5 Iconic Shoes of the ‘90s That Aren’t Air Jordans

Go down the rabbit hole of any dedicated sneaker site and there’s no doubt infinitely more posted about Nike Air Jordans (and SBs in a close second) than any other out there. For good reason, sure, but if you were visiting from another planet and only had these landing pages to rely on, you’re no doubt missing out on important cultural history.

Like a big chunk of a decade known as the ‘90s. No, it wasn’t the stretch that started it all, but because of mainstream media’s influence on younger generations and nascent globalization, companies were able to stretch their products into the hands of millions around the world — thus creating standards in antisocial identity crews like punks, skateboarders and hip-hop aficionados.

Fitting in was no longer cool. And what you were wearing on your feet said a lot about what you were all about.

Dr. Martens 1460

Having been around since the 1940s, Dr. Martens traces its businesses inception all the way back to World War II. However the clunky, unmistakably stiff and yellow-stitched boots wouldn’t really catch hold in popular culture until 1967. That’s the year Pete Townshend, notable singer and guitarist of The Who, wore the model 1460s on stage in front of thousands.

“Their toughness combined with their softness and flexibility is what made them so perfect for the pseudo-athletic routines I performed on stage,” he was once quoted as saying about them.

The media-driven, self-expression eras that followed those classic rock periods took the trend and ran with it. The glam, punk and early goth scenes in the ‘70s. Psychobilly and hardcore in the ‘80s. And of course the grunge and nu metal crews in the ‘90s.

Yet even beyond the turn of the century, Dr. Martens is a brand everlastingly tied to music and still selling the style that has persevered throughout the ages.

Vans Old Skool

Skate culture wouldn’t be anything it is today had it not been for the businesses who adopted it early on. Enter Vans, the ubiquitous shoe brand with the highly appropriate “Off The Wall Since ’66” motto — a subversive quip harkening back to the streets of Anaheim and the skateboarders who owned them. 

Vans is the first footwear manufacturer to produce a sneaker explicitly dedicated to skateboarding. It featured a reinforced toe and heel in its construction and rubberized bottoms since grip-tape wasn’t yet a thing. 

It survived for several decades creating shoes for an ultra-niche market. That’s up until about 1994 when extreme sports — and by proxy skateboarding — would become an international phenomenon alongside grunge artists like Nirvana (pictured).

Even today, Vans hasn’t much diverted from its original designs instead opting to release the classic bodies in thousands of different color combinations throughout the years.

Adidas Superstar

More often than not, the iconic kicks of today spend years in mass production before getting the worldwide respect they deserve. This is the case with the Adidas Superstar, created in 1969. Early on it was worn by over 75 percent of American basketball players because its unique rubber toe protection and non-marking sole made it perfect for the courts — but not so much popular culture.

It wouldn’t be until the early ‘80s when the hip-hop pioneers in Run-DMC wore them on stage that they really took hold of any scene. The three rap icons (Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell) were quite specific with how they customized them — laces out and tongues pushed forward — bringing more attention to the shoes than ever before. 

As hip-hop hit the mainstream throughout the early 1990s, so too did Run-DMC’s previous influence on fashion, making the Adidas “sea shells” (as some call them) one of the most popular shoes of the 1990s and the best seller Adidas has ever had.

Puma Suede Classic

Long before someone could head down to the corner lot and purchase a half-pound of high grade kush without getting arrested, there existed a subculture of apathetic youth who sat around smoking weed all day listening to everything from Megadeth to the Beastie Boys. And out of their ultra-wide pipe denim jeans almost always popped the Puma Suede Classic. Most every stoner’s preferred foot apparel.

These classic suede-bodied kicks (in multiple colors) with a white curtailing line down the side also have hip-hop to thank for their popularity. Those same kids who stole Beastie Boys songs off of Napster also bought what the seminal group was wearing, and hard.

They also have the honor of being photographed alongside activist athlete Tommie Smith, one of the two American athletes who raised their fists on the Olympic podium at the 1968 games to protest racial inequality.


Whatever, honorable mention here. You can’t say anything about the ‘90s without bringing up reckless abandon for one’s own safety. If you’ve never seen or heard about these short-lasting ankle breakers do you really know vintage shoes?

Soaps were initially designed as an offshoot of extreme rollerblading, a sport that somewhat went toe-to-toe with skateboarding for a few years before getting absolutely pummeled in trend. Early in the ‘90s, kids would replace the middle two wheels on their skates with smaller ones so that the plastic gap would fit things like curb edges and handrails to grind down. 

The shoes came later on in 1997 when the fad had died down considerably and found a cult following with the few remaining purists (that may or may not have taken out better insurance policies as they got older). 

Tailbones? Who needs ‘em. These things were brutal. Long live the ‘90s.