What is predictable about sneaker culture in 2020? In a word, nothing. Who could’ve foretold that an obscure New Balance model, a brand new adidas Yeezy offshoot, and a venerable-yet-overlooked shoe from Nike’s past would be at the forefront of popularity this year? That’s why we’re in this for the long haul—some of our favorite brands from all corners of the game are continuing to innovate and pushing the envelope forward.
While we’re eager for what the remaining months of the year will bring, we’re not quick to forget all of the great sneakers that have released during the past six months. Along with the previously mentioned styles, the likes of Virgil Abloh, Travis Scott, and Jordan Brand are still guiding the culture. The dynamic mix of familiar and fresh faces making a name for themselves in 2020 has ensured sneaker fans and collectors that the game has never been in better hands.
Join us as we review some of the very best sneakers of 2020 (so far).
Stop us if you’ve heard this before: the Nike Dunk is one of the most popular shoes of the year. This may feel like familiar territory for people of a certain age who appreciate a simpler world before high speed internet, but is in fact one of the most important turn of events in the footwear scene in 2020. Obscure colorways that had only been consumed by savants from the message board days have both aspiring and veteran sneakerheads appreciating the shoe all over again. This year, Nike has dusted the mothballs off of classics like the “Syracuse,” “Kentucky,” “Plum,” and “Brazil” Dunk, as well as introduced two exciting collaborations from Travis Scott and Ben & Jerry’s (yes, that Ben & Jerry’s) into the collection.
The NBA All-Star Weekend festivities bring out the best in all facets of culture every year. From sports and entertainment to fashion and sneakers, the mid-season classic is no longer solely about East vs. West on the hardwood. Sneaker brands are using the platform to drop their best efforts of the year, which could explain why Jordan Brand waited until February to unveil its new Off-White x Air Jordan 5 with streetwear virtuoso, Virgil Abloh. There’s plenty to unwrap with this neutral colorway, including a call back to the Air Jordan 2010; a nod to the original Jordan 5 “Black/Metallic,” and Abloh’s hallmark deconstructed aesthetic. The feverish output in which Off-White and Jordan Brand were releasing sneakers may have slowed up a bit since the days of “The 10,” but this Air Jordan 5 is full proof that the duo may have yet another trick up its sleeve before 2020 is all said and done.
The success and positioning of the New Balance 990 as streetwear’s de-facto “dad shoe” introduced many to a new world of casual and leisurely-cool lifestyle designs that they had previously been missing out on. New Balance’s 992 silhouette is likely a recipient of that adulation and is now considered one of the most popular sneakers in the game halfway through 2020. Displaying its place of origin proudly on the tongue, the New Balance 992 is crafted using premium materials that last a lifetime. The 992 has popped up in lookbooks for independent streetwear brands and has been used in collaboration by up-and-coming designers like Joe Freshgoods to launch their promising careers. In what may seem like an unlikely choice for any “Best Sneaker” list, the New Balance 992 has effectively shed its “outlet shoe” aura and is now enjoying a deserved moment in sneaker culture.
In the 2000s, Jordan Brand released a series of “Defining Moment Packs” in honor of the touchstone moments of Michael Jordan’s career. Special packaging and limited production runs separated the “DMP” Air Jordans from the rest of the models in the signature series and as one could imagine, fans fell over themselves to get in on the action. After laying dormant for years, the beloved “DMP” series finally returned earlier this year when, for the first time ever, Jordan Brand brought back the original Air Jordan 6 “DMP” from 2006 as a standalone release. The modern iteration features all of the celebratory details of the original, including tonal embroidered Jumpman and gold “23” branding on the heel. As we like to say, what’s old is new again in the sneaker world.
Two of the most respected colorways of the Nike Air Max 90 are featured on one of the top releases of 2020. Combining the “Infrared” and “Duck Camo” makeups, the Air Max 90 “Reverse Duck Camo” arrived in time for Nike’s Air Max 90 30th Anniversary celebrations back in March. The standout design flips the camo pattern used by atmos on its Air Max 90 “Duck Camo” collaboration of 2013. Sans any official association to the game-changing shoe it draws favorably from, the “Reverse Duck Camo” is nonetheless every bit as coveted and has even inspired Nike to release the equally impressive “Orange Duck Camo,” and “Volt Duck Camo” in recent months.
Sneaker collectors had been lobbying for years for Jordan Brand to bring back the original styling of the Air Jordan 5 “Fire Red - Silver Tongue.” Judging by the reception the shoe received when it finally did return earlier this year, it was well worth the wait. You’d have to go back to the early 2000s to find the last time Jordan Brand did this kind of justice to the silhouette, but who’s counting? All of the nostalgic details from the original find their way over to the modern remake, including fiery “Nike Air” embroidery on the heel, a silver reflective tongue that shines when exposed to light in the dark, and an icy translucent outsole. Yes, the Air Jordan 5 “Fire Red - Silver Tongue” is back in all its “OG” glory and, amazingly enough, it now feels like it never truly went away.
With enough remixes of its own chart-topping shoes to make Bad Boy Records blush, Jordan Brand’s collection of remastered Air Jordan 1 colorways continues to grow in 2020. One of its latest efforts, the Jordan 1 “Royal Toe,” is one of the best uses of “Royal” yet. The design implements the familiar color blocking of the “Bred Toe,” among other looks, by surrounding the royal blue perforated leather toe with contrasting black leather overlays. As a whole, the “Royal Toe” offers plenty of parallels to what is undoubtedly one of the most coveted Jordan 1s in existence: the fragment x Air Jordan 1.
After years worth of releases that should satiate even the most enthusiastic adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2 fan, there’s little in the way of fatigue from Kanye West’s popular lifestyle shoe. Sneaker fans and collectors still treat every new colorway that trickles out from camp adidas like they have in years past. And it’s a good thing, because makeups like the “Linen” deserve praise for just how versatile and comfortable they are to wear. No, this isn’t the first sneaker to employ a “Linen” color scheme or nickname, but if there’s enough room in the sneaker universe for all of these Yeezy Boost 350s, there’s a spot for another “Linen” design for us to wear from spring to fall.
Sneaker culture has come a long way since the days of obstinacy over “dad shoes” to simply appreciate the silhouettes for what they are: versatile, supportive sneakers that treat your feet like they’re on a month long spa vacation. Perhaps the ultimate dad shoe, the Yeezy Boost 700, is now a commonality in the scene, and it's allowed for adidas and Kanye to get creative with multiple iterations. The Yeezy Boost 700 MNVN is exactly what sneaker progression should look like. It introduced reflective “700” branding across the nylon upper, and other new details include the omission of sewn overlays in favor of a streamlined presentation and a no-tie bungee lacing system. Decked out in bold colorways such as the “Phosphor,” “Orange,” and toned down “Bone” and “Black,” the Yeezy Boost 700 MNVN is one of the best shoes of 2020.
Born and raised in South Texas, there’s a slightly off-kilter rodeo-meets-UGK-meets-trippy-MGMT vibe that peers through Travis Scott’s music, tour merchandise, and sneaker collaborations with Nike and Jordan Brand. His Nike Air Max 270 “Cactus Trails” conjures up the feeling of what it would be like to hit the dusty desert trails in the fly footwear that Bun B and Pimp C rhymed about on “Ridin’ Dirty.” The design has obvious nods to the vintage aesthetics associated with Scott’s singular look. There’s also a strong “dad shoe” connotation with the oversized heel and midsole and wavy cream synthetic overlays across the upper. A gatekeeper of all things ‘90s-cool, Travis Scott’s Nike Air Max 270 “Cactus Trails” looks and feels familiar but, like his music, is decidedly contemporary in every sense of the word.