony sponsored athlete wearing shoes he helped the company’s engineers design, pulled off an amazing last-minute victory in the NYC Marathon. Saucony’s site quotes Dixon as saying “All I want to do is drink beer and train like an animal.” Cheers to that! More on Saucony’s history here.
3. adidas Samba Classic ($70).
The Samba was invented as a soccer (football to non-Americans) boot fit for training on icy, hard ground, and earned its claim to fame in 1954 World Cup Final aka “The Miracle of Bern”. It’s the company’s oldest shoe in continuous production (since 1950). It’s also the second best selling shoe for adidas, after Stan Smiths, but I like the details here better: the gum sole, the sharp contrast of the stripes, and the T-toe all add up to one sharp looking sneaker that’s at the top of my list for this year’s warm weather.
4. Gola Harrier 50 Leather ($70).
Gola has been around since 1905, and its flagship Harrier was launched in 1968. Are we seeing a trend yet? That period seems to really be the golden age of classic sneakers. Gola says the shoe was “suitable for squash, badminton, volleyball and of course, training!” Gola was also famous for its iconic (and still cool looking) messenger bags, but these shoes hit all the right notes for me: leather, white and navy color, with a suede toe detail.
5. Reebok Lifestyle Club C 85 ($50).
Debuting in the mid-80s amidst the workout boom that turned almost everyone into a “casual athlete” the Club C 85 has styling that is a true throwback. These shoes look retro in the very best way. When snobby people call sneakers “tennis shoes”, it’s because of shoes like these that were very popular with the country club scene. I personally would opt for navy highlights or the all-white version, but I don’t tend to wear a lot of green. No matter the color, these are true classic kicks that are a little more under the radar than some of the others featured here.
6. adidas Originals Campus ($80).
Lots of guys pick Stan Smiths as their go-to sneaker. I’ve been a sucker for adidas since high school when my best friend and I were the only guys not wearing Nikes. Back then I mostly rocked Superstars, but now I always lean toward the more detailed adidas Campus. It’s suede material and high contrast are just so cool. They come in a ton of different colors, so you can keep it classic with navy, white, or black, or really jazz it up with something brighter. This is also a shoe where the men’s and women’s styles look the same so you can check out the women’s options for different colors or smaller sizes.
7. Nike SB Team Classic Shoes ($65).
I’m not a skater, nor a sneakerhead, but I know good lookin’ when I see it. Nike SB is a skater brand, AND these look a lot like those hard to find Nike Killshots that all the boys seem to like. Neither of those facts matter. I love how understated these are: cream leather and suede, gum sole, classic navy swoosh. Swoon. Ahem, I mean, masculine and tough swoon.
P.S. Oh, and that swoosh was designed by a woman. When she was still in college. Check it out.
8. New Balance Classics 574 ($80).
Along with the Onitsuka Tigers above, I guess New Balances were my first adult classic sneakers. I think I spent part of a tax refund to buy both pairs at once back in my broke-recent-graduate days. I’ve had them for probably almost 10 years and they still look great. SneakerFreaker has an excellent article about their history here.
“The truth behind the 574’s rise is prosaic. The shoe simply started turning up on shelves and discerning customers loved it. The design was straightforward. It spoke for itself, guiding its wearers across any terrain in supreme comfort. It didn’t pander to passing trends. It was exactly what people asked for at the perfect price point. Boldly venturing beyond its trail running pedigree, the 574 became the first true go-anywhere shoe.”
9. PUMA Suede Classics ($59).
Founded by Rudi (or Rudolf) Dassler, brother of adidas founder Adolf Dassler, PUMA has a long and storied history. From soccer to track and field to tennis and basketball, these shoes have been a huge part of sports history. After being modified and endorsed by NBA star Walt “Clyde” Frazier, they took off as must-have street style. Decades later, their iconic style is instantly recognizable and is everything a classic should be: simple, understated, and timeless. Check out some in-depth history at Joe’s Guide, Complex, and PUMA’s history page.
10. Nike Classic Cortez Leather ($70).
Two words: Forrest Gump. The Nike Cortez marked Nike’s departure from being solely a distributor and their entry into designing their own shoes. This shoe has withstood the test of time, and, like many of the shoes on this list, has a long list of professional athletic accomplishments and a variety of entries into important streetwear history. I just think it looks damn good.
I loved diving into the history of all of these classic sneakers. It’s possible I want many of them more now that I’ve learned more about them. The biggest thing I learned is that it’s always important to remain true to yourself with your style. I know that canvas sneakers are a BFD in menswear, but I don’t love to wear them. When I looked at all of these incredible alternative classic sneakers, I saw that my options aren’t limited at all just because I want to wear something different than I see on blogs. And now I can pick up some classic sneakers that I love and still look great all spring and summer.